Doing a MOOC, a personal experience

Why did I want to do a MOOC?

I am probably not the only person who did not exactly know what she wanted to become when she grew up. I knew what I liked though: languages, helping people and history. That would have been an accurate account of my priorities at age 17 and ¾. Incidentally, 17 is also the age at which you have to decide what you are going to study in college.
Sometimes, life is what happens to you while you are making other plans. I did enroll in one of our local universities, but along the way I lost my motivation. Subsequently, after 2 years of finding out what I wanted to become when I grew up, I decided to become a social worker. As a result I now hold the equivalent of what can be best described as a bachelor in social work instead of a Master in English and German. Needless to say that I still love English, though it is not my native language. I have had a lot of use for English during my working career. At the same time, after 30 years, I still wonder whether I would have made it through college studying English instead of social work.

Why at age 50?

Now that I am no longer professionally active, I may have the time to go to college, but it is safe to say that the other prerequisites necessary to enroll in university are missing. I guess that is how I first got interested in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). It seemed an easy way to access courses and forms of education that otherwise would not be available to me. After googling ‘university courses for free’, I landed on a number of MOOC websites such as edX and Coursera. Subsequently, I pursued my search and I went looking for available advanced language courses. Sadly, most courses on offer through MOOCs are not language courses. When I did find an online English language course, it did not seem to meet my needs. Obviously, I know English to some extent, otherwise I would not be writing this article. I have been writing in English for ages, and I do not have a clue whether my English is up to scratch or not.

An academic writing course

In short, I was looking for an academic writing course. While doing so, I stumbled upon ColWri.2.2x English Grammar and Essay Writing on edX (BerkeleyX). At first glance, it seemed to meet my needs very well. I am doing a lot of my writing in English, and therefore I feel that my grammar has to be correct at all times. The course description stated that students must know English well enough to take a course taught entirely in English. Yep, I guess I qualify on that prerequisite alright. Though English is technically my third language (Dutch being my first), my English teachers never spoke one word of Dutch, and I felt I was proficient enough to be able to take part in a course taught entirely in English. So I enrolled, at first, to audit the course for free.

5 weeks

The course I followed started on February 4 and ended on March 11. I soon learned that it did just what it promised: ‘Focus on proofreading and self-editing; revision vs. editing; common errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling; understanding tone and diction; vocabulary development.’ Those are exactly the points I did not feel comfortable about before taking the course.
At first, I felt a bit wary. Would I be able to fully understand the course? Or, would it prove itself to be too difficult? After all, it has been over 27 years since I had formally been in college.

Good for my confidence

Apart from dealing with all the topics it promised, this course seemed to boost my confidence. It made me more aware of the difference between revision and editing. During the course, I became more conscious about common errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. And, I learned a few new words. More surprisingly, though I felt the homework and quizzes were challenging, I managed to keep up an amazing nearly 100% score throughout the course.

Assessment by peers

Part of the course consists of writing exercises and an essay. These are partly assessed by other students taking part in the class. For me, this was a refreshing experience. Though my scores remained near to perfect, my peers have taught me a lot on this course. On the other hand, I also had to assess other students’ work. In doing so, I became more aware of the things I knew myself, and I felt happy to be able to assist others in their learning.


The final homework in this course consisted of writing of an essay that had to be self-assessed, after peers had assessed the draft version the week before. In my case, my peers did not have much to tell, other than the fact that they liked my essay. Nevertheless, I felt self-assessment was a good idea. It gave me the opportunity to review my essay and to assess a few minor but important details. However, the final marking of the essay made me feel somewhat insecure. For the self-assessment of the essay, students have the choice between only two possible scores: 1 or 3. In my case, I would have preferred the possibility to give myself a 2. Giving myself a 1, would not have done myself credit. Giving myself a 3, which I did in the end, felt a little bit over the top!

Verified certificate

When I enrolled, I first chose to audit this course, because I did not feel confident enough whether I would make it in the end. However, after 2 weeks into the course, I did sign up for a verified certificate. I paid 50 dollars (44 euro) with my credit card, and verified my identity following the instructions in front of my webcam. I guess for me, this was the most challenging part of the course! However, I succeeded, and now my ID-verification status has been reviewed and verified. Apparently, I am good for 1 year.

A MOOC does not replace a degree

Though a verified certificate may have some use in one’s professional career or on a CV, it cannot replace a degree. For one, it takes years to obtain a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree in a real life university or college. A 5-week course can never replace a degree. However, I must say that the quality of the course ware and info amazed me. In my view, it is safe to say that at least this course is at Bachelor level.

A good idea to prepare yourself for university or college

Finally, though a MOOC cannot replace a university degree, in my view, it is a good way to prepare yourself for college or university. The fact that you take a course in the comfort of your own home certainly helps. As advertized, 5 hours a week are sufficient to study and do your homework for the course. The lessons are certainly more difficult than in high school, so a student gets some idea of the study level required for college or university. During a MOOC, you learn to study independently, which is certainly an asset for any future college or university student!

Waiting on my certificate

Currently, I am waiting on my certificate. This may take another week or so. Of course it is a nice prospect to receive a certificate that says ‘Berkeley’ on it. To tell you the truth: I would also have taken the course, should it have been offered by any other university, e.g. LouvainX.

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