A Course by Blog, Lessons Learned

cross posted at ‘A Course by Blog

This semester, as you may know, I was privileged enough to teach (or, to be academically correct, to provide teaching assistance, but I truly thank my professor for entrusting me and giving me full freedom to handle everything by myself) the course ‘Information Extraction Algorithms’ -pure Data Mining in practice- at the postgraduate program ‘Applied Mathematical Sciences‘ of theNational Technical University of Athens. And the whole course actually turned out to be a one-off experience, for both me and the 10 students who appeared to take it, by deciding to host the whole course process in a blog. 

A Course by Blog’, a wordpress blog created on-the-fly during the first introductory lecture, finally concluded with 142 posts from 11 authors, 182 comments and 8,965 pageviews in total till today. We put everything related to the course online and publicly available, from the course’s syllabus and (optional) short CVs of its participants, to the lecture notes and videos (also, a livestream of the lectures was provided), to the weekly assignments, the final exam and grades, while in parallel a lot of more general posts -still relevant to the core machine learning topic- appeared (well, these are all in greek, apologies).

So, you may now follow the course’s proceedings in detail, or, if you are really determined to, watch on demand all lectures and study the relevant material, actually get the whole course’s juice at your convenience. Well, while this may be a pretty useful corollary effect, the main reason that triggered the whole decision was different. The focus was on enabling and fostering the conversation among the students, actually attempting to switch from a closed and locked status to an open and participative, yet competitive one. So, I’d like to add some rough thoughts on the experiences I gained through the whole implementation.

I might now say that the experiment was after all successful, actually a rather successful one. All of the students proved to be good recipients of the -novel to them- blogging platform and I’m positive that their exposure to each others’ assignments and questions resulted in a significantly improved learning experience. Plus, the recorded live streams of the lectures (16h of broadcasting time, available here) attracted 116 viewers, of 14m viewing time on average, while also resulted in some invaluable last-day-before-the-exam responses like “Hi Prof, I’m watching again all of your lectures and need to ask you a couple more things on…”. 

At the end of the day, I need to confide that going open clearly demands your time, in a way secures the minimal commitment for both the teacher and the students, as nobody wants to spoil his public reputation. And I’m convinced that all of us spent a lot more time on the course, especially when you compare it to the typical offline version. But, most of this effort was made voluntarily and happily, following uncontrolled patters, while resulting in added value for all of the participants. Isn’t that what you ideally expect from an academic course?