Thursday, December 13, 2012

Coursera is a mess

And I mean that less negatively than the statement might convey. The main problem is when I sign up for a course I don’t really know what to expect. In many ways this is because everyone involved - students and professors are all experimenting and testing but in some ways this is also becoming frustrating.

This post focuses on video quality. This ranges from mediocre to great. In this category is the streaming experience as well as the lecture quality.

Using Chrome, the quality is sometimes degraded - requiring a full download in order to watch without blurring lines. It also requires the use of VLC player rather than WMP (although other players could also work). This is a technology problem and can and should be fixed. The degraded streaming experience is annoying and frustrating. Just as some text is being highlighted all I see are a bunch blurry lines. this problem varies across institutions within Coursera so the ball is definitely in Coursera’s court.

Lectures range from a video of a professor standing in front of a whiteboard a la ‘chalk and talk’ (and doing derivations on the board) to the (slick) use of Powerpoint/slides with videos within slides and or use of pen and highlights to draw attention to particular areas of the slides. The effectiveness of this approach varies with its extent and in general there is no real agreement for me which is the best approach. Having taken 5 courses I would think that it depends on the subject matter.

Again, the experience has ranged from mediocre to great. Unfortunately, some mediocre courses are need to somehow be flagged for attention. Coursera seems to have taken a franchise approach to MOOC in the sense that they provide the technology and platform and the professors/colleges provide the content. This approach has allowed them to expand course offerings at a rapid clip but quality may have been affected.

Perhaps Coursera feels that with the institution/professor’s reputation at stake, quality is self-enforcing in that no professor would be caught dead with mediocre lectures. Unfortunately, this can and has happened (my opinion only). Which leads to another problem - if a course undergoes some changes in the next round it is difficult to know what if any improvements have been made.

I would tend to generally file these under growing pains but the pace in which course offerings have expanded makes me think that the boys at Sand Hill Road are in the drivers seat - and driving recklessly. This pace could end up driving Coursera into mediocrity.

1 comment:

Rafa said...

For the problem watching videos online you must change the player in "course preferences" from "html5" to "flash"