Coursera is an online education company launched by Stanford University professors in April 2012. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Coursera offers massive open online courses (MOOC), in which anyone from around the world can gain free access to “video lectures” and assignments of classes from renowned universities worldwide. It offers a broad variety of subjects, taught in multiple languages. Users are able to complete graded assignments and earn a certificate of completion at the end of the course duration. As of October 2014, Coursera has over 10 million students and raised $85 million in venture funds. They derive their revenue out of signature tracks, corporate professional development programs and specializations.
Coursera has revolutionized the education industry by giving free access to video lectures provided by top institutions. In observation of individual courses, it proves to be a challenge for professors to run “office hours” for more than 10,000 online students (Coursera has recently integrated “live-stream hangouts” into their courses to counter this obstacle). Thus the most intriguing characteristic of Coursera is it’s integration of a social element between students taking a certain course. I personally have taken a few classes on Coursera over my gap year and I would like to take this opportunity to share my experienced of a socially driven course.
Class Run By Thousands
The very first, and memorable course I’ve taken in Coursera was “Introduction to Mathematical Thinking” taught by Professor Keith Devlin of Stanford University. This was an opportunity for me to experience the rigor in my field of passion provided by one of the world’s best institutions. However, I would not have been able to do well without accessing the Discussion Forum.
Coursera has integrated a forum in which students can share helpful learning resources and provide “hints” to assignment problems to each other. I found the course I was taking to be very challenging, and having access to a discussion forum of thousands of others had not only given me the ability to adequately succeed, but it has opened up an entire network of individuals from around the world with similar a passion. It also fosters engagement in the topics discussed in lectures and has allowed for a mass interaction within the class as a whole. Overall, what I observed in the forums was an incredible macro-collaboration between global strangers for means of learning.
Users may also volunteer to become Teacher Assistants, in which they would regulate the forums to uphold academic integrity. For example, users are restricted by the honor code to post direct answers to assignments, or reveal any questions that may appear in online tests. TA’s will be in charge of monitoring the forums accordingly. They would also report any specific difficulties students could be facing to the professor, who could improve the course structure and content based on feedback. Additionally, professors are given the autonomy to design their own evaluation systems. I remember having to grade my peer’s exams after taking my own and having 3-5 random others grading my work resulted in an efficiently fair and unbiased evaluation. It also gave me the opportunity to observe how other students decided to approach the test questions and learn from the perspective of others.
Overall, Coursera’s course technical operations and its informational value are mostly socially driven. The website sets up an ideal platform that lets its users “run” the class, and crowd-sources regulator positions to the public. But letting strangers assume TA positions raises a question of credibility. Is integrity perfectly preserved? No. But with proper organization and incentive systems, a crowd-regulated online class can still maintain a great extent of honesty.
Since MOOC’s are simply “an alternative to no higher education”, completion does not award any form of accreditation that may provide an opportunity for further education or employment. Thus the consequence of dishonesty would not be as severe as those in formal institutions. However, students may choose to sign up for a signature track (which would require a $30-$90 fee) to increase the credibility of their course completion by adhering to tighter surveillance processes. In these cases, Coursera utilizes a special software that recognizes the user’s typing rhythm and pattern to verify their identity when taking tests.
Will Coursera eventually compete with current institutions and live up to the “free education” utopia? Definitely not without perfecting their proctoring system. But it has successfully given at least an equally valuable form of engagement online to that of physical classrooms. As student-to-student interaction is encouraged, users are able to derive and create resources to improve the overall learning experience. While most universities sell on the professor-student intimacy of small classes, I would argue that we derive more informational value from the massive conversation of a lecture hall, and Coursera serves to be the ultimate example.
So, how do you think #IS6621 would fare as a massive open online course?