How MOOCs Handle Your Questions
Whether you’re learning online or face to face, questions are a sign of success. They show that your brain is fully engaged–you’re thinking, you’re active, you’re ready to receive and retain new information.
You’re also vulnerable: They express a need, and forward progress often depends on getting answers. “Why doesn’t this code work?” “Doesn’t this statement contradict the one before it?” “Where do I submit this document?” If you get an answer, frustration dissipates quickly and you go on to the next step. If not, it’s common to start looking for ways out.
As I was typing this entry, one of my online students sent a message asking an assignment. I was able to answer right away–something that can actually take longer for my face-to-face students, who usually save their questions for the next day’s class.
In a MOOC, however, there are tens of thousands of people asking questions. There can be a lot of people answering them, too, since peers as well as TA’s and professors can get involved. When you want to ask something in a MOOC, you have two options: search other people’s posts in the discussion forums, or find the correct forum and post your question in it.
Success in the first approach depends on coming up with the right keywords. If you know what to search for, you might find answers. (It helps to know how to handle the terminology of the field you’re studying). If you find matches, they might contain answers. Then again, they might be similar questions posed by other learners. You can “vote” for a question to try to bring it to the attention of the professor and TA’s. At that point you just have to wait and hope for an answer.
Option #2 is to post your question in a forum. If you’re lucky, a peer or TA will answer soon. If not, you have to move on as best you can and try not to let frustration get the upper hand.
If you’re taking a MOOC with a face-to-face class, you’ll have a teacher and peers to call on. We might or might not be able to come up with the perfect answer, but we’ll help you get one. You won’t be left in that vulnerable place by yourself.