“The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color” – My first xMOOC Experience

So I’m done with my first xMOOC. In this blog post I am going to share about my experience from a learner’s perspective, and I would like to compare this course with other MOOCs I have participated in. I am going to organize my thoughts around the following questions:

Why did I participate?

How did I learn?

What did I learn?

Would I consider participating in another xMOOC?

Why did I participate?

I decided to participate in and work on this course for two reasons. First, as a second language teacher, I know of the importance of motivating students to learn from resources they like. Watching movies is something a lot of people enjoy, and Hollywood plays an important role in the way we perceive American culture. I wanted to learn about the history of Hollywood and about how producers and artists create films that tell compelling stories. To be sure, these expectations were met 100%. Second, a friend of mine invited me to take the course with him. I liked the idea to be able to interact with at least one peer whom I know before the course, because I thought it would help my motivation. Again, my expectations were met. Whenever I felt I didn’t have time to work on the course, my learning partner shared about the lecture and the movie I was to watch next, which helped me through moments of self-discouragement. I will look for an opportunity to try this strategy in a cMMOC.

How did I learn?
From a learner perspective the xMOOC experience felt pretty much like an online course organized by a university. And, from the beginning, this seemed to have an impact on my motivation.  In other words, as I read the syllabus a few days before the course started, I noticed that I wasn’t expected to create the course with other learners. I was expected to “take” it. There is nothing wrong with taking a course in order to learn something about an interesting topic. At the same time, this limited my curiosity, my motivation, and my interest in the topic.

What was missing? The four elements of active learning: aggregate, remix, repurpose, and feed forward.

Aggregate: In the xMOOC, I was expected to watch four to five recorded lectures and to watch two movies a week. At one point, the professor recommended that we buy the book he has written about the course topic. No other references were formally mentioned, no reading list was provided. This lack of secondary sources seems to have had an impact on the content of the discussion forums. Many contributions course participants posted in the forum focused on their opinions and did not include critical reflections of the lectures. In my opinion, the academic quality of the course could have been improved by encouraging the participants to look for, reflect on, and share about scholarly articles related to the course topics.

Remix: To a certain extent, I engaged in remixing the course content during my weekly discussions with my learning partner. Before taking the course, I had read and started to work on Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers”. With my partner, I tried to include Vogler’s ideas into the discussion of the weekly course topics.

Repurpose: While it was possible to contribute posts to the discussion forum and publish content elsewhere on the internet, I felt not motivated to do so. I know that I could have done more, and I chose not to. In retrospect, three incidents may have contributed to my reluctance to repurpose course content. A. In the first lecture, the professor said that he would not read the posts on the discussion forums, and that he would not reply to students’ posts. Although he mentioned four weeks later that he had read some of the posts, it seems to be true that he didn’t post anything. Second, the course was delivered on a closed platform, and the organizers didn’t encourage the participants to share the content they created elsewhere on the internet. What most surprised: there was no activity on Twitter, a platform I use a lot for learning and sharing. However, there was a group on Facebook, created by one of the participants, which helped and motivated me throughout the course. The administrator of this group provided the links to the movies we had to watch, something that the organizers said they couldn’t do because of copyright law. I also felt more inclined to read and respond to the posts in this group. Because I noticed that people responded to my posts, something that didn’t happen on the course platform.


Feed Forward: In my understanding, this activity was neither encouraged nor discouraged by the organizers. At the same time, the syllabus clearly focused on the message: If you complete the activities on the task list and if you score x on the final exam, you will get a certificate. The professor did mention several times that “the real gains in a liberal arts class come from entertaining new thoughts and understanding new frameworks. No quiz can test that. I hope you find your “take-away” from this course valuable to the way you appreciate cinema, whether or not you elect to take the quiz.” However, I felt I was not encouraged to think about and discuss what this “take-away” could look like.  Maybe this was too much to ask, and maybe by the time I had completed the tasks assigned by the organizers, I was not willing to do “extra work”. This is where I noticed that my experience from years of academic study kicked in.

This brings me to another issue related to the tasks I was required to do in order to obtain the course certificate. The only way the organizers wanted me to give evidence of my learning progress was through multiple choice tests. There were three questions at the end of each of the 21 lectures (a total of 84 questions), and the final exam, which consisted of 20 multiple choice questions, some of which I remembered from the lectures. In order to “pass” the final exam, I had to obtain 70% of the points. I could have repeated the exam a number of times, although I didn’t understand how often.

One participant “demonstrate(d)  an easy way one can obtain 100% in a test in a unknown language about the most complicated subject ever (in other words, a test where one has absolutely no idea of the answers) if this test has 20 questions having each 4 answer choices, and one has 100 tries and obtain his/her result between the tries.”

….. In a comment to this post, the same person added the following information:

“Wow, now it has been brought to my attention that we know what answer were answer correctly and which one were not after a try. So anyone can get 100% in 4 tries (I mean, it’s not a secret, it’s freaking easy reasoning). I am outrage by the ridiculous of the situation. This is tremendously stupid. In fact, if I knew an adverb for something bigger than tremendous, I would use it; like this is tremendously more than tremendously stupid. I just feel like capitalizing every word.”

Interestingly, some people had left a negative evaluation for this post and the comment. I rather think that this person needs to be acknowledged for his effort to contribute to the development of xMOOCs by sharing his ideas and providing information that helps us evaluate the validity of the tests and exams.

Would I consider participating in another xMOOC?

One of the results of this course is that I now know why I enjoy cMOOCs more than xMOOCs. At the same time, I am aware that the reasons I am going to share here are based on my own experiences and cannot be used as arguments in favor of or against one or the other course type.

Reason 1: cMOOCs are social. Interaction with other participants is related to abundant resources, shared and created by course organizers and participants.

Reason 2: cMOOCs seem to encourage people to create connections to people on social media who share my interests. These connections are “take-aways” from the course.

Reason 3: cMOOCs encourage me to think about how I want to learn, and how I want to participate in the course. xMOOCs, on the other hand, seem to provide me with a to-do list and promise me a certificate if I complete it.

Reason 4: The organizers of a cMOOC work as a team and interact with the participants in real-time, usually once a week. They also contribute to the discussion from time to time. In an xMOOC, the professor’s presence is remote. As a matter of fact, an xMOOC , once it is created, can be launched at any time in the future, without the professor’s participation. The team that supports the professor is active behind the scenes of the course.

At the same time, I know I will consider participating in another xMOOC in the future. I now know what to expect, and what not. I promise myself that I won’t take the multiple choice tests and exams any more, though. It is a boring activity that takes the pleasure out of learning.



2 thoughts on ““The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color” – My first xMOOC Experience

  1. Could you explain me what is the origin of the term xMOOC versus cMOOK.

  2. well written considerations, but based on a single experience. if you had taken princeton professor mitch duneier’s “introduction to sociology”, your experience would have been completely different, for his course covered most of the points you mention. he developed a very close relationship with us students, even though he wasn’t answering posts directly, and the evaluation system was a lot more demanding and engaging. you can read about it at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/20/education/colleges-turn-to-crowd-sourcing-courses.html?pagewanted=all

    on the other hand, if higgins’s course had the same time constraints, i wouldn’t have been able to participate, or take the quiz in time to get a certificate.

    the certificate is not my main motivation when i chose a course, but it’s a great part of the incentive for completing it.

    hope you’ll have a better experience next time.

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