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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Location Advantage Dropout

The second week of Esri's Location Advantage MOOC begins today. This was to be the first "geoMOOC" I attempted. I steered clear of all the others since I felt too much like an "insider" since I'm in the industry and I'm an educator. I decided to try the Location Advantage specifically because it focused on the use of GIS in business, something I've not studied nor covered much in my career.

I got through the introductory lecture materials. Some lectures included PowerPoint slides, some were interviews and and one was just audio. Yesterday I watched the “assignment” video about our first project exploring bank branches in Toronto and gave up. I’ve happily completed three other MOOCs, all from universities. Two were Coursera partners and the other an EdX partner.

I know Esri is not a university and has different goals for its MOOCs. I looked forward to my lectures and assignments in my other courses, but somehow this MOOC did not draw me in. I spent some time thinking about why I gave up on the Location Advantage and came up with a few ideas.

Three Platforms, Three Log-ins
The Location Advantage course uses Udemy, ArcGIS Online and GeoNet as core components. I found setting up a separate, in my case, second account for ArcGIS Online was a pain. I had trouble resetting the password from the assigned one to my own.

All of the other MOOCs I took used a single platform, though two had us use online software (software as a service) as part of the course. One or two of the consumer or education-focused tools required a free account, but creating one was not as complex as signing up for ArcGIS Online for this course.

All the other MOOCs I’ve taken, including one with a “team” of educators, had a lead instructor. You got to know that person from week one. If I saw Jamie (Vanderbilt), Tobias (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit√§t M√ľnchen) or Mark (MIT) walking down the hall, I’d recognize them (or their voice) and say hello! Linda Peters is our host (Esri's term, not mine) for the MOOC. She provided an introduction and one interview during the first week. A number of other people "taught" in the first week: Lauren Bennett did a lecture, men's voices (the same unidentified fellow perhaps) gave the orientation and introduced the case study, Bank of America and Conway Trucking staff spoke via Esri 380 videos. All of the instructors seemed to be reading scripts rather than teaching off the cuff; these videos were quite boring. The marketing pieces seemed out of place without any explanation of how they fit into the week's agenda.

Much of the discussion in week one, on both Udemy and GeoNet, can be summed up as “Hi I’m Adena from Boston!” and "This is great" and "I can't log in." I suspect the discussions will get more substantive over the coming weeks.

All of the other MOOCs I've taken had some interactivity from the start. In my nutrition MOOC the instructor embedded three or four quiz questions in each lecture. They were simple multiple choice questions but helped break things up the lecture and highlight important ideas. In my competitive strategy MOOC the instructor presented a “problem” to tackle with pencil and paper within most lectures. After you tried it, you'd continue on with the lecture to see how you did and get a review of how to tackle it. In my edtech MOOC I recall the first week's activity very well. We studied constructionism and our assignment was to find three objects nearby and build the tallest structure we could. I used a paper clip, a clothespin and a pen. (See what an impact that had on me? I even remember the items I used in it! And, I remember what constructionism is, in contrast to constructivism!) Each of those activities got me involved.

The first week of Location Advantage lectures had no engagement until after lecture 9. That lecture introduced the first exercise.

Recreating a Case Study
I did not do the exercise. It involved mapping then analyzing bank branch locations in Toronto to better market their services in local communities. The 45 page PDF offered a recipe to follow to "reproduce" (Esri's term, not mine) the case study. The course team selected this solution as the best way to introduce this group of students to ArcGIS and location analysis ideas during week one. I've never taught a course like this, so I have to defer to their decision. The prospect of pushing buttons did not excite, motivate or challenge me.

Goals and Motivation
I watched as much of the videos as I could, skimmed the 45 page PDF case study reproduction exercise, took the quiz (I found the questions to be a mix of silly and splitting hairs of meaning), looked over the GeoNet discussions and was promised that after I completed a survey, I'd "be 1/6th of the way towards receiving a course certificate of completion." I'm sure that motivates some learners to continue on to week two. I was expecting something else for the final "lecture" of the week, aka lecture 13.

Suggestions for Future Iterations
I hope these suggestions are helpful to the MOOC team when considering how to keep potential dropouts like me from leaving after the first week.

1. Find a way for students to access all three platforms via one login. I'm sure I'm not the first to suggest this and that there are some challenges but it'd make students lives easier!

2. Have the course "host" be active across the week. Linda might provide an introduction, perhaps some content and a closing comment/recap for each week's work. I feel strongly about getting to know "my" instructor.

3. Have instructors instruct! These are professionals who speak at events all the time without scripts. Let them be themselves on camera, even if there are some less than perfect moments. I really think that'd make the lectures more interesting. Some could be shortened, too. Nine minutes is a long time to view PowerPoint slides without a break!

4. Consider discussion groups based on geography or industry. Instead of 400 people chiming in to answer one question, encourage them to self-select into "birds of a feather" groups to make the conversations more relevant. A student could serve as a moderator to lighten Esri's burden. I'm more likely to participate in a smaller group with similar interests.

5. Find a way to engage students from the outset. How about a puzzle? Challenge students to explore an existing map of businesses and demographics and tease out why the coffee shops (or whatever) are where they are. (Here in Somerville, nearly ALL our Dunkin Donuts are at bus stops!) Or, tell a story (a real story, a memorable story, a "John Snow" story) of how a business used location to its advantage. Ideally, it could serve as a reference point for each new week's content.

6. Simplify the first exercise. The 45 pages and one hour completion time put me off. Perhaps instead of creating the map "from scratch" in the first exercise, students can use a mostly pre-built map to explore concepts, then build from scratch in later exercise.

7. Offer motivation beyond the certificate of completion. Confirm what was learned each week in a recap (if there was one, I didn't see it) and look ahead to what's to come in the next week.

Corporate MOOCs
I think corporate MOOCs in general, and this course in particular, have great potential. I look forward to seeing future iterations.