Thursday, July 17, 2014

SABRx 101: Done and Done

This afternoon I finished the SABRx 101 class.  The Final Exam was very easy and I scored an 88% even though I didn't do the last few R assignments.  In total, I got a 97% for the course even though I really felt like I gave B/C effort, especially with my "quitting" at the end.

In any case, I suppose it's time to reflect on what I liked and didn't like about the course.  Let's be positive and start with the pros and then look at the weaknesses.

First, it's baseball.  If you know me, you know that's a big plus.  Secondly, it's the study of baseball from a mathematical angle.  Let's be honest, that's why I picked this MOOC to sign up for.  It was something I was interested in on a personal level that I had little to no professional interest.  Isn't that who MOOCs are really designed for?  Yes, there are those who think MOOCs can take over the Freshman/Sophomore experience, but I'm finding those folks more on the fringe.  MOOCs are designed for folks who want a free (or cheap) class aimed at a part of their lives.

Another part of the class I really liked was the history.  Each week, the class went through a person who contributed greatly to the study of Sabermetrics.  It's a very new science, and putting a human touch to the course helped keep the subject matter alive.  Can you imagine taking a break from Math equations or a Biology dissection to look at who did this first and why?  Yes, it may not be in some written standard somewhere, but it would really help me connect to the materials.

Finally, I found the edX platform very easy to signup, register and navigate the class.  Trust me, this is no small task.  Others did have issues accessing content, but I found it very straight forward.

Now to the negatives.  The biggest is the accessibility of the materials.  Let's start with some disclosure.  I have very good eye sight, but wear reading glasses at the computer to help with eye fatigue.  Not being able to see content is not something I'm used to dealing with.  Using a red pen on an image of an erased blackboard is simply not acceptable.  Then, to turn around later in the term with a blue pen on the same image (no better to view) is missing the point.  You HAVE to make your materials where they are readable.  It's okay not to have the cool background or to use it just on the edges where you don't want to write.  Moreover, I understand video text can end up small when it's displayed on so many devices.  That's when you supply the code in a text format.  This is not rocket science design here, but it was missing from SABRx 101.

The second big drawback was the learning curve and student expectations.  I expected to do a little math and maybe some SQL and R, but nothing like what they expected.  The installing of software and plugins to RStudio should be mentioned at the beginning.  Also, if you expect folks to do something, show them how.  Too many times something was assigned that wasn't covered in the videos.  The leaps were just too big.

This course might end up being a good one for baseball fans who have a casual curiosity in Sabermetrics, but it's not right now.  It's an in-person class that has been forced online with substandard videos and poor course design.  Maybe a 10 week course with more details and accessible content and you're getting there.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

SABRx101: R You Kidding?

I've reached Module 4 in SABRx101.  I'm behind based on vacation and the gated content.  I've fought motivation and the introduction to R requires us to download R and R Studio.  Now come the problem sets.  We go from "here's some code to copy" in the first couple of videos to "use the help feature for the rest" at the end.  Are you kidding me?  Colleges spend full semesters teaching R and here I am trying to use the Help feature to learn it myself for a baseball course in one week?  This is crazy.

Since I'm struggling, I went straight to the discussion boards.  There are many others in the same boat I'm in, but I see a lot of "I give up." comments.  There are TAs in the course trying to help, but most of their advice is "try this syntax".  The problem is, their syntax is nowhere in the materials.  I guess I get to try the "help" feature of RStudio. (/sarcasm)

Even veterans of R are saying the leaps aren't fair from materials to problem sets.  If this was an in-person class, I'd schedule some time during office hours or with the TAs to walk through it.  If this were a regular online course, I'd email my instructor to schedule a WebEx or GoTo Meeting to get some help.  Here?  No such luck.  I don't have the time, energy or motivation to learn R on my own.  It's not what I signed up for.

So, I'm doing what many MOOC students do with lessening connections to the class- I'm quitting.  No, I'm not quitting the rest of the class as it was my goal to "pass" a MOOC this summer for the purposes of learning how they work and whether we want to adopt any ideas at PPCC.  Technically, I've already done that with my work to date.  (How 61% is "passing" bothers me, but...)  I simply will do no more activities related to R.  I'll learn the other materials, likely getting in the 80% range and move on with my life.  Maybe later, I'll learn R in say a programming class and retake SABRx101.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

More SABRx Surprises

When I signed for SABRx 101 (Description), I was signing up for a MOOC to look at the basics of baseball analytics.  The content so far has been great.  In fact, the SQL Sandbox using the Lahman database was integrated right into the courseware and allowed for exploration.  Wonderful!

Now, I need to catch up after being on vacation last week and what's the first unit?  Downloading software needed to program.  What did I sign up for again?  I understand there'd be some basic understanding of databases, but I just wanted to look at baseball at a '101' level.  This is a bit much.

I don't mean to sound so negative, but I've gone from being excited about logging into this course into dreading it.  Now, I have to only use a computer that has this software installed.  No hopping on a computer real quick to play in this course...

To end on a positive, as the SABRx101 is going downhill, the Internet History, Technology and Security MOOC through Coursera is looking up.  I find myself wanting to log into that course and learn more.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Gated MOOCs and Family Vacations

I could probably expand this to all online classes, but after a 5 day family vacation, I can tell you MOOCs and family vacations don't mix well.  If you spend the time focusing on your family during vacation, finding the time and energy to really commit to a class is tough.  Yes, I my hotel had less than ideal WiFi which made it harder to login.  Yes, I could have left the family for a few hours to head to a coffee shop to login, but what's the point of a vacation if you are going to leave the family?

So, what's the solution?  Well, two solutions hit me as I was completing my MOOC responsibilities today- plan vacations less than a week in length or don't sign up for classes when you plan on vacationing.  I guess a third could be added here too- only sign up for MOOCs where you can take a week off and adapt.

This brings me to the need for MOOCs to release content each week instead of all at once.  However, that's more of a design issue, so I think I'll save that for a later post.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

SABRx101 Module 3: Accessibility Is For Everyone

This week, I finished up Module 3 of SABRx 101.  The longer I work in this course though, the less I like it.  Let me be clear here, I the love baseball, statistics and history being taught.  In fact, I think it's only the material and this project keeping me going.  It's the accessibility of the course materials that are severely lacking.

Since the first day, the most common request in the Discussion area is to change the color of the writing in the videos.  Instead of using a neutral background for the slides, the instructor uses an erased blackboard as the background.  It looks something like this:

erased blackboard

Over the top, he puts the text in white.  Okay, that's not horrible, but why?  What's wrong with a neutral black background with white text?  Or even better, a white background with black text.  The kicker is when the instructor wants to write over the slides, he writes in a maroon pen.  That's right a maroon pen over a messy black background.  I can barely see it and I have good eyes.

This issue has been bought up by several students in the discussion threads.  The response?

"Thanks for the suggestion about the color issue. We'll take this into account for future videos. We chose red because it's a Boston University color :)"

Seriously?  Because it's a school color?  This tells me they had little instructional design advice while creating the course.  In any case, I can tell they spent a fair amount of time and money to produce the videos with captioning, so I let it go.

Fast forward to Module 3.  This starts the serious syntax to query the database.  It's technical enough I watch the videos very closely, see how the instructor solves a problem, and then try it on my own.  There's one major issue.  I can't see the code.  Below is an actual size screenshot:

screenshot with small, fuzzy text

I challenge you to read the code in the box.  So, I thought for sure the code would be somewhere else in the material.... Nope.  So, I squinted my way through and passed the exercise.  When I was done, I payed it forward and copied the original code (not the answer) to the Discussion for the exercise.  I've already had several up-votes and I'm hoping others repay the favor on future videos.

So, now that I'm done ranting, what lessons are there to learn for courses I work with?  Accessibility is for everyone, not just those with disabilities.  The standards may be a pain, but following them will make a better class for everyone.  Not to mention, if it's done well the first time, you won't have to go back and re-record with a different color pen/background/screen resolution/etc.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

MOOCs- When the New Car Smell Fades

We are starting to hit that point in a class where you decide if you like it or not.  So, far, I'm very much meh about SABRx101.  It's a great idea and I love how they've embedded the Lahman Database into the browser to run queries.  However, at this point, I haven't learned much new.  At some point the flash of the new way of learning wears off.  Here's hoping there's more substance coming soon.  Module 3 opens tomorrow.

Meanwhile in IHTS, the format isn't as good, but the volume of content is much more complete.  I fell like I'm making a connection to the instructor through his videos and how he links to other older videos.  The history is interesting and it keeps me going.  However, just seeing the face and hearing the voice of the instructor demonstrates his passion and keeps me motivated.

It makes me think video which shows the face of the instructor may be more important than I previously believed.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Internet History, Technology and Security MOOC

This week has been slow.  I finished the last of the SABRx 101 Module 1 early in the week and was really looking for more.  Since I wanted to see if MOOCs were something to look into at PPCC, I made the logical jump to sign up for another.  This time it's Internet History, Technology and Security offered through Coursera.

I know what you are thinking, why in the world is he taking 2 MOOCs now?  Well, there's no barrier to entry and they are both topics I'm interested in.  My priority is still the SABRx MOOC, but as time permits, I want to work with this IHTS MOOC too.  It also gives me the ability to compare the two systems (Edx and Coursera).

So far, the Coursera course is much tougher to navigate.  There's links up and down the left side with various links to Videos (most of the materials) and Quizzes (Assignments) in separate places.  I just want to see one place with all of the stuff to do.

Also, the IHTS course has peer reviewed writings.  They are "extra credit".  I have to say, unless I'm going to get feedback from an expert, I really don't want to be writing any papers.  In my mind, it's the feedback from the instructor (or at least a course expert) that makes the process worth it.  Alas, I will not be writing or grading any peer papers here.

So, now that I'm done with Week 1 of the IHTS course, it's back to the SABRx for Module 2.