Navigating the massive open online courses by Mechanical MOOC

Another week, another Coursera-course (via the University of Toronto): Learn to Program: The Fundamentals by Jennifer Campbell and Paul Gries:

Behind every mouse click and touch-screen tap, there is a computer program that makes things happen. This course introduces the fundamental building blocks of programming and teaches you how to write fun and useful programs using the Python language.

Which is a good thing, because my experiences with Code Year were not exactly stellar. The html and css part really went very well, but the scripting part, stuff such as jQuery and Python, was rather frustrating.
On October 15 another platform, edX (Harvard and MIT) starts CS50x: Introduction to Computer Science (Harvardx). While Coursera offers a 7 week-course, the Computer Sciences course runs till April 15, 2013. It goes far beyond an introduction to one particular language:

CS50x is Harvard College’s introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming for computer science majors and non-majors alike. An entry-level course taught by Harvard Senior Lecturer David J. Malan, CS50x teaches students how to think algorithmically and solve problems efficiently. Topics include abstraction, algorithms, encapsulation, data structures, databases, memory management, security, software development, virtualization, and websites. Languages include C, PHP, and JavaScript plus SQL, CSS, and HTML. Problem sets explore the real-world domains of cryptography, finance, forensics, gaming, and beyond. As of Fall 2011, the on-campus version of CS50 (Computer Science 50) was Harvard College’s second-largest course.

On that very same platform, MITx offers their version of an Introduction to Computer Science and Programming, starting October 1.

But then again, there is the Mechanical Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), hence the Mechanical MOOC. The Mechanical MOOC is a new model for online learning, one that works by combining existing web resources rather than creating a whole new learning environment.This is the mail I got from them (course starts on October 15):

Good people of the Mechanical MOOC,

Welcome to an experiment in online learning. MOOC knows you’re mighty excited to begin learning Python. We’ll be up and operational shortly. Read on to find out what happens next.

When Do We Start?
The course begins October 15th. Mechanical MOOC kindly asks you to start your engines.

What Should I Do?
Get to know the participating sites. The Mechanical MOOC is a new model for online learning, one that works by combining existing web resources rather than creating a whole new learning environment. This gives you the best of what’s out there, but it means you need to take a few minutes to learn how each site works.

How Do I Do That?
Over the next couple of days, we’ll send you e-mails with a brief description of each site and links to key features so you can begin to get to know these resources. You can begin to set up your accounts and profiles as you explore.

We’ll send more specifics on how the course will work soon.

Get MOOCing!

— The Mechanical MOOC

Tweet #mmooc
The Mechanical MOOC’s A Gentle Introduction to Python is a collaboration between Peer 2 Peer University, MIT OpenCourseWare, OpenStudy and Codecademy. For this course, Peer 2 Peer University has developed an email scheduler that coordinates student activity across the participating sites to facilitate collaborative learning. This email was generated by the scheduler. For more information, please visit

So it will be interesting to find out whether the Mechanical MOOC helps to filter and aggregate open course content, or whether it will just increase the avalanche of course materials. While in 2008 Stephen Downes and George Siemens had their first MOOC, these days there is a steadily increasing supply of MOOCs (of very different styles, from the free and wild Downes/Siemens model to very structured, formal class-like models.

But then again, how easy will it be to combine the existing course material? ‘Open’ does not necessarily mean videos, texts and presentations can just be plugged in somewhere else. Stanford University now offers Class2Go, yet another MOOC-platform, but… :

It’s open. The platform is open source so that anyone who wants to can collaborate with us. We would love to have others use the platform, or to work together with similar efforts in other places.
It’s portable. We believe strongly that valuable course content shouldn’t be tied to any one platform. Documents are already portable; the videos are outside our system (on YouTube) and the assets themselves can be repurposed as faculty see fit. And our exercises and problem sets, instead of being trapped in a proprietary database, are in the Khan Academy format, so they can be used elsewhere.
It’s interoperable. We don’t want to build or maintain more than we have to. We’re standing on the shoulders of developments from Khan Academy, Piazza, YouTube, MySQL, Python Django, Amazon AWS, Opscode, and Github.

Which must rejoice the guys at Mechanical MOOC, I presume. Oh yes, if you want to follow up on the MOOC courses, here is the class-central list for Coursera, edX, Stanford, Udacity and MIT. Stephen Downes also curates a list, which includes of course also Connectivist-style MOOCs (the free and wild variety), peer2peer styled courses etc. I’ll wait for some more curated lists to come before I’ll launch a curated list of curated lists šŸ™‚

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About rolandlegrand

I'm a digital newsroom manager at Mediafin, the publisher of Belgium's leading business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. I have a special interest in the intersection of immersive media, business and philosophy.
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