When MOOC interactions are better than those on campus

anonymity sign

In speaking to faculty for my story on how the University of Minnesota’s experiment with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is going, I heard several times that the anonymity of online interactions has enabled a few students to forget their manners sometimes.

(That, as well all know, has been a common online problem for years.)

But former judge Sheryl Ramstad, who’s now getting a master’s degree in nursing at the University of Minnesota, told me how online interactions with her fellow MOOC students sometimes trump those in on-campus classrooms:

“In some respects, we have richer interactions because there is no veneer. … You get right to the message, whereas in groups there are group dynamics and other issues at play that sometimes get in the way of the message. So in some ways the MOOC experience can be a better experience. … People can’t see from my MOOC comments that I’m a 63-year-old taking a course.”

She said online profiles do enable her to learn a little bit about her classmates in professor Karen Monsen’s “Interprofessional Healthcare Informatics” class, but the online profiles generally  leave out a number of factors, such as age.

Ramstad said online interactions “certainly don’t give you the opportunity to gain relationships that are deep and meaningful and which will continue, but that might be enhanced by visual (technology) in the future, such as through Skype.”

Maybe that, she said, will be in the next generation of MOOC courses.