Open source courses are a wonderful way to learn about topics of interest, without worrying about a financial or restricted schedule commitments. Among the many open source courses available online today, I decided to have a look at the Introduction to Photography course available
at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
Right from the start, I really liked how they structured the search to find the course of interest, via topic, department or MIT course number. Once I clicked on the course topic, it broke it down further to subtopic, and then specialty. When I selected the course of interest, a course description was given, with the use of proper headings and a picture to depict the subject.
Once arrived at the homepage of the course, it was quite an intuitive experience, in the way that everything was available via one-click links from the left hand menu, such as the syllabus and course project samples. As I browsed the syllabus and project page, it was nice to see charts and thumbnails to help organize the content. "Diagrams and charts often can make it easier to understand complex ideas" (Simonson et all, 2012, pg. 160). Furthermore, the instructor included past assignments from previous students, to help students ensure they are on the right track.
When considering the course for a distance learning environment, it seems as though the course was built with the distance learner in mind. Although there was not a lot of reference materials, resources, and homework assignments per say, it seemed that the content design was fit for the subject being taught. The syllabus and instructions were pretty clear and concise, as to what is expected from the student and the outcome of the project. "Detailed assignment requirements are imperative" (Simonson et all, 2012, pg. 134).
Having the option to take these types of courses, only expands the potential of what the online learning environment can bring to eager learners all over the world. Information sharing could not get any better than this. "The growth of virtual schools and college gives us a glimpse into a possible educational model of the future" (Simonson et all, 2012, pg. 137).
If we were to look at areas of improvement, I would suggest introducing modules to break up the 14 weeks of the course. Currently, most of the content is merged on the syllabus page. For example, there could be three modules, where the first one concludes of Weeks 1-4, the second Weeks 5-9, and the third for Weeks 10-14. "A module is a major subdivision of a unit [and] is a distinct and discreet component of a unit" (Simonson et all, 2012, pg. 181). Currently, the course is not structured poorly, but definitely could be broken down further. "Students need this kind of structure and detail to help them stay organized and on task. A detailed syllabus is a good starting point" (Simonson et all, 2012, pg. 134).
The course does follow a linear-directed instructional approach. This means that the "students move in the same path through the concepts, topics, and modules, and complete the same assessments and test" (Simonson et all, 2012, pg. 170).
An interesting feature was that the course is available in other languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese.
It is important to note the date this course was created, which was 2002. Therefore it is fair to say that you may not see some of the interactivity and resources that may be available today, in 2014. I was impressed to see that they have done a great job of integrating usability and incorporating proper course organization in the content management system.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.