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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?

July 15, 2013 at 12:15 PM

Online teacher flabbergasted at vast global participation in free UW course

Matt McGarrity outlines an impromptu speech in week 3.

Matt McGarrity outlines an impromptu speech in week 3.

A global audience of students has now finished the third week of “Introduction to Public Speaking,” the free online class being offered by the University of Washington. We decided this week to check in with senior lecturer Matt McGarrity, by email, and find out how the course is going from his side of the computer:

Q: How is the MOOC going so far, from your perspective? What’s working well, and what isn’t?

A: It’s been great! Exhausting, but great. I have been amazed at how kind and generous the students have been. I regularly correspond with students through email, Twitter and Facebook. I have had nothing but positive experiences and interactions. People (at least those who reach out to me) are just tremendously appreciative.

In week one, there was a discussion forum thread that emerged talking about my speech rate (generally fast) and gestures. The thread quickly turned into a fascinating global discussion about intercultural practices and expectations around public speaking. The introductory speech was amazing. It was a huge opportunity to just catch a glimpse of the rest of the world. I am a bit flabbergasted that thousands of people recorded and uploaded a speech for discussion.

I have been surprised at how much the students have taken the content and made this experience their own. As a teacher, I try to shape the student experience, but here there are simply too many people and things going on. As I wander through the course online, I’ll find people setting up practice groups in their native languages, discussing wildly divergent topics. Stuff I never would have anticipated, but somehow the course content prompted it.

As for what’s more of a challenge? I spend a lot of time on the discussion forums. The way Coursera set up the forum platform is difficult. There’s nothing to do about it on my end. But there are pages upon pages of threads with 2-5 posts. I hop around the forums and speak where I can, but this forum structure needs pruning.

Q: How many students are actively participating, and are more still signing up? Is the breakdown between U.S. and non-U.S. students still about 25-75, or has it shifted?

A: At last count, over 112,000 people have signed up for the class. Of those, 72,000 are classified as active students (having visited the site), under half of those were active within the past week. People are still signing up for the course daily, but the numbers have dropped off. Though the enrollment will stay open for another couple of weeks, I think we’ll end the course at around 120,000 total enrollments. (You can still enroll here.)

The last check on the survey maintained these results. I don’t have dynamic access to these demographic numbers. I’m basing my percentages here on the 20,000 people who filled out my basic informational survey. And yes, the U.S is only 23.5% of the 20K who filled out the survey. India is around 10%

 Q: How does the MOOC differ from the way the live class itself is organized and run? I ask because in week 3 – and I think a few times in week 2 – you ask us to take a few minutes to prep an impromptu, or mumble an outline, or stop right now and perform an introduction. When you are running a class at the UW, do you do this as well?

A: That’s directly from the class. I actually think that works well for this material and for a MOOC. I work on the assumption that only a fraction of the enrollees will record and post their speeches. But I can probably get far more people to actually practice. The course material (especially the impromptu) is easy to have people do quick run-throughs. I like to isolate a concept, discuss it and have people practice it. This is how I teach public speaking generally, and I think it translates well to an online environment (I just can’t check to make sure students are actually doing it).

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