MOOCs and Poll Worker Training

(Crossposted from

Chiming in on Michael’s post, credit for sparking the idea in my head was a comment by a poll worker. I apologize for not writing down his name, but it was either Clyde David (Prince George’s County MD) or Stephen Graham (District of Columbia).

He discussed the need for ongoing poll worker training, which got me to think of the poll worker training studies at the the Pew Center on the States (including an online component) that never really got off the ground.

This led me to reflect about how online learning has changed in the last five years, and how ongoing training might be revived, and even how young people could be encouraged to be poll workers… and all this led to MOOCs (massive open online courses).

As Michael notes, there has been a lot written about MOOCs, from breathless commentary that compares them to the disruptive impact of the Internet on newspapers to a recent story that claims real profits from MOOCs are a decade off. We in higher education really don’t know how online learning will affect our lives, but nearly everyone is paying attention. (This link takes you to a wholesection at the NY Times website on MOOCs.)

For election officials, however, it’s not the MOOC (I don’t think there are millions of users worldwide desperate to learn how to manage a voting queue!) as much as the training method that struck me as valuable.

I am currently taking a basic Python programming class at Udacity. I encourage any interested election official to watch the first few videos. Google is financing this, so the production values are pretty high. However, the price of the toolbox to produce these kinds of videos has come down tremendously in recent years. Every PC and Mac is distributed with software that can edit videos. Most laptops have cameras attached, or you can buy a high definition webcam or video camera for a few hundred dollars.  The most elaborate device you’ll see above is a digital drawing tablet, and you can do a lot without using one of these devices.

And for production? Find someone under the age of 25 in your shop. They probably know how to use all this software.

What I’ve already learned from considering these for my classes:

  • Keep the videos to 3-5 minutes at most. Consequently, you have to break your teaching material into many short segments.
  • Avoid talking heads.
  • Short reminder quizzes and exercises are a great way to engage the viewer and reinforce learning.

Maybe this is a heavier lift than I am understanding, but it seems to me that dozens if not hundreds of jurisdictions can share intelligence about managing lines, operating the same model of a voting machine, or dealing with common voter problems.  In a state with a voter identification statute, videos like this would uneven and inequitable application of the law.

And heck, maybe this would even make working at the polls hip and edgy!