Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Meet the students - An interview with Bruno Cantarelli

Massive Open Online Courses are touted as a revolution for higher education. All MOOC platforms boast impressive enrollment numbers from students all over the world.

To get a different perspective and understand their motivations, The Good MOOC will regularly feature interviews with students.

Bruno Cantarelli, a 26 year old from Sao Paolo starts us off.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Bruno Cantarelli, I’m a 26 year old Brazilian, currently an undergrad in both mathematics and economics.

I am also a former engineering undergrad.

  • What are your career aspirations?

I mainly study pure mathematics because it is my favorite subject, as opposed to a field I aspire to work in. It does however happen to be extremely useful for what I ultimately aspire to do.
I study economics mainly because I plan to eventually work in finance, banks, or the stock market. I happen to enjoy economics very much as well.

Economics is a very maths based subject but I do find pure mathematics much more interesting, even though I'd rather work and make money out of economics and finance.

I actually hope to do physics at some point in my life as well, but we'll see.

  • How have you heard about MOOCs in the first place?

My first exposure to online education was Khan Academy (recommended by a friend of mine). I soon became very interested in online education, and found my way to MIT OpenCourseWare, which I thought was amazing (I am huge fan of Prof. David Jerison’s single variable calculus and Prof. Denis Auroux’s multivariable calculus).

At some point, another friend who knew about my interest in online education randomly found out about Coursera and referred it to me. Soon enough I was hooked on MOOCs as well.

  • What was your first MOOC?

My first actual MOOC, if I recall correctly, was Introduction to Mathematical Thinking on Coursera (taught by Prof. Keith Devlin from Stanford University).

  • Why did you choose to take it?

I had been a big fan of MIT OCW and had been excited about online education in general for a while back then.
I had a deep interest in mathematics and was attracted by Stanford University’s reputation.

  • Which MOOC have you taken since and why?

I must have signed up for maybe 30 different MOOCs so far, from a few different platforms (Coursera, edX, Udacity) but I have only completed about 10, all from Coursera (which is my favorite platform thus far).

My favorites were Introduction to Mathematical Thinking, which I have completed twice now, Calculus: Single Variable and Calculus One.
I also completed (and currently taking) other courses in logic, mathematics, physics and economics.

The reason I take these courses is first and foremost because I really enjoy these subjects.

  • How would you compare MOOCs to traditional education?

Most of these courses are being taught by world-class professors from world-class institutions.
The structure of online courses suits me much better than that of real life courses.
I find it very helpful being able to watch lectures wherever and whenever I feel like.
When I need help with something I can either try to find more information about the subject somewhere else in a book or online, or I can just ask in the forums.

One of the teachers, Prof. Jim Fowler, would actually do Office Hours on Google Hangout with any of his Coursera students in need of help with calculus (or really whatever subject of mathematics, if you wanted to talk about stuff beyond the scope of his course). That was great!

  • If you think about the best MOOCs you’ve taken, how would you improve them?

I really can’t think of many things to improve in my favorite courses (not to say that there aren’t any).

I’m already pretty happy with having world-class teachers teaching me things I enjoy to learn at whatever time of the day I would like them to (and then helping me out directly through online forums)

A lot of MOOCs are introductions (which can be really useful when learning about new subjects or for review, expansion and different perspectives) so I would love to see more advanced courses.

Certification is also a little bit of an issue for some people, and obviously it would be nice to get more valuable certificates.
I’m sure that’s coming but for me that’s not that big of a deal anyway.

  • Are you telling people around you about MOOCS?

Sure, I tell them even though most of them are not as interested about MOOCs as I am.

  • How are they reacting to it?

They generally seem to think it’s nice that I’m taking the time to do so many MOOCs.

They don’t seem to find the whole idea of open free online education as exciting as I do. Maybe they don’t realize how good the courses are and don’t want to bother learning new things without a recognized system of certification.

Language might barrier as well. In Brazil, taking courses in English might be a bit of an issue for some people.

  • How do you see MOOCs evolving in the future?

I imagine the course offering will expand.
That will lead to more competition which will make MOOCs even better than they already are.
The platforms will probably find a way of monetizing them as well, but I guess they will do it in a way that keeps the courses free.

The value of the certification also needs to be dealt with. It seems to be an important issue for a lot of students.

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