How I Improved My Public Speaking…in a MOOC

The past year or so I’ve been working with folks at the University of Edinburgh to develop a course to deliver as a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). I was sure the course would fill an important ‘learning opportunity’ gap for health policy practitioners, and I was very excited about the work. I was much (much) less excited about making videos of myself. I am probably a ‘fair to middling’ public speaker and I rely heavily on connecting with the listeners in the room….which, of course you don’t have when you are lecturing to a video camera. I was looking for an opportunity to improve my public speaking that could fit in to my way-too-busy life. Though I’m familiar with the MOOC format, I was looking for a ‘real world’ course. I didn’t think the MOOC format would work well for public speaking. As the video-making dates loomed ever closer, and I hadn’t found any face-to-face options, I decided to check out MOOC options at  Class-Central (a database of MOOCs from most providers). I found the University of Washington would shortly launch an Introduction to Public Speaking course on the edX platform. Like most MOOCs, there was a free enrollment option, so I took the plunge.

The structure and delivery of the content was very good; the instructor, Matt McGarrity is a public speaking guru, and, not surprisingly, his video lectures were engaging and accessible. What surprised me was how well the ‘homework” worked. The homework was to prepare and deliver various types of speeches (e.g. informative, impromptu), which course participants record and upload to youtube [set to private viewing]. Prof McGarrity provides a grading rubric, which you use to review others’ speeches and provide feedback. I found these exercises amazingly effective. Knowing someone (anyone!) will view your speech elicits a fairly high degree of effort; and, reviewing others’ speeches with the rubric is illuminating also. For me, the fact that I had to VIDEO record my homework speeches was a huge plus. I think anyone interested in improving their public speaking skills would, however, find it very useful. I notice that Prof McGarrity is offering the course on the Coursera platform now. Check it out!

MOOCs and the unmotivated

When we discuss MOOCs’ potential for scaling up public officials’ learning opportunities in developing countries, many concerns naturally arise. Will they have access to a good internet connection? Will they have a computer or tablet? These are important questions, and I look forward to learning the answers. I’m encouraged that so many people from developing countries are participating in MOOCs; enterprising faculty are even using MOOC resources within schools and universities as a means to strengthen course quality.

Folks with many years of experience teaching in face-to-face and small, facilitated online courses worry that unmotivated officials will fare poorly in MOOCs, since they have less support and structure. I share their concern to a degree. MOOCs certainly demand a higher degree of learner-directedness (and a degree of familiarity with the technology and tools). But, motivation? Do MOOCs require more motivation to learn? Will an unmotivated participant learn much in a face-to-face short course or a small, facilitated online course? I am skeptical.

Keith Devlin, a Stanford math professor, currently offering his second MOOC recently noted that a number of the students in his MOOC are frustrated that his course isn’t teaching them:

many forum posters  seem to view education as something done to them, by other people who are in control. This is completely wrong, and is the opposite of what you will find in a good university.  ”To learn” is an active verb. The focus should be creating an environment where the student can learn, wants to learn, and can obtain the support required to do so. There is no other way, and anyone who claims to do anything more than help you to learn is trying to extract money from you.

Professor Devlin’s suggests the best any course can do is to create an opportunity to learn. And, at least for mathematical concepts, no course can succeed in educating the passive, unmotivated student. I suspect this holds true for policymakers and public officials in developing countries.