I am currently participating in the Coursera MOOC Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets and I've been impressed with a) the video demonstrations of hands-on archaeology, and b) the assignment exercises that involve physical projects and hands-on work. The assignment exercises, for which there are choices every week, contribute to the grade for receiving a certificate. For example, to give a general idea, one of the exercises is to gather some ceramics and describe and analyze them; another is to go out in person to an archaeological site or museum and analyze from certain perspectives; another is to find a recipe for an ancient meal, do everything to prepare it and report about the process. There are also assignment exercise choices for computer work that is hands-on, including 3D imaging. Some of these exercises are difficult to accomplish depending on one's individual situation, but I have found that when I spent enough time and effort figuring out a way to meet the requirements I was able to do so and it was very rewarding.
I am also currently participating in the Coursera MOOC Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas. This MOOC encourages active listening through the approach of the lecture videos, and the assignment exercises stretch one's listening skills from wherever they are at the moment.
Some features that are helpful in MOOCs to encourage physical projects and labwork:
- Shorter lecture videos and reading assignments each week compared to a "classroom-style" MOOC, giving everyone more time to devote to the activities.
- Demonstration videos of people actually doing a project.
- Assignments that encourage physical projects and labwork, giving enough specifics, but not too many.
- Encouragement. This can be "get out there and try it" or more subtle conveyance of the rewards through enthusiasm in the lecture videos and forum posts. Many forum posts by class participants pick up the enthusiasm and add to it, but other forum posts can be quite negative. Some participants have legitimate difficulties meeting some of the requirements and are frustrated because they want to participate fully. Other participants want an excuse not to do something, and are willing to engage in self-criticism about their lack of knowledge and skill to accomplish that. Another factor: TAs, designated moderators or fellow participants who respond to forum posts in which participants express frustration with suggestions, urls, approval of alternative ways to do the exercise.