Understanding Media by Understanding Google

I’m in the final week of Understanding Media by Understanding Google. It has been a fantastic course, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about tech, media or Google.

As a recent transplant to the Bay Area, the course has given me a well-timed overview of Google’s evolution and recent tech history. We have looked at Google’s disruption of search, books, advertising, video, and mobile (including an interesting discussion on wearable tech). This week we’ll look at privacy, an issue I’ve really been looking forward to since doing the background research for this article.

Professor Youngman is a likeable and effective online teacher (check out his website for his thoughtful analyses on various aspects of the course). We’ve been provided links for most of the 85 assigned background readings. The Professor’s team has obviously put in a lot of effort to produce the excellent lectures and additional resources—such as Google Hangouts with the authors of the course textbooks. The discussion forums have been buzzing, if slightly overwhelming.

There have been many articles discussing the merits or otherwise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Do they work? Will they replace traditional universities? Do they cost universities too much?

My view is that MOOCs should be judged with a bit of common sense. No, they do not replace a traditional qualification in most cases. Yes, they are a genuine learning tool for many people who, for various reasons (such as already having qualifications), want to keep learning but don’t want to study a full degree. No, they are not as social as a traditional degree (although there has been plenty of online socialisation on the forums for this course). Yes, it is hard to stay motivated when you haven’t got any skin in the game. And yes, they are also a great advertisement for the Professor, Northwestern University, Google, and the authors of the course textbooks.

The biggest lesson I have taken away from this course is that if you aren’t paying for something online, it’s likely that you are the product. In this case, the learning benefits I have received have been so great that any data I’ve handed over, or advertising I’ve consumed, seems a fair price to pay.

Photo credit: owenyoungman.com

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Categories: San Francisco, tech, Writing

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4 replies

  1. Hi Kirby, congratulations on your WPEmpire promotion! The news made me look through your past posts and… look where I wound up! I hadn’t heard about this MOOC, it sounds pretty interesting! I have taken 4 MOOCs now and they’ve been all over the map in terms of what worked and what didn’t.

    The first one I took both in terms of the MOOC’s content, and my own mindset, was, so to speak, a “lower division lecture class.” There was lots of good information and I enjoyed it. But I could have learned the same by reading a book.

    For me now, MOOCs are most interesting in terms of building professional and creative communities. Which, I think is pretty hard. When you wrote, “if you aren’t paying for something…” I didn’t realize you were going to go to the familiar “You’re not Facebook’s customer, you’re their product.” I’ve been so focused on the pros & cons of free courses that I just presumed you were going to talk about low student commitment levels. This isn’t bad of course, it offers flexibility, which is great. But it also means that when you take these 50,000 student courses, no more than 10% will finish the thing at all, and probably only 1% will be truly engaged. Again, this isn’t bad, maybe someone just really wants to watch “Lecture #4.” Great! Lots of flex.

    For me, as someone dedicated not simply to a “Google Glass”-like “layer” over “old reality,” but to discovering a truly new media world in cyberspace, I’m excited by the possibility of building a global community of collaborators. Again, the low commitment level makes this hard. The structure of some MOOCs make it easier or harder.

    It’s interesting thing you mentioned about how active, almost oppressively so, the MOOC forums are. For me they are kind of like Facebook, and I mean that in a bad way. Facebook is obviously great for a lot of people, but for myself I just find it to be too superficial. It’s an awesome place for sharing baby photos, but it’s also the place where even smart people seem banal. Vs, eg, “The Well” of yore, where you took the time to sound smarter than you were IRL. Anyway, for some reason it seems easy for peeps to chirp in on MOOC Forums (or Facebook) but to go any further and collaborate or blog together or something like that, is hard to come by.

    Perhaps that’s analogous to an IRL conference. There you might shake hands and exchange a few words with a lot of peeps, but the number that you actually sit down to lunch or an extended conversation with will be much smaller.

    Anyway, sorry for running on! I do find MOOC’s so interesting. But “just lecture” seems too trivial to me now. So I’m really looking for more substantive small group interactions, within the massive mess, these day.

    Congratulations on your promotion / new position Kirby! I’m really excited for you! Oh, and here’s the group site we created out of a MOOC experience at the end of 2013:
    http://PracticeBased.Re/search

  2. Hi Vanessa, thanks for checking out the blog and sharing your thoughts. I’m doing another MOOC right now—and really with I was being more active and engaged (but not chirping!)—but to be honest I’m being one of those people who is barley keeping up.
    I had a look at your link and it looks like you are keeping busy doing some interesting and innovative stuff! Thanks so much for your kind congratulations. Hope to see another piece from you on Torque sometime 🙂

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