Welcome to Voices of Impact!

Behind this “massive” educational landscape are real people with personal learning expectations.

The aim for this blog is to highlight personal narratives from select MOOC students who have indicated that open courses have made a significant and practical impact in their lives. The stories shared here provide a glimpse into some of the specific course design attributes and aspects that helped foster impact. All posts are written by students and feature their own voice sharing a bit about the personal impact that open learning has had on their lives.

There are millions of student stories woven in the fabric of open courses…these are just a few.

The Transformative Power of Massive Open Online Courses

Photo of Leni SpoonerLorena Spooner – Guelph, Ontario, Canada

I live equidistant to several highly respected Canadian Universities and Colleges. Access to higher education has never been a problem. Nevertheless, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), rather than bricks-and-mortar institutions, have re-opened the doors of opportunity for me — and countless others.

Inclined to be curious and unconventional, I find satisfaction and enjoyment in seeking new options, acquiring new perspectives, and building fresh solutions to problems. Back in 2011, my world shrank as life’s challenges started wearing me down. The isolating — and exhausting — grind of being the primary caregiver for an aging parent, victimized by a catastrophic stroke, required retrenching in all areas of my life.

 Click the play button to hear Leni’s story.

Career and social interactions took on part-time status at best. I spent more time interacting with healthcare providers than with family, friends, or colleagues. With many friends and family members living at a distance, I had a vague presence on Facebook, but how much time can one spend staring at photo streams and cat shares? By early 2013, I was beyond desperate, and looked to MOOCs to keep my sanity.

Writing II: Rhetorical Composing (RC) hosted on Coursera by Ohio State University, helped me rediscover the dormant side of my personality, and surfaced opportunities for change and deeper exploration. It launched me into an exciting new future, stripped of decades of socially driven conformity and compliance.

Within a few weeks of starting RC, my first MOOC, both my online and physical world interactions changed. I found myself applying key course principles in all my communications — and I was getting excellent results. A rare-in-life light bulb moment had flashed and lit up future pathways. That flash of light became more valuable to me than any lottery win. Immersion in the course content, along with myriad conversations amongst fellow participants and educators, brought something new, and very effective, into all my day-to-day interactions and tasks. Not a single dynamic in my life remained unaffected.

Key concepts involving Ethos, Pathos, Logos, and Kairos, applied in the context of 21st Century digital communication, underpin every success I have enjoyed since. It is unlikely that I could have benefited, in quite the same way, had I taken this same course in my late teens. Choices and priorities are quite different when facing life-defining decisions armed with not much more than a wallet full of dreams. However, in the context of lifelong learning, intended to compliment formal education and life practice, the experience was nothing short of transformative. I came away embracing creativity and innovation. I now thrive on change.

The Launch of a New Future

I continue participating in MOOCs, volunteer as a Coursera Community Teaching Assistant, and am in the process of launching a new business. The business plan started to evolve, quite organically, during the course of a research assignment involving 21st century digital learning and innovation. Business launches are stressful, but exciting. The needs of the business have kept the research project alive and well. Learning and earning seem to be moving forward in a pleasantly symbiotic fashion.

Engaging with digital culture in a meaningful way is now a normative part of my daily life. From a few connections on Facebook, my network has grown to include hundreds of people who are passionate about education and communication. Admittedly, only a little over a tenth of these are truly intimate connections that I interact with constantly. What is significant is that most of those I name ‘intimate’, were directly involved in the spring 2013 RC experience. I count on them. They count on me. Together, we continue to work the magic that was, and is, RC — online and off. Pixar Founder Ed Catmull’s mantra: “When faced with a challenge, get smarter.” captures the spirit of MOOC inspired collaborative teams.

Lifelong learning is something that I have always believed in. Even so, I still marvel that so much came from a mere 10-week investment in time. RC was, and remains, the definitive collaborative experience of my lifetime. There is far more to MOOCs than traditional education outcomes – statistical or otherwise. Massive open online courses are reshaping the global landscape and reinventing learning. I believe that the best is yet to come.

Climbing a Staircase to the Vast Possibilities in Open Learning

Photo of Khadija NiaziKhadija Niazi – Lahore, Pakistan

I am 14 years old and I am a student of 9th grade. Reading interesting novels and watching anime online is my hobby. My life has been transformed by MOOCs because of the immense amount of knowledge I am acquiring at this age, which by no means I could have acquired by only remaining in my typical environment. I have always been interested in science subjects and physics. The focus of my learning is Astrophysics and quantum physics because these two topics are the most intriguing topics I have ever set my eyes upon. I took my first MOOC at the early age of 10, and since then I never looked back. One MOOC led to another and the learning continued, it was like climbing up a staircase, small steps at a time. I found out about my first MOOC through a newspaper article and later through the forums of that MOOC, I learnt about different MOOC platforms. The thing I most enjoy in a MOOC is the forums. The forums give you a chance to interact with various people, having different experiences, all around the world sharing one common goal; learning. A global, united community of people, who are striving and share only one goal; to be enlightened and to improve their lives by knowledge which is free of cost.

My life was deeply impacted since I started taking MOOCs. It not only helped me in my own school but it also opened up a door to learning more advance topics. As I told you above, one of my main focus was Quantum Physics. And when I found a course of quantum physics I found out that I needed to learn calculus for it. I immediately started looking for a calculus course and got myself enrolled in Calculus One by Ohio State University. I found myself so lucky that after that course, everything started coming in a flow for me. After Calculus One, Calculus Two came which was also by OSU and then I took one more step ahead and enrolled in Single Variable by Penn University which was more advanced. I remember that I thanked my lucky stars when I found out OSU had a multivariable course and I wasted no time and enrolled in it. All of these courses prepared me for the Quantum Physics course on Coursera which I was aiming to take.

All these MOOCs on Calculus have enabled me to view the world from a different perspective, a calculus perspective. Due to these Calculus courses I was able to meet my dreams of completing the Quantum Physics course with more than 80%. I could not have imagined to be able to complete such advanced course at the age of 13.

Not only that those calculus courses have contributed a lot in my wish to complete a Quantum physics course, but they have also made me understand physics books which I could never understand without the knowledge of calculus.

All the MOOCs I have taken have helped me in one way or the other. I had a friend in my school who was interested in computer science but she couldn’t learn it because her parents could not afford any other institution’s fee because they were hardly managing the school fee for her. So I told her and a few other to search for a MOOC online and fulfill their passion for learning and I was very glad to see her taking those MOOCs and completing them. We have a great responsibility, and that is to introduce people of our community to MOOCs and to spread the message of free online education with no boundaries.

When I started my learning with MOOCs I did not know how far it would take me but let me assure all of you, it has enabled me to touch those horizons which I could never have imagined to grasp. MOOCs have not only have shaped the system of education, it has also shape the learning process in which a learner is free to explore so many vast possibilities, while having a complete control on them. In MOOCs, he is the teacher and he is the student as well because he can help others in forums and he can also be helped. Let us not confine ourselves with typical learning when there are many other possibilities yet to be explored.

My life is totally changed after I took control of my own learning, many lives are still waiting to be changed. All we need is to give them the resources and we can always hope for a better and educated world.

Thinking 100 Steps Ahead toward a Revolution in Education

Photo of M. Shaheer NiaziM. Shaheer Niazi – Lahore, Pakistan

I am a 9th grade student; I am 14 years old since September 25th 2014. Learning science subjects like astronomy/physics has been my interest for a long time. I even love history and geography and I am an avid collector of coins, stamps and minerals. I always knew science and mathematics are necessary for each other, so I always wanted to learn the mathematics behind all the theories, and I wanted to know how to calculate the constants, so that I could recreate them on my own. Make my own theories and test them with the formulas. I had a beautiful book on the mathematics of the universe. It was difficult for me, I had no idea how to do some of the problems. I tried miserably to do those difficult problems, but I couldn’t. This failure is what motivated me to learn more, so that I could finally solve those questions. So I found a perfect way to do it all, the MOOCs way.

MOOCs not only helped me in learning they also sparked my new passion which was to do practical experiments. Experimenting is the most productive way of learning about the physical world and how it works. I use many common household objects and experiment around with them. One of my most productive experiments was the Quantum interferometer experiment, in which I used the interference pattern of a laser due to my hair, to find its width. I got interested in this experiment due to a wonderful MOOC of Quantum physics.

MOOCs have impacted my life, like no other thing has. Learning in a typical school environment has not helped me the way I look at my learning world now. My experience with MOOCs has introduced me to a world which has no boundaries, no restriction of age and I can freely experience the different realms of knowledge on my own. There are so many diverse possibilities suddenly opened up in front of me thanks to MOOCs which I would later choose from.

After taking my Astronomy MOOC, I was finally able to solve those hard questions from my book. MOOCs even helped me make my own blog, in which I solve interesting questions of astronomy and many other subjects. During that I found out that this adventure was just beginning. I found out what real astronomy was. There was more to this. Real astronomical and astrophysical problems cannot be solved with normal Mathematics. They need Calculus. So the Ohio State MOOCs of Calculus helped me pass that hurdle. Just to bring me face to face with another, which was Quantum Physics. Quantum physics just baffled me. I had never seen something like this before and I wanted to learn it badly. I am still learning Quantum Physics, and there are not one but many MOOCs which helped me reach the point at which I start learning Quantum physics. So I can’t credit one particular course as being most important, because all the course I have ever taken have been staircase for me to reach this point. I don’t know how long this staircase of learning is, but I want to work hard until I reach the highest point which I can achieve. Until today I have completed almost 20 courses which have all been intertwined with each other all helping me in a sequence to reach my goal.

The world is transforming day by day. And the pedagogy of teaching and learning is also changing. I consider myself very lucky to have access to these MOOCs at such a young age, which will, in the end, shape the future of many who have limited resources. I hope in the future, that when I need to publish any scientific paper, I will have open access just like I have open access to MOOCs. We need a world where education is facilitated and encouraged without the boundaries of money. So we need one more step further in this direction. My mother always used to tell me to think 100 steps ahead of others. This quote is what has kept me going, which has kept me ahead of others and I believe it is high time for the world to revolutionize education by thinking 100 steps ahead. Only then we can have a better future for our coming generation.