Why 259,969 people taking the same class at the same time might just be the future of education

TED Blog


“I sometimes look back at the TED Talk and I try to think of where we were at the time. We had four university partners, about a half a million students, 37 courses. Now we have more than six million students, more than 550 courses and 107 institutions that are working for us. And ‘MOOC’ is now a buzzword in many, many households.”

Daphne Koller is reminiscing. The cofounder of Coursera, one of the biggest for-profit MOOC ventures, spoke at TEDGlobal in 2012. A mere year and a half later and her fledgling organization has turned into a higher education behemoth. The company raised some $85 million to fuel its online mission, and as of January 17, 2014, Coursera boasted more than 21.5 million enrolments. Its most popular class has 259,969 students, simultaneously studying Scott Plous’ Wesleyan University course in social psychology.

259,969! That’s a far cry from…

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What am I doing?

I wanted to be a teacher all of my life, finally I got to training to be one and half way in I wondered if it’s what I wanted at all. Maybe I’d made a big mistake, I wasn’t enjoying it, it wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be, I just didn’t feel I was getting anywhere.

I sat and reflected on what was going wrong, was it me? Them? It?

I kind of immediately accepted that there were some crappy things going on in my life at the moment, some relatively trivial, some more serious. I figured that whatever I was doing, even if I was basking on a beach with millions in the bank, these things would be making me feel a bit down, stressed, preoccupied. So I had to put some of the way I was feeling down to matters totally unrelated to teaching and studying teaching.

That cheered me up a bit, maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. Then I got to thinking that I’d read a lot of very pessimistic articles lately about the FE sector and I realised that they’d made me start thinking of bureaucracy and public sector thinking and working, public sector management, tussles between the ‘professionals’ or ‘practitioners’ and the management. I remembered how much I’d hated that in the NHS and how it had been a big factor in my moving on from a job I actually loved. I guess some of me had started wondering if I could cope with all of that again. Hands tied by targets, budgets, management who just didn’t know what the coal face looked like, overly prescriptive courses of study that left little scope for humanising and individualising the delivery of learning in the true sense. I figured it was time to read and watch some more positive media, look at breakthrough moments, read inspirational stories about how making a difference is possible even in the midst of a highly prescriptive and target focused industry. I began to even feel happier about what I was doing.

Then I thought of my placement experience and again reminded myself not to compare it to anyone else’s and instead of looking at what I wasn’t able to do yet, to look at the things I was doing, like building relationships with the students, observing how to and how not to do things, valuing my mentor’s many years in education and wiping away the dusting of complacency and the grime of change and valuing the enthusiasm which still clearly exists. Today the students actually cheered when they heard I was delivering the lesson and my mentor commented on the obvious and real rapport I have with them, most notably with each of them, he mentioned how well I seemed to know them as individuals and how valuable that knack of making a connection would be to me as a teacher. I began to feel my enthusiasm returning.

I felt that because I didn’t teach as much as I’d like that I wasn’t getting the rush of building experience or the enthusiastic glow of planning lessons and tasks and activities which I craved. So I began to plan lessons anyway, for units I might teach and for units I might never teach and for units I’ll definitely teach one day. I started to build a library of Prezis and Powerpoints, skeleton lesson plans and a battery of tasks and activities and doing that started to make me feel like a teacher, like I was preparing for one day, one day that was coming soon. I started to feel much better and my enthusiasm came flooding back in buckets.

I’ll stop there but there were so many things which were affecting me that didn’t need to be affecting me, there were things that had nothing to do with teaching, things that were solvable, things which were means to an end, an end that was in near sight.  It just helped to re-focus and to retrieve the passion I had for teaching from when I was a little girl running summer school for the neighbourhood kids in the school holidays.

I’m back on track. I’m happy with that.


At last, I got to teach again properly and have my first tutor observation. My melt down was a good thing as it means I played it all very tacticly today.

I lesson planned and prepared activites for the whole element of the unit, I stuck to what I’d been asked to do and then suggested that I take the rest of the class after my observation as I had things planned and would welcome the opportunity.

After my observed session I got some fabulous feedback and was given the greenlight to take the rest of the session and my mentor left me to it. What fun we had! I followed some prescribed manual stuff but also mixed in my own take on tasks and the students lapped it up.

First session was more structured and felt more like traditional teach whereas the second session could have been further removed from that. Less structure, more creative and interactive, more flexible and responsive to what the students wanted.

I noticed a distinct change in the relationship between me and my mentor and I really think he just didn’t believe I was any good at teaching before he’d even see me try and now he has he’s realised how useful  an asset I could be.

Lots of Schon inaction reflection going on today – action points are:

  • check information on lesson plan when copying and pasting into someone else’s
  • when I draw someone difficult to engage in, be careful not to cut them off and draw them in further
  • use the room more ie walk around more

Happy at last! Back on the roller coaster ride that is teacher training.



Too Good To Be True

I seem like a serious whiner but I just got excited about teaching the Level 3 BTEC Year 2’s, even though I’ve been plagued with some nasty virus, I’ve prepared lessons as close to the prescribed manual as possible but allowing for some ‘artistic interpretation’. By that I mean designing tasks and activities which are of the 21st century and which the students will respond well to.

I put a lot of effort in, to use new technologies that I’d trialed before (at the students’ request might I add) and I was feeling really excited.

I was supposed to be teaching all elements relating to internal and external pressures on the retail industry, this was agreed in November AND December TWICE then reiterated in early January.

So yesterday I receive an email from my mentor “What are you planning on teaching on Wednesday for the observed session, I need to know so that I don’t overlap?”. I replied that I’m teaching the agreed elements of PEST and Porter’s Model. 

I received a reply that the PEST would be good as it would recap what he was teaching the class on Monday i.e. PEST.  I could have screamed. I don’t want to always be teaching recaps. I don’t want to bore the students rigid by delivering the same topic twice in a week and the only relief they have to look forward to is that I might deviate slightly from the prescribed text book approach set out in the manual and my voice is a bit higher pitched, other than that it’s boredomesville final stop for them.

I am capable, I scored really high marks in my initial observation and in my microteach, I’ve years of experience of presenting and of training and developing training and also of facilitating groups and teams, heck I even trained people how to facilitate groups and teams. If my mentor would let me teach he might see this for himself. In fact he has seen me in action and he commented on how well I engaged the group and made what we did interactive and inclusive and engaging. 

Grrr, I’m just tired of this now. It takes the wind out of my already only a quarter full sails. I just want to teach something that isn’t a recap. I feel like I’m in the story of the 3 little pigs where the wolf agrees a time to go to the fair with the third little pig but the third little pig reneges on that arrangement and rushes off the the fair early on purpose to pee the wolf off. I can’t stand playing games. This is really getting boring now.

Roll on Thursday when I can actually teach something without it being a recap of something that bored the kids rigid the day before.

I hate being negative and I will find some positivity tomorrow but this is really starting to become all too predictable now. I hate being drawn in and then kicked in my face and this is what it feels like is happening time after time. Recorded mentor meeting time again, starting to sound like a right moaner now but this is supposed to be where I practice and learn and it’s just not happening.

At this rate all of my reflections will be based on the exact same scenario time and again and will focus on the importance of following through on what was arranged. I even got it in writing last time. I refused to teach the topic that my fellow PGCE student had agreed to teach when asked or else he would have been left repeating too.

So fed up with this, believe me if you are thinking of teacher training I seriously hope you get a good placement and a mentor who is not unwilling to let you have a go and unwilling to let you develop as a teacher, that’s not the idea but that’s what is happening and I’m fast losing the will to carry on with what I have a real passion for and what I am good at.


Quite fitting that the week I’m lesson planning on how to carry out a PESTLE for business reasons we study the expanded STEEPLES in teacher training (academic side of things).

I remember when it was a good old fashioned PEST – Political, Economic, Social and Technological

Then it expanded to PESTLE – adding in the legal and environmental which used to be covered under political and social anyway but this was making it all more clear and easier

Then to make it even more clear and simple it expanded again to PESTLE C – adding in a C for Cultural which used to be covered really under the social element of the original model. But hey! in for a penny in for a pound, let’s make this ever more simple and easy to use and let’s ignore the fact that now we are getting confused because we’re not sure where we put things like Health and Safety Law, it used to fit nicely under the P but now does it go under P or L? What about Taxation and Import Export Levies – they used to go comfotably under Economic with a little bit of ambiguity as to whether or not to stick them under Policital, but now it’s simpler and we know that  they go under either the P, the E or the L,or maybe all of them.

So now it’s getting a bit complex and confusing so let’s make it simpler and call it STEEPLES – just when everyone’s used to starting with Policital and Economic and working through to C we not only add another S and another E but we also mix all the letters up. Now it’s really straightforward. We have S for Social, T for Technological, E for Economic, E for Environmental, P for Political, L for Legal, E for … what exactly is that E for? and S for Sustainability which would by its nature  have elements which fit under economic or social or legal. Is that other E for Equality? I’ve no idea. If it is then surely that would fit under the original P or the later added L.

So yes, this is how you make things easier to understand and easier to use.

Now we all know where we stand.

Assignment Sessions

On placement this week we wanted to get the students started on part of their assessment. Just leaving them to their own devices is not the best option with this group. So a plan was needed to make sure they actually started to do some research and thinking about the task and to work on it instead of doing anything but.

They were split into groups of 3 students, mostly able to choose their own members with a few mumbles when someone had to move out of their comfort zone.

Three tasks were posted up on the board and each group had to carry out all three tasks. They were given the additional task of deciding amongst themselves how they would allocate responsibility for each task… they did this pretty quickly and with minimal fuss.

Each individual student then had about 20 minutes to work on their specific task, researching online, asking for advice from teachers or whatever they chose. Then they had a few minutes to feed back to each other within their group on what they had done for their task. Once that was done each group fed back to the whole class and this gave rise to some discussion amongst them and some interesting ideas and thoughts being formed.

They then had a ten minute break and after that they were given around 50 minutes to begin to work on their assignment which really had been done as the three tasks had covered the content. They really knuckled down to some work and with minimal prompting and some advice and discussion when appropriate everyone left the class with at least a good start having been made on their assignment.

The post break period was unusually quiet and focused. The method seems to have worked very well and will be one I’ll definitely lock into the memory bank as being far more productive than sending them off to the library or setting them off blindly on an assignment.