Getting schooled by a MOOC

This week Rita and I started a MOOC.

What is a MOOC, you say? It stands for massive online open course.

The course is being offered through Coursera, an online hub for free and paid courses covering all kinds of subjects–everything from English composition to physics, nutrition, thermodynamics, design, and more. Currently there are 100 or so universities involved from around the world. Most courses are free. Some offer college credit if you pay a fee. We’ll be taking this course with thousands of other students (but not for college credit).

I’ve been interested in the idea of online coursework for a while now, and the timing was right to jump in and try one. Well, the timing isn’t exactly right as we have way too much to do, but if we waited until we had the time we’d never get to it.

Screen shot of the Coursera website.

Both Rita and I are very interested in the process of design, and we’ve articulated some of our ideas about design on our unDesign page. For us process is really important. It’s probably because we are both teachers, and we know that time spent on refining and learning good processes really pays off with kids. So, we look at process all the time through different filters. Sometimes through a blogger/DIY perspective, sometimes through a parent perspective, and sometimes through a teacher perspective.

In my own classroom where I teach digital media, I use a process that Rita and I developed when we were teaching together.  It looks like this:

This (sorta) Old Life: Creative process flowchart

I’ve found this tool to be invaluable in teaching students how to break a project down into its important parts. I use it in all my design classes.

For us personally, though, we tend to work more according to the unDesign process. It’s a bit more haphazard in some ways. It’s not a linear process at all. When it works, it works well. When it doesn’t we can have some trouble.

Our entry way project is a good example of the process not quite working as well as we like. We managed to install new treads and risers and do some paint. There is still quite a bit more to do but we are at a sticking point. We aren’t sure about color choices. We aren’t sure that the treads we installed are really the right ones. We’ve sort of unDesigned our way into a big stall.

The project is going nowhere currently. Of course, this isn’t a huge problem for us because we have 8 more unfinished projects to work on. I know we’ll get back to it when we are ready.

Here's our entry. It's only partly done. The white door and side lights need to be painted. We aren't sure what color yet. The steam sort of went out of this project for now.

Here’s our entryway. It’s only partly done. The white door and side lights need to be painted. We aren’t sure what color yet. We’ve lost steam on this project for now.

So, what does this have to do with the MOOC?

Our usual unDesigning process has worked pretty well for us so far, but we’ve got two big areas where we’ve felt more than a bit stuck. We want to try some new approaches to the design process and see if they help us get unstuck. We’re hoping the MOOC will do that for us.

Right now it looks like Rita will focus the course on our downstairs family room and I’ll work on the dining area in the kitchen. Neither space works the way we want, and we are having trouble coming up with what we want those spaces to be.

A few days ago, Rita shared this image of our family room and talked a bit about our current issues with it. (You can read that here.)

Our downstairs family room in process. We aren't sure of much yet. The carpet is on it's way out though.

In particular, we’re really trying to figure out what to do with these areas:

This (sorta) Old Life: family room

This is sorta functional, but the storage isn’t great and we’ve got wasted space.

This (sorta) Old Life: family room

The paint and brass have got to go, and we want to figure out how to use the space on either side of the fireplace.

This (sorta) Old Life: family room

We’ve got a nice roomy sectional, but it’s not very inviting.


And here’s an image of the dining area as it now exists. I already have some good ideas for making this space work better.

This (sorta) Old Life:  kitchen

I picked this space particularly because it’s the only space in the house where we all get together on a regular basis. We share most all of our meals here. It’s where we have our most spirited debates, plan our weekends, talk about our day, play games, and even eat. It’s right at the top of the entry stairs so it ends up being a landing spot for everything.

The kids love to sit on the bench under the window and hang out while dinner is cooking, and the table is a bit small when everyone is home. I’d love to make that space more comfortable. The storage solution we have for bags and papers and mail isn’t working very well, either. I’m hoping that the course will guide me through solving all these problems and making a super awesome space. It could happen.This (sorta) Old Life:  kitchen

So what’s the plan?

Our initial plan is to blog our way through the 8 week course so you can have an idea of what we are up to and how the process is working for us.

All of our coursework has to be submitted online, and we’ve each had to create a site that will allow other students to access it.

If you want to see what I’ve been doing, you can check it out here:

And you can see Rita’s here:

All work for the course will be placed on the above websites as we complete it. I hope to do a weekly post update here and link to the project websites so you can follow our progress as we work our way through the course (if you want to). We’ll let you know not just what we’re doing, but how it’s going and what value we think we’re getting from the course.

Any thoughts?

It would be great to know if any of you have experience with these kinds of online courses, or if you’ve taken any design courses like this. We’d also like to know if this is something you’re interested in reading about–we know this might be something that’s of more interest to us than to anyone else, and we don’t want to bore all of you.