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Interview Writer & Diplomat Claude BIAO talks about MOOCs

Posted in 'Life-changing experiences of learning with MOOCs' started by Carolyn, Feb 1, 2016.

  1. Carolyn

    Carolyn Founder at MoocLab Staff Member

    Suffolk, UK
    Claude is trained as a diplomat with an interest in International Relations and Politics and now works in Paris for the APF (Assemblée Parlementaire de la Francophonie) – an association of the parliaments of Francophone countries which promotes the spread of the French language and intercultural dialogue. Claude, who comes from Benin in Africa, is also a writer and has been awarded multiple literary prizes including the Stéphane Hessel Prize in 2014.

    Claude has completed a number of MOOCs in his field of interest in both French and English, via edX, Coursera and the French MOOC platform FUN (France Université Numérique).


    Can you tell us briefly about your background – where you grew up, your education and your career path?

    I grew up in Kouandé, Natitingou and Parakou – in the north of Benin – in a family of 2 brothers and 1 sister. I was quite a turbulent boy, and I first didn’t like school that much. Instead, I used to spend most of my time wandering into the surrounding bush or at home, breaking the devices (radio, toys…) just to see how they work. Then as they noticed that I was also pleased in reading good stories, my parents stopped buying me expensive toys that they were sure I would break, and began to offer me books. But I think I did almost the same with books. I didn’t tear them up of course, but when I finished one good story, I used to re-write it on the margins or anywhere I could find a little space. Then I could change some aspects of the story that I didn’t agree with (mostly the ends), and I could also see (somehow) how the story works. I think this aspect of my childhood has been decisive for my whole education and career path. I grew up curious, wondering about everything, with that question that I think, shaped my choices later: “how does it work?” I really began to like school in secondary school, when after a first course of biology I saw that it could help me to know how things work (I can remember the voice of that teacher explaining us the digestion process).

    Carolyn: What lead you to become interested in International Relations and Political Sciences?

    Claude: Actually I wanted to be an engineer first. I wanted to build planes and cars. But I was not good at mathematics and physics, I guess I was too inattentive. Instead, I was good at literature, history and geography. Then came a time when for one year, we were taught history by a diplomat. I liked his lessons so much that I decided I would be either a diplomat or a teacher. That is the first reason why I entered the School of Public Administration (Ecole Nationale d’Administration et de Magistrature), the only that offers a program called “Diplomacy and International Relations” in Benin: to be a diplomat. But still, I changed my mind as I was discovering the wide scale of knowledge and expertise you can acquire into the field of International Relations. I became aware of this fact (decisive to me) that I could still fulfil my dream, understand “how the world works” and contribute to “build” relevant decisions to make it work better. That is in part why I decided to specialize in conflicts and crisis issues in West Africa.

    Carolyn: When and how did you first become aware of MOOCs?

    Claude: I was in first year of bachelor when listening to the radio I heard a chronicle talking about the “spreading phenomenon of MOOCs”, it was in 2009. I was curious to know what it was about. I went on a website they have mentioned in the chronicle: Coursera.com, and started a first course: “E-learning and digital cultures”, just to see how it works, so that I can use it for other purposes when I want (actually, I use to do this for many things). When I earned a Statement of Accomplishment for this 4 weeks’ course, I thought I could do the same in fields that have more interest to me. Then I made a research on Google to find out other platforms, and other courses.

    Carolyn: Which are the MOOCs that stand out in your field of study and why?

    Claude: I felt “Globalization's Winners and Losers”, “Terrorism and Counterterrorism” (both on edX.org), and “Espace Mondial” (on France-universite-numerique-mooc.fr) very instructive for me. These are some of the courses I was really pleased to take part in, and they gave me a more accurate view of the international environment, its dynamics with a broad insight of its actors, relevant stakeholders, challenges and important issues.

    Carolyn: In what ways have MOOCs helped you advance in your career?

    Claude: When I got a job as a journalist, specialist of international issues, at Diaspora FM/ EDEN TV, the three courses I mentioned above helped me to better understand the issues I was talking about, and even to determine into many situations of analysis, what exactly was at stake. And from this experience, I became aware that MOOCs could not only give me better understanding of issues, but also relevant skills that could be useful in practical work situations. It is the time (around 2014) I began to take MOOCs with a dedicated objective. I wanted to learn how to be more effective in negotiations (Psychologie de la Négociation, on edX.org), to understand the military rationale (Questions stratégiques, on France-universite-numerique-mooc.fr) that helped a better analysis of security-terrorism issues I was then tackling in Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso… or the safety reflex I should have to protect the data I use or keep on internet (Soyez acteurs de la sécurité de l'information, on France-universite-numerique-mooc.fr).

    Carolyn: What difficulties did you encounter studying in an online environment?

    Claude: The first, and for me the only challenge with online courses is self-discipline (apart from internet connectivity, and the quality of devices, that do not only depend on the learner). It was somehow easy when I took short (2 to 4 weeks’) courses with all the material at disposal on the platform. But some MOOCs are much more complex, and also exciting! You need to read (or watch) the courses on the platform, then search additional readings out on the web, and sometimes interact with other learners either for simulations or discussions… these are global inclusive experiences that need more time, more commitment, and when you have a job, it might be difficult to do well.

    Carolyn: You have studied MOOCs on both English and French speaking platforms. How do these platforms compare? Was your learning experience any different?

    Claude: I found about the French platform of MOOCs (France-universite-numerique-mooc.fr) late in 2014. It’s not very different from the English platform of edX in terms of presentation and working. Still, my learning experience was quite different when I was taught in French or in English. As French is for me the language in which I’ve made my education, I found it less exciting to take MOOCs in it. I found that MOOCs in English were a different way to approach the questions, that could be useful (or at least instructive) for the francophone that I am. I took the first MOOCs “E-learning and digital cultures” while I was not that proficient in English. I had to watch the teaching videos many times, to download the subtitles so that I could check the words into a dictionary…

    Carolyn: You recently took on a job in Parliamentary Cooperation for the APF based in Paris. Did you include the MOOCs you completed in your application? If so, how did you present them and how were they perceived by your employer?

    Claude: Of course I mentioned some of the MOOCs I completed on my CV (“Globalization's winners and losers” and “Terrorism and counterterrorism”). I had to explain to my employer that these were courses I freely took online, in a results-based approach. As the certificates I earned could not be considered as degrees, I’ve shown them some of the achievement I could not have completed in a so good manner as I did, if I’ve not acquired the skills I did through these MOOCs. These achievements include a monitoring mission to Burkina Faso during the political crisis of late June 2015 (the report of which is available on the web*, and was broadly recognized as one of the first reports after the military coup, that raises relevant questions about the new security challenges of that West African country).

    Carolyn: Recent research has revealed that MOOC students are primarily educated professionals from developed countries. Do you believe that MOOCs have the potential to provide quality education and career training in developing countries? In your opinion, what needs to be done in order to achieve this?

    Claude: I think, in their present shape, MOOCs are designated for professionals, lifelong learners and students that need to deepen their knowledge of a field of study. They come in addition of some basic knowledge that still needs to be learned in a university. Yet this is changing and it is possible for people to provide quality education and training through MOOCs, provided these are recognized by employers. In that challenge, developing countries are on the top of the demand (and begin to make relevant offers too!). Therefore they should first develop recognizing processes (maybe by confirming the MOOCs’ certificates by official universities), and then show positive experiences of recruited professionals who fully apply skills they have acquired through MOOCs.

    Carolyn: From your experience of studying with MOOCs, what advice do you have for people starting out with this type of learning?

    Claude: First a little discipline is absolutely necessary if you want to succeed. Second, I think it would be smarter to have a global objective or vision when choosing their courses, because it is possible to develop a proficient expertise through MOOCs provided they know what to learn, and when (just like a self-made study program). And a last, not so contradictory piece of advice: enjoy it and do not take courses you don’t really like.


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  2. Ankit Khandelwal

    Ankit Khandelwal Well-Known Member

    Wonderful !
    Carolyn likes this.

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