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Jan 20 2013

edX 6.00x – final thoughts

I completed the edX 6.00x final exam last weekend, but as its been a ridiculously busy week at work (which finally finished around 5pm yesterday) I haven’t had the time to put pen to paper (or finger to ipad) until now. So here are some brief reflections on the experience.

1. Content

As an introduction to computer science and computational thinking, it’s rather good. It’s reassuring to know that the fundamental principles I first learned around 30 years ago are still sound, albeit with the implementation method being Python rather than Pascal these days. The only significant criticism I have of the content is that not enough time was taken to introduce OOP principles. It first appeared 6 or 7 weeks in and was then rushed – even though it was absolutely essential to understand it properly to successfully complete the rest of the course. Too many people seemed to struggle with the way it was introduced and some gave up in despair. Splitting this week over 2 would definitely help. Unlike a significant number of other students I don’t think this was the “fault” of the lecturer who presented this part of the course – rather, that he needed to be given more time in the schedule to communicate the material.

2. Course Leadership

Woeful. I’ve already said a lot about this in previous posts and the mea culpa of the edX leadership team published on the course information page towards the end of the course was welcome, but was too little too late. The last third of the course between Midterm 2 and the final may as well have not happened. And yes, the course was “free” for those of us who took it, but the massive step backwards in delivery quality compared with 6.002x earlier on in 2012 should have traditional distance learning institutions heaving a sigh of relief.

3. Sustainability

On the basis of the overall experience of 6.002x but especially 6.00x, there’s still considerable investment required. As I still can’t figure out how MIT et al are going to make their particular MOOC business model work (material free at the point of delivery, no advertising, low cost invigilated exams and so on) I do wonder how long it will be around for. Don’t get me wrong – the model is perfect for those of us who are simply interested in learning for learning’s sake – I just don’t think that it will work for the funding institutions, their paying students, investors and the HE sector in general.

4. Personal Progress

I ended up with 88 on the final exam. I couldn’t get problem 8 to work at all which cost me 8 of the available marks, with the other 4 lost through “finger trouble” on a couple of the multiple choice questions rather than lack of knowledge. Oh well. 94 overall wasn’t too shabby a result I guess.

I really do wish the edX team well in future. It seems to me that their real challenge is not to make online distance learning work from a technical perspective (although heaven knows they failed at even that basic task enough times on this presentation of 6.00x) as there are lots of HE institutions that do so successfully already. Instead, it will be getting their business model to work which will be the real mark of success or failure in the future.

2 comments

  1. Christine

    Hey Tim, Thanks for posting the abbreviated version of this on CourseTalk. They are still having trouble with the second half of the class, and they acknowledged (and then erased) that the second midterm this semester was fairly disastrous. They have not posted any problem sets for after the second midterm and will not tell us when they do plan to post them. In any case, I took a look at your description of the course and realized that sticking around was going to cause more frustration than it was worth. Since the only goal is learning, I deregistered and am now free to pursue other classes, like Machine Learning.

    1. tim

      Hi Christine,

      I’m sorry to hear that things didn’t improve for the second presentation of the course, which seems rather surprising given the problems experienced on the first one. I did stick it out to the end (but nearly stopped at around the same time as you). Between the second midterm and final exam the experience was one of cancelled or abbreviated problem sets, general frustration and woeful communication from the course / edX leadership.

      Good luck with the Machine Learning course if you decide to take it! When Futurelean launches I might take a look at that. Given that the Open University are behind it, I’m hopeful that the experience may be much, much better.

      Tim.

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