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Surprising popularity for MOOC programming course

A record 2600 students registered for Aalto's MOOC online course in programming.
Mooc student web.jpg

MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, are open to all and free of charge. Thousands of students can take part in a single course, and students can decide themselves on when to study. The deadlines are the only parts that are usually scheduled. 

A combined 2648 students registered for the MOOC course in programming which began at Aalto University in September. Of these, 265 were upper secondary school pupils, 165 were teachers, and 486 were members of the Aalto community. The popularity of the course came as a surprise to the organisers, although there have been previous indications of the popularity of MOOCs.

‘We wanted to openly share the Programming 1 course developed for Aalto students, because we got outstanding feedback from students,’ says University Lecturer Juha Sorva.  

MOOC is eminently suitable for the teaching of the basics of programming, as learning requires much practice on a computer. The electronic textbook which structures the course includes exercises, interactive parts, animations, and video. For most programming tasks the student gets automatic feedback immediately. In problem situations it is possible to ask for assistance on the electronic forums of the course.

‘MOOC study requires an active disposition and initiative - it is not merely easy and handy. With an exclusively electronic forum it might be more difficult for the user to be active than if a fellow student or instructor is nearby. The course also requires time, which is more difficult for someone who also works than for a full-time student,’ Juha Sorva says.

The course can inspire 

The Aalto MOOC course has been operating for a couple of weeks, and about half of those who registered for the course have done the first two tasks on schedule.  The number of students is expected to decline, which is typical for MOOCs.  Some of the participants only want to learn about a certain part of the course.

The programming MOOC provides basic skills in programming. Aalto students who have received equivalent instruction have been given summer jobs in companies in the field, for instance. For upper secondary school pupils MOOC can serve as a display window for university studies. Teachers, meanwhile, join the course because programming skills are currently being integrated into other subjects.

‘This is a good direction, as many subjects can be examined through programming. However, a better and more varied kind of online teaching than the present MOOCs will be needed. Online teaching should also be combined with traditional instruction, so that different kinds of target groups will be taken into consideration,’ Sorva observes.

Online courses have been organised for large groups of over 1000 people already in the days of the Helsinki University of Technology, but the ongoing MOOC has been an inspiration with its record-breaking number of participants.

‘We have sought to offer students fairly extensive counselling, even though this is a MOOC. The number of participants cannot be increased endlessly, as there are only two teachers and two assistants on the course. But the beginning has flown by in an adrenaline rush and we are very excited about the course,’ Juha Sorva says enthusiastically.  

For more information:

Juha Sorva, University Lecturer
[email protected]

Otto Seppälä, University Teacher
tel. 050 408 0539
[email protected]  

Programming in MOOC course (in Finnish)
mooc.fi

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