Saturday, April 1, 2017

Online Bitcoin Masters

The University of Nicosia is offering a Master of Science in Digital Currency. This is notable for not only being offered on-line, but also having the introductory course free. The university also accepts payment for later courses using bitcoin and uses the blockchain technology the students learn about to issue a digital certificate to graduates. This is an example of dogfooding: the university is demonstrating it is willing and able to use the technology, not just teach about it. The full cost of the Masters is €11,760 (about AUD$16,000). This is about a third less than I paid for a Masters (of Education) in Canada and quite a bit cheaper than at an Australian university degree.

Some Australian universities are offering credit towards a degree for completion of a low cost introductory on-line course. Four go further and offer credit for one quarter of a masters degree for completion of on-line courses. It will be interesting to see if these increase program enrollments and improve program completion rates. However, this may have some negative public education policy implications.

One of the advantages for students is that with a free open course you can have a look at the materials, so I filled in the enrollment form for Introduction to Digital Currencies (DFIN-511). This provided intimidate access to the program's Moodle website. The course has a conventional e-learning format, with twelve weekly topics, each with notes, a quiz and a live forum. The course web page is very plain, easy to read and uncluttered with excess images and formatting (just the way I like it). The live forums are at 5pm UTC, which is inconvenient for Canberra, being 2am, but the sessions are recorded. Also the time is not given in UTC for some forums (I am not sure what EEST, EDT, BST, or PDT are).

While I was not intending to undertake the course now (the latest cohort of students is up to week 8), I completed the pre-course survey. This asks about the background of the student and any experience with the topic of the course. It was implemented using Survey Monkey and at the end left me stuck at a Survery Monkey advertisement. I had to use the browser back button to find my way back to Moodle. It would be less confusing if Moodle own survey module was used.

The first video was a "talking head": the instructor sitting in a bare room just talking. The audio was clear, but an hour long video of one person talking is forty minutes too much. The notes for week 1 are a 2.4 MB PDF file (not too large), containing 50 slides. These are excellent slides, but I would have preferred a set of notes. The slides are not much use without an accompanying audio commentary (which I could not find).

The first quiz had twenty multiple choice questions. This took me six minutes and I scored 8.33 out of 10.00 (83%). This was without having read the notes, but with a reasonable level of background knowledge of the topic. The quiz is well implemented with the Moodle quiz module, providing the student with feedback for incorrect answers. This quiz would be enough to encourage me to study the material carefully, but not so hard as to be discouraging. The quiz allows another attempt, so I can study what I had missed and with the higher grade recorded from the attempts.

I could not find a description of the assessment scheme for the course. The Moodle grade-book showed eleven weekly quizzes, each out of ten, equally weighted for a course total. However, there is no indication of what the pass mark is. Australian universities usually have a grading system with 50% as a pass, whereas vocational education may have a higher requirement.

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