I’m halfway through a Coursera class called “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets.” This is by far the best class I’ve taken on the platform. It’s not just the material–I’d expected archaeology to be way more interesting than, say, business. But the team at Brown clearly put a lot of thought and effort into producing the course.
The professor, Sue Alcock, is very energetic, and the course would be great even if she were the only person who ever appears in the videos. But each week, she interviews three people with projects in different parts of the world (and a fourth person interviews her) about whatever that week’s topic is. Other people also help out with demonstrations (most recently, sorting pottery). A couple classes I’ve taken previously also brought in guest speakers, but they weren’t as tightly integrated into the content. And speaking of demonstrations, that’s something new to me in these online classes.
Even the homework is fun. The weekly multiple choice/true-false quizzes aren’t anything to get excited about, but each week there is a more involved assignment. Topics have ranged from examining items in your house/office/whatever, to exploring sites using satellite photos, to writing in cuneiform.
This is the first class I’ve taken where the online course format has added significant value, over something like a good textbook, to the content. The other students seem to like the class too-the forums seem to have far fewer complaints and whines than usual.
The only downside is that the next few classes I take are going to have a hard time measuring up.
I also wonder what Brown is getting out of it. It’s a lot of effort to go to just for good publicity, and a big investment to make for a nebulous future when people start paying for MOOCs.