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The Massive Classroom

University of Washington senior lecturer Matt McGarrity is teaching an online course on public speaking to tens of thousands of people around the world this summer. How’s he doing?

June 21, 2013 at 2:31 PM

Curious about online courses? Follow along as we take one

Matt McGarrity introduces the class

Matt McGarrity introduces the class

On June 24, the University of Washington’s star lecturer in public speaking will launch a bold new experiment for the school, and arguably for the field of public speaking.

Matt McGarrity will attempt to teach 70,000 students 87,000 students (update as of 6/24) how to become better public speakers. And he’ll do it all online, for free, through a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the online learning platform Coursera.

We’re going to follow along with McGarrity’s 10-week course through this blog. We’ve asked a dozen readers who are taking the course to join with us, and tell us about their experience as well. (You can sign up for Introduction to Public Speaking here.)

As the higher education reporter for The Seattle Times, I’ve followed the explosion of news about MOOCs for several years now. I’ve also taken two Coursera classes since the beginning of the year (Think Again, a reasoning and arguments class, and How Things Work 1, a basic physics class). And yes, I finished and passed both of them. Now I’m signed up for McGarrity’s public speaking course, and I’m looking forward to writing a weekly post about the experience.

McGarrity strikes me as an enthusiastic lecturer who can teach me something about organizing my thoughts and speaking fearlessly to a crowd. Like many print journalists, this isn’t one of my strengths; I prefer to pick my words carefully while at a keyboard, and audiences of any size give me butterflies. So I’m curious to see if McGarrity’s course will make a difference. And I wonder how he’ll teach something as performance-based as speech through an online class.

My two previous MOOCs were sometimes entertaining, sometimes maddening. The interactivity helped keep me on my toes, and I took notes and learned some things. But they also served as a reminder that having a discussion with a professor or classmate, studying for an exam, committing information to memory and writing about what I’d learned through essays are time-tested ways to reinforce learning. I learned more about physics and reasoning than if I’d passively heard the same information covered in a TV documentary, and I think I retained more, too. But I do not think I came close to gaining mastery over the subjects.

I am curious to see if McGarrity’s class on public speaking will do more.

You can follow McGarrity on Twitter at @McGarrityMatt. Follow me on Twitter @katherinelong. McGarrity also recommends this article on how to thrive in a MOOC.

Comments | Topics: MOOC, public speaking, UW


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