Today’s post is written by Melinda Barber CP’16 who recently completed a M.O.C.C. from Coursera. She found Coursea after reading one of the articles shared in the Cup of Joe with the CTO eNewsletter. The post was originally posted on Melinda’s blog here.

A Ravenscroft Parent’s Experience with 21st Century Education

Back in the 20th century I enjoyed the typical college campus experience, graduated, and, with much enthusiasm, pursued my career. Landed a great job with a Fortune 100 company, which afforded me the opportunity to pursue an MBA. It was a challenge trying to keep up with the demands of work and attending classes at night. During this period, I probably averaged four hours of sleep each night. The experience paid off, but physically took a toll on me.

By my mid 30s, my focus turned to marriage and then children. After an out-of-state move for my husband’s job and various detours, I decided to put my career on hold. I left my job just as the technology revolution was taking hold. A funny story: While a marketing manager, I felt strongly about launching a website for our division. My director was a bit resistant, responding: “I think this Internet thing is a passing trend.” I had to make a side plea to our vice president to gain support for this “crazy” venture.

In a blink of an eye, 12 years have passed… Now focused on returning to my career, my objective is to update my frame of reference and upgrade my technical skills. With children in private school and their college around the corner, I feel guilty diverting funds to support my education. So with a little sleuthing, I have uncovered a variety of quality educational opportunities that are free for the taking.  Now in reality, I will probably need to invest in some specific skill training; but in the interim, I am utilizing these resources.

I learned about one opportunity via Ravenscroft’s Jason Ramsden’s technology and education newsletter, A Cup of Joe with CTO. In the September 15, 2012 issue, he cited the following article: College May Never Be the Same
by Mary Beth Marklein, USAToday.com (September 9, 2012).  This article introduced me to the Coursera program.  As stated on the Coursera.org website, “We are a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free… Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundreds of thousands of students. Through this, we hope to give everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available only to a select few.”

A few universities participating in the Coursera initiative: Brown University, Columbia University, Duke University, Ohio State University, Princeton University, Rice University, Stanford University, University of Melbourne, and 25 other outstanding schools. The Coursera offerings span the Humanities, Medicine, Biology, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Business, Computer Science, and more.  Hey, you can even take a course in Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life through the University of Edinburgh – if only I had the time…

I registered for An Introduction to Operations Management, a nine-week MBA course. The professor, a very personable German native from the University of Pennsylvania, conducted weekly lectures from his university office. I viewed them, at my convenience, from the comfort of my laptop. There were periodic Q&A’s throughout the lecture to keep you engaged – I later learned that they track the responses to these questions. The professor spent an appropriate amount of time on each concept, was upbeat in his delivery, and shared interesting anecdotes.

After watching the lectures, there were practice problems with solutions and homework assignments, which could be worked offline but had to be submitted online by the due date. When I had a question, I simply posted it on the discussion forum and a teaching assistant or fellow student would help me through it.  The final exam was broken into sections, which could be completed and submitted separately – it was long, but not unreasonable. Midway through the course, our professor offered an optional challenge, which gave us the opportunity to apply our knowledge to a workplace or personal experience. This one-page submission was randomly distributed to at least five other students for peer review. In turn, I had to evaluate at least five papers.

The course outline estimated a weekly time commitment of five to seven hours. I probably averaged eight hours per week. However, with a final score of 97.8%, I received a Statement of Accomplishment with Distinction. According to the professor, 87,000 people signed up for the course, about half participated to some extent, 7,000 completed the course, and 4,000 received a Statement of Accomplishment. Individuals from every continent, except Antarctica, participated in this new-age classroom – half of the students live outside of North America.

I am the product of a brick and mortar education and have always questioned the legitimacy of online education. This experience has changed my opinion: it really seems to be a quality option for disciplined adults who are committed to learning but limited on time. My Coursera endeavor provided me with new business tools, exercised dormant parts of my brain, boosted my confidence level (not too old to learn), and gave me something fresh to add to my LinkedIn page. I would certainly recommend it – well worth the time, nothing to lose. College students should consider this program prior to taking a challenging course.  I will no doubt take another Coursera course; but at this time, I am focusing on my software skills using a free local resource.

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