I did some research into MOOCs last year, and it was interesting to see such a different format for learning: mass content delivery, automated grading, peer grading, etc. Especially difficult, I imagine, was tailoring a course that accomplished the instructor’s goals, while still being viable logistically with so many people.

I saw on Coursera’s home page that they were offering a course in the Fundamentals of Online Teaching that is part of a series of courses that could lead to a certificate from UC Irvine. This course seemed not only a good way to first experience a MOOC for myself but also a potential gateway to a certificate that would help me professionally.

I’ve now completed two weeks of the MOOC and I’m not sure I’m impressed / willing to buy in. Part of the lack of buy in is that the certificate requires enrollment in Coursera’s Signature Track (which requires a nominal fee of $39) and an average of over a 90 in the course. And I suppose this is where the problem comes in. The second quiz had an open ended question (I won’t repeat the question here) that required a key word. The first time I took the quiz I included the answer with an explanation (including a colon after the answer). I received no credit for it. Knowing that such questions operate on keywords, I took the quiz again (the course allows you to take quizzes twice) and entered just the answer. Again it was marked wrong (this time I’m not sure why). The point I lost on that quiz left me with an 84 rather than a 94 (or an 8.4 rather than a 9.4), the difference between ‘passing’ for the certificate and not ‘passing’.

Now I realize that I can and probably should email the professor / course, investigate the problem, and solve it such that my grade reflects my knowledge / performance. But, exacerbated by the formal elements of the MOOC, i.e. that I am one of 10,000 students, my investment in the course and my willingness to pursue what is likely a nameless, faceless process is significantly diminished. I’m just not sure I want to be one of thousands of students who might be sending along the same issue (and the issue has already shown up in the discussion board).

So I’m certainly not willing to write MOOCs off. They can provide engaging content in an egalitarian way that few other resources can. But this experienced has introduced me first hand to the problems, or at least the difficulty, of attaching any kind of credit or mandated performance to a MOOC. I would have no problem with the quiz question if I were taking the course for my own edification. But, if I had in fact signed on for the credit, dealing with that quiz question, forced because my grade determines my progression, would be frustrating and ultimately I suspect not worth it.

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