Who is accountable at Coursera?

Coursera wants to be the Google of the education world. You can’t complain about your email if the email is free, right? And the same thing holds true with their courses.

So when things like this happen in the course I am taking, where the exact answers to pass the final are revealed by mistake during the process of taking the final, it’s just a bug. These things happen, right?

But think this through in light of the “let’s transfer MOOC credit in” model that schools like Antioch are looking at.

Think about Antioch’s options. They could transfer in this course, only to find out that passing it was trivially easy, and demonstrated no real aptitude in economics.

In that case, the Antioch brand is damaged. A credit transfer system is only as strong as its weakest link.

Alternatively, Antioch could hear about the snafu, and refuse to transfer this credit in. But in that case a bunch of students took a class for four weeks expecting to get credit only to find out that they are not going to get any credit because Coursera made a technical error. Four weeks of work down the drain.

The only thing that Coursera is offering that extends much beyond straight up OCW is an assessment framework. If they can’t guarantee that ¬†– or if they don’t at least freak out about its failures — why would you ever transfer in MOOC credit without additional assessment.

And yes, this is partially an argument for why all xMOOC credit should be wrapped in a layer of authentic institutional assessment, if only to protect the value of your degree.

But it’s also a straight up question — who at Coursera is accountable? And to whom?

via Hapgood http://hapgood.us/2012/11/07/who-is-accountable-at-coursera/

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8 thoughts on “Who is accountable at Coursera?

  1. Terry Anderson says:

    Good point about accountability, but do remember that Antioch and Colorado State are NOT giving credit for Coursera Mooc’s alone, but maintaining their academic credibility by requiring completion of their own challenge exams- a model that a number of accredited universities (including my own Athabasca) have been following for years. These testing models assess learning NOT how, where or when the learning happens from Coursera to autonompus study

    • mikecaulfield says:

      Terry… Good point. I knew that was how Colorado was doing it, but the articles I saw on Antioch did not make that clear. I will take another look and see if the Antioch example is the wrong example.

    • mikecaulfield says:

      By the way Terry, I was just reading your Three Generations paper this weekend; it’s such a goldmine of connections to good hard thinking in this area. Supplies the historical context often missing in these discussions. Thanks so much for it.

      I was going to say, what a coincidence you commenting. But thinking about it probably not. I would LOVE it if you would look at the linked article in this post on authentic assessment wrappers around xMOOCs and tell me the ways that I am likely being historically myopic.

  2. Laura Gibbs says:

    Mike, thanks for this – you might be interested in the odd situation now unfolding at the Coursera Fantasy-SciFi course. The course was over weeks ago, and just this week they calculated our “grade” and issued “certificates” – and much to everyone’s surprise, the thing being called a “grade” seems not to have anything to do with the grading scheme which the professor had put in the class syllabus (a rather arcane set-up involving both peer-grading and participation). In addition, the certificate for the class does not reflect the grade – there is the same certificate for all people who pass the class; in effect, the class was made pass/not-pass, but only after the fact. That’s unfortunate, since people in the class beat themselves up and beat each other up about the grading for the 10 weeks of the class… the class would have been much better, in my opinion, if we had not had any peer grading at all, just peer comments and feedback.

    Anyway, the students in the class who have checked in at the discussion board are pretty unhappy – in particular, the people who worked week after week, chasing that letter grade of A, are not happy to find out that the certificate is a pass/not-pass certificate and that the letter grade is not on file anywhere with Coursera. Instead, in their personal record for the course, they see only a raw percentage (with more than 10 decimal places – gosh, it sure looks precise, doesn’t it?), a percentage that does not reflect the professor’s complex grading scheme at all.

    A comment from a Coursera staff member at the discussion board makes it sound like Coursera will have an across-the-board policy about grading which will not allow for letter grades. Instead, a ‘percentage grade’ only will be allowed. The staff member explains: “In the future we will only be referring to percentages in the syllabi for our courses, as letter grades are calculated differently by different schools, in different countries, etc., and so the stated letter grade is simply a cause for confusion.”

    Well, as the discussion board for Fantasy-SciFi attests, percentage grades are also a cause for confusion, ha ha.

    In sum, I really don’t understand the Coursera model. Is Coursera just a platform for delivering courses that are designed by university faculty from the universities in the consortium? Or is Coursera actually responsible for the pedagogy of the courses, such as the way grades are to be determined?

    It’s all very bizarre, if you ask me. :-)

    • mikecaulfield says:

      This is really interesting. There is this question that a colleague of mine keeps asking, which is why if we are co-branding these things are we calling them Coursera courses, and not, for instance, UT Austin courses, or whatever University is offering them. The credibility of the course is clearly derived from the offering institution.

      But part of the answer is what you identify — Coursera is going to set site-wide rules on grading schemes, and the minute you do that, it pushes back into the pedagogy. They will likely be pushing some other things in the rules/heavy recommendations area as well. I think, frankly, that this is unavoidable. If I build an attachment to Coursera over another vendor of courses, it’s going to be because the Coursera courses have an identifiable feel. If there is no identifiable “Coursera experience”, then Coursera is in a lousy market position. So we will see more of this in coming days.

      • Laura Gibbs says:

        I keep thinking MOOCs are really just a new breed of textbook, not really a course – so what they are calling a “grade” is not really a grade – it is just a raw number based on “results,” just like results are tallied and calculated at the companion websites for textbooks that have quizzes and such. The instructor of a course then takes those results and factors them into the grade of a course – a course, mind you, which is not equivalent to a textbook, with or without a companion website.

        So in the same way that a textbook comes from McGraw-Hill (and is vetted by McGraw-Hill editors, etc.), but is authored by a professor from a university, I think MOOCs will be much the same. People have loyalty to textbook publishers, relationships with them – but the individual textbook also has an identity of its own. At this point, though, we are getting a lot more value added by McGraw-Hill and their editors, for example – which is why a Coursera MOOC can be free and a McGraw-Hill textbook costs you out the wazzoo.

        At least, that’s how it strikes me at this point. I think the textbook companies are going to kick into high gear pretty soon and we will see textbooks bundled not with companion websites but bundled with MOOCs.

  3. mikecaulfield says:

    Laura – I feel very much the same — the best way to think of xMOOCs is as a text with a community around that text. I think people will see that soon (hopefully) because once you start to see it that way, there’s a profoundly positive story that can emerge that is about xMOOCs supporting education instead of replacing it.

    I suspect though that the reason why we don’t hear the xMOOC as textbook push is that there is a bigger market cap on replacing education than supporting it. Or, in any case, more sexiness.

  4. [...] Who is accountable at Coursera?Mike Caulfield, Weblog, November 7, 2012. [...]

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