Shimon Schocken On The First MOOC

October 25th, 2012 No Comments Other

Pronouncing this acronym may feel a bit awkward and “cow-like”, but Massive Open Online Courses (pronounced Moo CK’s) are a growing trend in the education technology world, proving they are anything but “awkward cows”. MOOC’s are online education courses developed and promoted freely on the Internet.

An instructor writes a curriculum (slides, lecture notes, video, assignments, etc.) and connects with those who are interested in learning the material. There are no grades, no fees, and no credit.

What? No credit?

Schimon Schocken and the Self-Organized Computer Course

While it may sound foreign to someone who’s grown up in a “grade-crazed” educational system, these MOOC’s are actually fueling creativity and innovation in a new way.  Schimon Schocken, a self-taught computer and math guru, spoke forTED talks about his Nand to Tetris MOOC that centered on building a computer from scratch. Though MOOC wasn’t a term at the time Schimon created his course, he is considered one of the first pioneers in the MOOC world, and was shocked at the popularity of his course.

Thousands have signed up and he is continually amazed at the depth of creativity and innovation spawned from his course. So what is it about MOOC’s that make them so effective?

Leveling the playing field

MOOC’s are courses that are available for free. Anyone with a passion for learning can take the class and be instantly connected to some of the brightest minds in the world. There are no barriers (financial, educational, economic, etc.). No one is turned away. MOOC’s are able to reach those untapped creative and non-traditional minds that may have fallen through the cracks of traditional education.

It doesn’t matter if you are a Harvard grad or a high-school dropout; everyone comes to the table with the same opportunity.

Failure is integral to learning

With traditional classrooms (heavily dependent on public funding based on student test scores), there is a fear of failure. Grades are at the top of everyone’s mind, “Will I get an A? What happens if I fail?” Learning is second to data collection. The problem is that failure is a crucial component to learning.

Many scientists and other curious pioneers only learned the things they did, after a critical error or mistake. With MOOC’s, there is no benefit to success or failure. They are partners in the learning process. What MOOC’s tap into is the student’s intrinsic desire to learn.

That is proving to be more powerful than any grade incentive or measure of success.

There is no ceiling

In a conventional classroom, a final exam is the final piece of the curriculum. Once you pass the test, you are done and move onto the next class. In an MOOC, the opportunities for furthering the curriculum are endless. Schimon’s TED talk cites several different engineers who have used the Nand to Tetris course to launch their own computer classes and communities.

One man even became a media celebrity for his design that allowed him to run his computer entirely in Minecraft. The removal of grades coupled with a motivated group of students can produce outrageous new ideas that propel an enthusiasm for learning.

Universities are jumping on MOOC’s

In 2012, the number of elite universities offering MOOC’s has more than doubled. As technology continues to expand its ability to reach the majority of the Earth’s population, colleges will no longer have the corner on the market in education.

Private companies and other open-source businesses are not burdened with bureaucratic red tape and expensive overhead. As a result, they spend all their time, money, and resources creating content and curriculum that rivals the best college classes. Universities, anxious to get a piece of the pie, are finally starting to flock to the MOOC model in droves. They offer a portion of their courses online.

The future is bright for young children who are facing college in ten years. Hopefully by then, psychologists, educators, and local governments will understand better how to educate the population, turning their focus to the model that MOOC’s use. The results have been inspiring for many hungry learners.

That is the key to education. We must inspire our children with a thirst for education and knowledge, and remove the barriers that prevent them from embarking on their own journey of self-discovery.



Julie DeNeen has her bachelor's degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of New Haven. She spent several years working for a local Connecticut school at the district level, implementing new technologies to help students and teachers in the classroom. She also taught workshops to teachers about the importance of digital student management software, designed to keep students, parents, and teachers connected to the learning process.

You can find out more about her @jdeneen4 and Google+.

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