About Coursera…

I would like to tell you about my experience with Coursera this past year. Coursera is the site that claims that you can take online college courses from leading university professors. Coursera seemed like an incredible idea when it first started up but as things have matured I have noted some very serious problems with it.

First: You do not get any kind of college credit when you take these courses and these courses are not as rigorous as real University classes – not by a long shot. I have talked to several people over the past year that seem to think that Coursera is a free online University. It is not.

Second: You can only take the course during the time period it is offered; if you start two weeks into the course you will likely be unable to get a certificate of completion. This is despite the fact that these courses appear to be based on little more than videos, interactive quiz pages and student assisted tutoring forums.

Many of the instructional videos that I have watched have production values which are lower than homemade Youtube “webcam” videos. The claim of Coursera is that all of this is being done to learn how to deliver education content online – yet people are creating courses right now that fail to learn from things that have been known for many years. These issues include poor lighting, poor use of on-screen video tools, and in some cases complete disregard for well established techniques including maintaining an “eye-line” and having the speaker look directly into the camera. How you present yourself visually says a lot — you and I both know that is a true statement.

The technical support has the same problem as “community supported” software: There isn’t any technical support. What you get is self volunteering “students” that jump in with their two cents. So instead of TAs that you could feel confident have been vetted for their knowledge and insights you get glory hounds trying to make themselves stand out as Subject Matter Experts (amongst a group of admitted students). This is true even of the technical support for using the videos and the website’s features. No Staffing, no support, and not even an option for paying for a better experience.

It is not just about Coursera and its videos either. These courses are enrolling tens of thousands of students so there is not even the remotest chance that your comments, insights or questions are ever going to be addressed by someone with verifiable competence such as the University professor or her TAs and RAs. Since many of these courses claim to be “self contained” there is generally no book that you can reference. Instead there are bits and pieces of PDF files, text notes and what not – very little of which has been professionally edited – let alone subjected to competent review. I’m not even going to start on the pedagogy which is, in a word, dated – like 1995 dated.

The straw that has ruined it for me is the crowds of whiners and loonies that respond to every suggestion and critical comment with “Its free man, give em a break” or “what do you expect for free.”

I don’t expect anything to be free. How is that for a short, clear answer?

That said, I am no longer going to waste my time on what is really nothing more than a fancy youtube for college professors to put up free videos. Instead, I will continue to do what I have always done: Pay for a real course online if I need too, or just buy a book, written by subject matter experts that has been edited for errors and omissions by competent reviewers and study it on my own. You see, that is the advantage of a Real Education – I’ve already learned how to research, study and learn. I don’t need a support group of friendly know nothings and poorly made videos with silly “multiple guess” quizzes to learn a subject.

If you want to try out coursera please do, but you will see exactly what I am talking about after you have taken a full course. And please feel free to read what others have to say about Coursera:

This link is simply stunning, Coursera class crashes due to poor planning and a complete failure to comprehend the constraints of the tools they tried to use, Note the title of the course (ROFL)
Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application

Commentary on the hype of Coursera and MOOCs. What’s right and what’s wrong about Coursera style MOOCs

Some folks think it is time to Jump Off the Coursera Bandwagon

Sensible commentary from another student discussing problems with plagarism, spam assignments(!?), and how it is impossible to be heard in the chaos of the “Discussion” forums on Coursera: Yes, Plagarism, how sad is that?