Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Useful Genetics is about to go live!



It's high time I got back into blogging (I don't know why I stopped).

Our Coursera MOOC, Useful Genetics, goes live tomorrow!  The first set of lectures (Module 1: How different are we) won't be made available for another week (May 1), but we want to make the introductory materials available sooner, both to help students get ready for the course and to give them a chance to complete our introductory surveys before getting distracted by the lecture videos.

In addition to short Welcome and Course Logistics videos, we have three quizzes/surveys:
  •  Community survey: This is a 'tell us about yourself' survey.  The information it provides about student interests and background will help us tailor the course to the students and also be used for later research into teaching strategies.
  • Preparation self-test: This is an ungraded quiz on the background students should bring to the course (we'll be happy with solid high-school-level molecular and cell biology).  Each question has a recommended reading in an on-line high school biology textbook.  We'll also use the data for research into teaching strategies.
  • Genetics Knowledge survey: This is a modified Genetics Concept Inventory.  We're asking students to show us what genetics knowledge they already have, but we expect it will also reveal a lot of misinformation.  Again, the data will be used for research into teaching strategies.
As of today we have about 26,000 students signed up, but participation data from other MOOCs predicts that most of these will fall away within the first week.  We don't regard this high 'drop-out' rate as a failure, but as a reflection of the nature of MOOCs. The openness of MOOCs allows many people to sign up 'just to see', and most of them have no serious plans to complete the course.  Many of the rest will, quite reasonably, take a smorgasbord approach, sampling the materials and taking what they can use.

Because this is a new course, and a new approach to genetics, planning and preparing the lecture videos is an enormous amount of work.  The first and second week's lectures are in the can (well, on the server), but I realized yesterday that the draft material for the next two weeks needs a major overhaul.  Modules 3 and 4 cover how genotypes determine phenotypes, for both simple loss-pf-function mutations and natural genetic variation; I hope to get them all done before May 1.

I'm recording the videos in my office rather than in the video-production studio run by UBC's Centre for Teaching and Learning Technology.  This setup took a very long time to get working properly (many stupid glitches up until a couple of weeks ago) but now it's working OK.  Recording in my office gives the videos the non-slick feel I want them to have, and gives me much more control.  The editing turns out to be quite simple, partly because I'm happy with low production values.

CBC television's main news program, The National, will be doing a feature on MOOCs tomorrow night (April 24) - they recorded a lot of video with us in February so I'm hoping Useful Genetics will get some nice Canadian publicity.

(Now I'm off to write a long-overdue post on my research blog, RRResearch...)

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