Class Review: Surviving Disruptive Technologies and Gender Through Comic Books

I recently finished two MOOCs on drastically different topics and on different platforms.  I enjoy learning and intellectual stimulation.  One of the reasons I am such a dedicated Science Fiction fan is the wealth of genre literature that provokes thought, at times handling content that would be found threatening or uncomfortable outside of the realm of the fantastic.  It has yet to really show if certifications earned through MOOCs are treated as a valuable part of professional development, but I find them valuable for my own development.

Surviving Disruptive Technologies
No, this isn't about how to deal with someone who fails to realize that everyone around them can hear at least their side of the cell phone conversation.  Instead it is about technology that changes the status quo.  Digital cameras changed how we take photos, Kodak went from the overwhelming leader of the photography business to filing for bankruptcy.  Think of all the wildly popular technology innovations in the past few years that we almost take for granted now, most of them are disruptive.  MOOCs are a disruptive technology.

Obviously I found this topic of interest, and the professor proved both knowledgeable and a clear communicator.  Each week we had a series of short lecture videos to watch, several articles to read, and were asked to take part in the discussion forums on specific topics.  Any class with several thousand students will find that the forum discussions quickly reach overwhelming.  Fortunately the forum was broken down into logical sub-forums and we were not required to start an individual topic for our responses to that week's questions, rather we were allowed a more organic discussion where we share and debate our answers.

I did not always agree with the professor in situational analysis, but the topic was well covered and a good one to think about.  Students ranged from all over the world and from an incredible collection of professions, including a collection of librarians.  There's a framework this class gives for thinking about now and planning for tomorrow that I will definitely take with me.

One interesting experience was the peer review requirement for credit on the mid-term and final projects.  The mid-term asked us to discuss Barnes & Noble based on the survival models and incumbent's dilemma from class.  The final asked us to do the same but to an industry and disruption of our own choosing.  In order to receive credit on our own submission we needed to review and grade the submissions of at least 4 other students guided by a grading rubric for each question.  I found reviewing the submissions very interesting and for both went beyond the minimum to explore the widely divergent ideas.  I also was left with the feeling that either I put way more time and effort into the project than most or that I grade harshly (possibly both).  The feedback I received indicated that other students also found the peer review process very interesting.

Gender Through Comic Books
I started out so excited for this class.  I love classes like this and it had some fantastic titles in the course materials.  I ended up feeling let down very early on.  For a University-backed class I found the course at most taught at a high-school level, and it seemed to me that the course relied more on third party content than the professor's own content to teach.  I also felt that the course relied too much on Superhero comics, and did not draw enough from non-superhero comics throughout the years (notable exceptions in that we did read Strangers in Paradise and Y the Last Man).  Yes, limiting down for the class must be incredibly challenging but a title like "Gender through Comic Books" implies a wider lens than just superheros.

The other part that really hurt the course is the discussion set up.  Each week we would have a number of questions to answer and debate, all through a single page for each question rather than sub-forums to support the forking discussions.  7000 students enrolled in this course, that makes for a lot of published comments for each question even without the threaded discussions.  Forums are not perfect, but I wished for solid forum support this whole class.

All this being said I did find components of the course incredibly interesting.  The reason I wished for a better format to discuss the weekly questions is that I wanted to take more part in the discussions.  Creators from the comics industry came in for interviews built with student supplied questions.  The optional materials contained some of the most interesting material in the course, including a number of TED talks.  Also, since the course involved support from various comics creators I will in theory receive a really cool illustrated certificate for course completion (though the instructor is unsure as to the timing of their distribution).  I acknowledge that perhaps some of my evaluation of the course is colored by my experiences and the area in which I live.  It's just a topic that has so much possibility and so much depth that I wanted more.


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