Experiments in Online Education

Ian Schreiber, co-author of Challenges for Game Designers, is undertaking an interesting experiment in online education this summer.  He is offering an online course called Game Design Concepts via Web 2.0 tools (a blog, a wiki, a discussion board, Twitter and so on).  None of this is revolutionary.  What makes this experiment interesting is that Ian is offering the course entirely for free and allowing an unlimited number of people to register (or not) for the course.  Registration closed yesterday (June 29th) with 1402 registrants.  Many, many more people (myself included) will probably follow the course informally without registering for it.

One thing that I wondered was why Ian would decide to do this.  In his own words, here’s why:

I have many motivations for starting this project, some selfish and some altrusitic. Best to be up front about it:

  • Game design is my passion, and I love to share it with anyone and everyone.
  • I have taught some classes in a traditional classroom and others online, and I want to experiment with alternate methods of teaching.
  • By exposing my course content and viewing the comments and discussions, I can improve the course when I teach it for money.
  • It is a career move. If this course is successful, it gives me greater exposure in my field and promotes my name as a brand.

The reason that I find most interesting is the last one. I wonder how he knows that a successful course will lead to “greater exposure” and branding his name.  But let’s assume that assume that success will mean that he gets these things.  I also wonder how he will determine whether the course is “successful.”

Most of the materials that Ian is providing come in the form of text–twice a week blog postings, a wiki and so on.  These items are not really much different than the book that he requires the students to buy for the course.  In other words, so far this sounds like a correspondance course.  But online education differs from other types of correspondance courses in its ability to allow interaction between a faculty member and a students as well as between two students.  With 1402 students, I don’t think Ian will have much time to interact with the students individually.  He puts the students into online groups and so they should have the opportunity to interact with each other.  Of course, the quality of the experience that one has in such a situation is likely to depend on the other students in one’s group.  It could be a great, meaningful experience if there is a critical number of students in the group who engage in thoughtful online discussions and group project work.  It’s unclear at this point how many of the 1402 students will have this experience.

In explaining that there is a text book required for participation in the course (but no other expense), Ian says, “It’s still cheaper than a college education.”  He’s absolutely right.  The idea of getting together a group of people who are interested in learning the same thing is nothing new.  I participate in a two-person academic book club and in a teaching reflective practice group to accomplish something similar to what Ian is trying to do via this class and I find both to be among my most rewarding activities.   The difference between my book club and Ian’s class, however, is that the class has a single person (a teacher) who is structuring the experience while in the book club, we both take responsibility for structuring the experience.  This responsibility ensures that we are both serious about the work we do in our book club meetings.  But if enough of the people in Ian’s class are serious about the work, I think this will be a “successful” experience.

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