Two online courses, two very different experiences

I jumped into the world of MOOCs (massive open online courses) this past year, taking two very interesting, very worthwhile courses. Both were through, both from top-name schools, and I got a lot out of both courses, but they provided very different experiences.

The first course, Gamification, was from Prof. Kevin Werbach at UPenn. I can’t say enough positive things about this course, the content, the professor – everything was exemplary. This is the kind of massively open online course experience that makes traditional universities fear for their very existence, with the obvious irony that this course probably wouldn’t have ever existed without a university like UPenn backing the professor, supporting the course, etc.

Prof. Werbach’s course was perfectly prepared, filmed, staged, supported – I was impressed, even motivated, by the professionalism. I even asked Dr. Werbach what software he was using, and he (or a teaching assistant) replied – ScreenFlow for the Mac. I purchased the software and I’ve produced 4 videos for my own computer science courses (see for two Java and two JavaScript videos) – let me know if you like them.

The second course, Computational Investing, was from Prof. Tucker Balch at Ga Tech. I learned a great deal about computational investing, from how hedge funds operate to how to actually program my own trading algorithms and test against real data from the stock market for the past several years to see how my portfolio/algorithm would have performed in practice. The exercises were worthwhile, and I completed the course “with distinction”.

The biggest difference was in the delivery of the course. Dr. Balch’s course ran two weeks over, because he fell behind in posting videos and assignments. While he had a student assistant assigned to the course, it was clear that Dr. Balch either under-anticipated the prep time and level of interaction required for a course with several thousand students, or that his combined work load at Tech was higher than even a talented professor could balance while teaching a few thousand online participants.

I got a lot out of both courses, and I’m glad that I took each of these, as I both gained new knowledge and got a chance to experience two different levels of preparation, two different kinds of professor – things I haven’t done in the decade since I completed my Ph.D. coursework. The funny thing is that our students (at UNG) probably have the same varying level of experience between professors, or in my own case, from semester to semester or course to course :). It’s good to remember that, and to learn some valuable content along the way.

About Bryson Payne

Author of Teach Your Kids to Code, Speaker, and Professor of Computer Science at the University of North Georgia.

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