Evaluating Coursera for Blended and Online Learning (Part 1)

Evaluating Coursera for Blended and Online Learning (Part 1)

Adjusting back to the heat of Milan in August is taking a little time for the family and this means broken sleep all round. Add a fantastic thundstorm right overhead at 3am and you have the perfect recipe for an early start to your day!

Inspired by some of my notes from reading Jay Ashcroft’s The Tablet Revolution (see review) I decided to investigate alternative MOOC platforms to iTunesU. I love iTunesU but the iOS app is a far superior experience than a student gets using iTunes on a MacBook. I flitted between Coursera and Udemy for a while not really finding a suitable course for comparison before stumbling upon an old article related to e-Learning: Most Popular Online Courses for eLearning Professionals. It seemed familiar and my Evernote concurred that I’d been here before.

While many of the courses listed are now long gone I found that Georgia Tech had just begun running a course titled K12 Blended and Online Learning. I decided enrolling would be useful on two fronts:

  1. Allow me to evaluate the Coursera platform
  2. Further my own professional development in the area of blended learning

Week one concentrates on the standards and documents from iNACOL. For anyone interested in deepening their understanding  of blended learning I highly recommend visiting their site. Of course Georgia Tech have linked all the required reading into their MOOC for you.


The instructional videos were clear, less than 8mins each in length and punctuated with short multiple choice quizzes. I do however wonder if Coursera allows different types of questioning similar to EdPuzzle (which I love). The iOS app reminded me of iTunesU a little, especially the ability to download videos for offline viewing.


I do wonder what the extra space is for in the video player… Might have been nice to have a transcript here.


I realise that students might be accessing Coursera on their MacBook so their experience will probably be different.

I completed the pre-assessment you can see linked in the screenshot earlier and found it very useful in helping to focus my targets. I’m comfortable with policy, online tools and classroom teaching, but want to delve deeper into intervention strategies that will enhance the learning of my online students. As the pre-assessment was a spreadsheet (also a PDF option) I would have liked the ability to upload an image or type some notes to myself and link it to my current stage in the course. I couldn’t find a way of doing this outside of the discussion forums so will have to rely on Evernote instead. On reflection it is probably good to have my notes outside of my MOOC, just in case.

Supplemental information appears to be text-only with hyperlinks and this is fine. One of the pages had embedded PDF and XLSX files that opened in Coursera’s own browser. Clicking on a world icon then opened it in Safari so documents could then be opened in other applications or saved. It would have been nice to select between Safari and Chrome as the default.

The discussion forums were basic but easy to navigate. Nothing I’d want to add there, there’s a reply and an upvote button for each post. Not sure how you are notified of new posts but will find out soon I hope!

In summary this is a good start. I’ve not tried creating a unit in Coursera yet but as a user I’m finding it easy to learn and navigate. I’m also enjoying the course and picking up new tips along the way which I intend to share with you, dear reader, in another instalment.

Getting started with Arduino #Gemma #STEAM

Getting started with Arduino #Gemma #STEAM

SpuOf5

Tonight I found time to finally open the Arduino Gemma that arrived just before the October break.

It comes with no instructions, but Adafruit have plenty of guides on their website. However depending on where you start, you may waste a bit of time. More on that below.

The first guide I read told me nothing about how to use the Gemma, just what it was, and offered no links to follow up guides. Thanks.

The second guide I found recommended the codebender.cc website as a way to program the Gemma to do what I wanted. I figured that this would be a good place to start and that I could learn from other users on the site. It started quite promisingly, with a Getting Started Guide that took me through the process of installing the Chrome extension, Arduino drivers and then… well then it wouldn’t let me get any further because… the Adafruit Gemma programmers aren’t yet supported for the codebender app! There was no explanation behind the error message (what exactly ARE programmers in the context of Arduinos?) and I imagine that other beginning Arduino users like myself would have been bemused by the lack of user assistance.

Back to the adafruit website where I find some information about drivers. They confirm I have the Arduino Gemma because it’s teal not black. This is useful information and it means that my time on the Adafruit website has been wasted. I’m also still bemused at why codebender only offered Adafruit Gemma as an option earlier.

Right. Off to the Arduino website to see if they can be any more help. I now ignore all Adafruit guides in my Google search results.

I install the Arduino IDE and connect the mini USB cable to my Gemma. Red and green LEDs flicker and then there is a steady green LED.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 19.20.36

I find and copy the Blink code into the Arduino IDE, following the instructions in the comments (good work, see above). However the IDE is obviously now different and “Upload using Programmer” is now in the Sketch menu. By the time I’d found the correct menu the 10 seconds of red LED blinking had passed and I had to press the reset button a few times on the Gemma to get it blinking again. Second time around the code transferred successfully.

I looked for a way to run the code, but then realised that the steady blinking red LED was the code running!

I’m off to investigate some more code now but thought I should summarise with my steps to getting the first program running on my Arduino Gemma:

  1. Download the Arduino IDE
  2. Connect the Arduino Gemma to Macbook via mini USB cable, make sure LEDs are lit
  3. (Windows users have to download drivers)

  4. Copy the Blink code into the code window on the Arduino IDE, replacing ALL text that is there
  5. Select Arduino Gemma from the Tools > Board menu
  6. Select Arduino Gemma from the Tools > Programmer
  7. Press the small button on the Gemma between the red and green LEDs. The red LED will glow dimly then begin to pulse. This means it is ready to receive data
  8. In the Arduino IDE select Sketch > Upload Using Programmer while the red LED is pulsing (you have 10 seconds to comply)
  9. Check the Arduino IDE output message. If there is an error message I suggest you repeat steps 6 and 7.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 19.35.03

At this point – perhaps after a short wait – the red LED on the Gemma board should begin to blink slowly. This is confirmation of the program running!