I have been wanting to learn to program for quite some time. I often run into walls in my work because I don’t have this skill. I am what you’d call a “power user” of the basic commercial office software packages, but I’m often trying to automate certain processes or get them to do things my way. My husband has been telling me that Python is a good language to start with, and there are a lot of online resources to help you learn this language. I have gotten through the first lesson or chapter of several Python courses, but haven’t been able to stick with it because of time (not enough), motivation (too unfocused) and frustration (too much). And then there’s the fear!
P2PU or Peer-to-Peer University is sponsoring what they call a “Mechanical MOOC” titled A Gentle Introduction to Python. Massive Open Online Courses are all the rage these days. I even helped start a faculty group blog about them at Trinity University where I work. Unlike contained MOOCs at Coursera, Udacity and EdX, the Mechanical MOOC will be distributed among at least three platforms. It will use content and videos available at MIT’s OpenCourseWare site, interactive exercises at CodeAcademy and the discussion/help infrastructure of OpenStudy.
Of the three tools, I am least familiar with OpenStudy. I recently learned about Piazza, which at first glance seems a superior way to offer structured guidance to students, but it’ll be interesting to see how OpenStudy works. A number of MOOCs set Twitter hashtags so that students can comment and ask questions using that site. The disadvantage of course is the 140 character limit, though many use it to post links to their own blogs or webpages, so longer answers can certainly be communicated that way. The University of Central Florida’s MOOC on blended learning is using HootCourse to aggregate tweets related to the class. Canadian connectivist MOOCs are using Steven Downes’ gRSShopper to aggregate blogs related to course content, sending out daily emails about participant-generated course content all over the web.
Though the course doesn’t officially start until October 15, Mechanical MOOC has already started sending out emails to registered participants encouraging us to get familiar with the online resources we’ll use in the class. It seems that these emails will play a central role in organizing the class. I think it will help motivate us to have information pushed to our inboxes rather than having to remember to visit a course website. The course site is rather sparse right now. I wonder if it will remain that way or if they’ll also post the instructions we receive via email on the site as a record or for people who would rather not register their email address.
I have signed up for other MOOCs, mostly out of curiosity, and haven’t followed through. I’ve also started and abandoned a number of computer courses, including CodeAcademy. The structure of this MOOC might be just what I need to stick with it. The fact that my employer is interested in MOOCs and that several colleagues are enrolled in MOOCs right now gives me some added motivation. Google’s new CourseBuilder platform requires some knowledge of Python. This alone probably wouldn’t be enough motivation for me, but at least that’s an application of this knowledge that I can foresee using in the near-term.