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Presentation Scales In Massive Online Courses; Does Interaction? 63

Posted by timothy
from the place-to-talk-about-group-therapy dept.
lpress writes "Coursera has demonstrated that they can scale presentations in massive, open, online courses — they have reached over 1.3 million students in 195 countries since they were funded in April. But can they scale student interaction? As of this morning, 7,839 Coursera students had formed 1,119 communities on Meetup.com in 1,014 cities — many outside the U.S." On the whole, isn't that a positive outcome?
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Presentation Scales In Massive Online Courses; Does Interaction?

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  • Isn't that good... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 23, 2012 @07:12PM (#41431727)

    On the whole, isn't that a positive outcome?

    I dunno; are they forums where the blind lead the deaf or are they staffed with people who are able to answer questions correctly and quickly enough that students don't learn the wrong lessons?

    • by White Flame (1074973) on Monday September 24, 2012 @03:43AM (#41434131)

      They're staffed by the instructors and their assistants, and in my experience give quick and quality spoiler-free guidance and answers. The nice thing about a forum is that you're not getting off-the-cuff responses from one random assistant; they've got a chance to run it around the room and up the chain to give a better formed response than if you were to sit down with them one-on-one.

      And yes, it does scale. Any question that I desired to ask was already asked in the forums, with great answers and discussion around it, even sometimes ending up in new errata added to the video. By keeping this "interaction" persistent, it coalesces a ton of human redundancy out of the learning pipeline, effectively broadcasting the most effective parts of the interactions in a similar fashion as the videos, from a very conversational and relatable perspective.

      • by AchilleTalon (540925) on Monday September 24, 2012 @04:29AM (#41434309) Homepage

        Having followed about a dozen courses at Coursera and one at MITx. I believe there is still much room to improvement on Coursera's forum. The quality isn't equal. Some teaching assistants and Professors are outstanding. Others are so, so. The main point is that professors aren't paid to put their courses on-line. So, in some cases, the time commitment is just not there. Same thing apply to teaching assistants.

        The forum could be easier and more user-friendly searching isn't always easy. There is no performant search engine and classification with tags is depends on the students. Provided the number of students from many different locations and culture, it is easy to imagine not everyone is taking care about the tags.

        Beside that, you can usually find good help on the forum if you are up-to-date with the course material and not lagging to much behind, otherwise, you are reduced often to dig into the already existing threads to find your answers. There is not always a great willing to help those lagging behind. And, as I said, since there is no search engine, you may endup reading more pages on the forum than the actual course material to find the help and information you are seeking for. This can really be a time consuming task. At my sense, it should be a top priority in the list of the improvements to implement on the forum.

        For disabled students, the material isn't always available on time and isn't always accurate. That can be a concern for those needing it since they may at the end have much less time than others to complete the lessons, assignments, homeworks before the deadlines. This is a problem Coursera can easily fix by better planning the lauch of each course making sure a professor do not start a course without having already a given number of videos already adapted for disabled students. This is really just a planning issue. And, it is sad to say that disabled students may be penalized in a course by this lack of planning.

        For many teachers, this is the first experience at this scale, they need some guidance from Coursera which should be the primary ressource and should ensure the quality of the material by supervising the preparation and lauching of the new courses.

        I strongly believe in MOOC and despite my comments I believe Coursera did a great job. On the side of the on-line help on the forum, my experience with MITx is the forum environment at MITx was a little bit superior to Coursera's environment. Now, let see what edX will offer. Starting a new course today with them.

        • I forgot to talk a little about the meetup. Again, so far I haven't have a chance to join one in my area. I am aware there is now one, less than half a dozen students are registered and I am waiting for the first meetup.
  • by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @07:13PM (#41431735)
    Is it real interaction? Class interaction is talking to the professor for authoritative answers to questions, or in the case of the massively large science classes I took (CHEM 101 and PHYS 201-ish), they had a paid TA in the lab. Unless there is a paid TA in each of the 1000+ groups, they are nothing more than study groups, and aren't class interaction. There is no "official" answer to a question. There is no "interaction" with a class authority. That's not class interaction any more than friending a classmate on Facebook makes that classroom interaction (even if they meet in person, the difference is the lack of official representation in the group).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by redfield (638536)
      These are university courses. You don't learn anything useful by having someone tell you the 'right answer' to a made-up problem. The point of the problems is to learn to think about the issues and build the skills needed to find answers. Study groups are places where students can help each other build these skills. Even in face-to-face tutorials, a good TA doesn't just tell students the answers, but helps them find their own ways to the answers.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AK Marc (707885)
        I passed more than one university course with the help of identifying what the professor wanted to hear. Some lecture from their writings and theories and test from the book. Others read from the book and test from lecture notes and other supplimentary material. Interaction with the grade giver has value. Chatting with some chums isn't the same thing, no matter how "wiki" it feels. The truth isn't decided by committee. In a university course, the truth is decided by dictatorship.

        Granted there is a di
      • by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Sunday September 23, 2012 @08:00PM (#41432015) Journal

        Sorry, I profoundly disagree.

        Let's separate topics into "objective" and "subjective".

        The "Objective" ones are "easy" - math-engineering-parts of science. There is supposed to be "1.0001" right answers. (The "Right One" and the one in a million shot that the official answer is in fact incorrect.) So no amount of students thrashing around with no closure will help if at the end of the day the instructor-team doesn't produce the right answer. Then there's more thrashing about why 70% didn't get it right, and there is where you learn.

        On the subjective stuff, yeah, it heads more into what the Prof wants to hear, but a good Prof might actually have a clue. Look at the Legal Disputes we have going on here. We desperately need an IAAL whose paid specialty (from the EFF?) is to lead the discussions because however much we joke about the topic, law is hard, and 85% of our comments are flawed. The IAAL might make an error, but it's gonna be a much narrower error than most of our 200 comments.

        • Peer instruction (Score:4, Informative)

          by Roger W Moore (538166) on Monday September 24, 2012 @12:46AM (#41433565) Journal

          So no amount of students thrashing around with no closure will help if at the end of the day the instructor-team doesn't produce the right answer.

          That "thrashing around" as you put it is extremely educational. If you are the asker you have to think carefully and logically about the problem in order to phrase exactly what it is that you do not understand and for those answering they have to do the same to be able to make a rational argument as to why they are correct. This has been shown to lead to better understanding for everyone involved. In fact it is a recognised teaching technique called "peer instruction".

          You do still need an instructor to provide the correct answers and explanation at the end to ensure that everyone knows what the correct answer is but it is not necessary for them to be involved all the time in the discussion. Essentially it boils down to the fact that you learn a lot more if you can reason out for yourself your own answers. The instructor acts more like training wheels to stop you falling over. Eventually, if you become a scientist, you use the same technique - thrashing it out in journals - but since nobody knows the answer there is no instructor to come it and tell you the answer at the end...which is what makes it so much more fun!

        • There is supposed to be "1.0001" right answers. (The "Right One" and the one in ten thousand shot that the official answer is in fact incorrect.)

          FTFY

        • Sorry, I profoundly disagree.

          Let's separate topics into "objective" and "subjective".

          The "Objective" ones are "easy" - math-engineering-parts of science. There is supposed to be "1.0001" right answers. (The "Right One" and the one in a million shot that the official answer is in fact incorrect.) So no amount of students thrashing around with no closure will help if at the end of the day the instructor-team doesn't produce the right answer. Then there's more thrashing about why 70% didn't get it right, and there is where you learn.

          For engineering, there often isn't a "1.001 right answer;" at least not in how you arrive at a reasonable approximation of how your design will behave in the real world. I learned a number of ways, for the same problem, to get to such an approximation; what was important that you develop an understanding of how things work and where you can safely simplify a problem. Much of it was subjective despite the rigorous and equation laden world of engineering; as one professor put it "if the design looks right it

      • These are university courses.

        If there is no interaction with a professor and fellow students then these are not very good university courses.

        There is actually little that is new here, one way presentation of information are centuries old, that is what books are.

        Yes there are people that can learn from such presentations. However those individuals are exceptionally rare. That is why Universities evolved, because books alone were not enough.

        You don't learn anything useful by having someone tell you the 'right answer' to a made-up problem.

        And that *is not* what happens in real university level classes.

        The point of the problems is to learn to think about the issues and build the skills needed to find answers.

        And that *is* what happens i

      • by fatp (1171151)

        These are university courses.

        These are not university courses. They are provided by a university, and provide (a subset or) the same content of a university course and possibly same assignments. However, you get no credit. Instead, they give some form of statement of accomplishment Maybe one day some such organization (e.g., udacity) will become university, but not yet.

      • You can't reach a conclusion as to whether fluorine is a lanthanide by discussing it with people who don't know what lanthanides are.

        But for more "woolly" subjects (literature, art, business) you can certainly develop a better understanding from peers because there's no one right answer, and multiple perspectives can help.

    • by xQx (5744) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @08:04PM (#41432037)
      You can learn more about how Coursera works here: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/daphne_koller_what_we_re_learning_from_online_education.html - It is far more than just "study groups".

      Now, I'm not sure what it was like at your university, but doing a science course at Monash, I realized there is a huge difference in people who can teach vs. people who can research. And universities love getting researchers who publish stuff so the university looks good. The end result - every one of our maths or CS teachers spent their time talking in a thick Indian accent while scribbling nonsense on the board which you frantically copied down without learning a DAMN THING.

      As for the TA's - well, they aren't exactly experts or authorities in themselves, usually your first year TA was a second year student; your second year TA is a third year student; your third year TA is a fourth year student ...

      Lecturer interaction at most universities doesn't live up to the promise.

      So how do people learn? Well the studies say it isn't by sitting in a room listening. Nor, is it about talking to an expert about the material and asking interesting questions. And importantly - nor is it by memorizing stuff by wrote, then regurgitating it for an exam.
      You learn best by USING what you've been taught (in fact studies* say one of the best ways of learning something is to try to teach it to others).

      What does that mean?

      Most of what you learn at university actually comes from you doing assignments (or using what you have read or have been told in a practical way).

      How does Coursera stack up?

      Well, they did research that showed that peer-marked assignments hold an extremely strong correlation to teacher marked assignments - so as a student of Coursera, once you've finished an assignment, you then get assignments from other students to mark. They send the same assignment to a second student who also marks it (cross marking) - so you do assignments (when you learn), they get marked, and you get a grade.

      Also, There is an "official answer" to questions - when they do exams, they don't just tell you what answers you got wrong, because they have hundreds of thousands of people doing the same exam, they offer reasons why you got that wrong answer. Thus giving personalized learning via machine.
    • Is it real interaction?

      Interaction is overrated. I went from kindergarten to college graduation without ever raising my hand and asking a question in class. I would talk if called on, but I was way to much of an introvert to voluntarily draw attention to myself. If I didn't understand something, and nobody else asked about it, I would figure it out later on my own. But I did well in school, and feel like I got a good education. I don't see how it would have been worse if it was all online.

    • by jasax (1728312)
      That's not 100% true. I just finished "Learning from data" offered online independently (of Coursera, Udacity,...) by Caltech, in concrete by Prof. Yaser Abu-Mostafa, who answered in person to most of the the questions promptly, in a couple of hours, even on Sundays. It was also true that the number of questions was not overwhelming, and usually were valid questions (I think stupid people didn't abound in the forum.) I don't know how many people was in the class, but hundreds, probably. BTW, a very nice c
  • by artor3 (1344997) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @07:14PM (#41431739)

    So 8k students out of 1.3M have formed study groups? While that's good for those students, I'd hardly call it scaling well. That's a rate of 0.6%. Far, far lower than what you get in traditional universities.

    Do students really need to resort to a third party site to meet each other? If so, that's probably part of the problem right there. It seems like integrating social networking features right into Coursera would help to tremendously increase the rate at which students interact.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Many older students such as myself tend to stay away from forums and just do coursework at home alone. There's very little value to forums unless you are really stuck on a problem. I've seen groups form for students from Russia/China/India , etc... , these are usually young people and it's good for them to interact with someone from their own country. Anyways, enough rambling I've got work to do.

      btw I recommend the Algorithms I and II course, it's been very fun so far and the teacher (Robert Sedgewik) is re

    • I also stayed away from the forums because I just didn't have time to participate and by the time I read through a interesting topic I really didn't want to start posting on a topic that was already pretty old. I don't care for the forums on Coursera. It might be easier if I could filter by recent topics so I can focus on the conversations that are fresher. (If that is already possible then I missed it some how.)

      I do like the student evaluation process in the class I'm taking. There just doesn't seem to

  • by bgat (123664) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @07:16PM (#41431753) Homepage

    On the whole, "interacting" via message boards is about as productive for education as typing with mittens on is for coding. Online courseware can provide students with reference materials and enlightening prose, the enhancement that comes with direct, rapid-fire human interaction is missing.

    This is why medical, law, and engineering schools heavily promote study groups where you appear IN PERSON to interact with your classmates. The nuance of the spoken word, and the nonlinearity of conversation, adds a powerful dimension to the student's internalization of the material in ways you just cannot duplicate with words on a screen or paper.

    • by garcia (6573)

      This is why medical, law, and engineering schools heavily promote study groups where you appear IN PERSON to interact with your classmates. The nuance of the spoken word, and the nonlinearity of conversation, adds a powerful dimension to the student's internalization of the material in ways you just cannot duplicate with words on a screen or paper.

      I learn much better by reading and writing, not by listening to people talk. While traditional education models do push for one method over the other, it doesn't

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @08:09PM (#41432079)

      On the whole, "interacting" via message boards is about as productive for education as typing with mittens on is for coding.

      It depends on the message board. I have learned way more from Stack Overflow [stackoverflow.com] than I ever learned from a book. The content is well categorized, and both the questions and answers are rated in a way similar to Slashdot moderation. It seems to work very well.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't know about the rest of the world, but for the most part in first world countries, if you don't have a recognised certificate as 'proof' of your knowledge, then your knowledge is worthless.

  • Eventually a student needs to talk with and be guided by someone adept in the field. All this online stuff is okay but, I don't think you can become an adept through the online education medium. I am half way through my first Coursera course, I have just short of a million points with Kahn Academy, and I have done 14 Euler Project problems. Online is okay but you'll eventually need more. Good luck to you all. Jim
  • The 'presentation' part of most education be automated. I really don't see that as controversial at all.

    Lab and specific question issues are another beast all together.

    How can this be helped?
    Maybe fewer profs/lead/expert teachers... and more TA's and other lower-paid people allowing for more one-on-one help with students.

    This can even be applied to high school and other areas. You don't really need expert teachers. The material must be presented generally... and can be largely automated presentations. Bu

    • by Alex Belits (437) *

      The 'presentation' part of most education be automated. I really don't see that as controversial at all.

      The "presentation" part of most education was first automated in, I think, ancient Babylon or Egypt.
      China started producing cheap handheld versions of those devices in 1st-3rd century CE/AD.
      Then Johannes Gutenberg increased the bandwidth of copying and distribution (at slight expense of resolution).

  • How much interaction does big lecture classes at a traditional university have?? and what if differnt from on line then???

    Also why pay the high traditional university price when you can get the same on line with DRV control?

    • by tyrione (134248)

      How much interaction does big lecture classes at a traditional university have?? and what if differnt from on line then???

      Also why pay the high traditional university price when you can get the same on line with DRV control?

      Depends on how much of a coward one is to be too afraid to ask questions. Sorry, but having a few degrees at a major US university, nothing beats that interaction. If you don't think it is pertinent to ask your professor to work out the integral that you aren't seeing, then you're short changing yourself. Please spare me the on-line quality vs. University quality. They are night and day. Go get a Mechanical Engineering degree and discover how important it is being immersed in your field with groups of ME st

  • I guess, I repeat what others already mentioned in other forms, but interaction without teacher is more likely to build a shared mythology based on superficial understanding of the course -- someone proposes a plausible "explanation", others will accept it and build upon it, getting farther and farther from the truth.

  • This is a developing concept with the potential of being a paradigm shift. Now days anything you want to do, there is a YouTube video. From baking bread, to understanding excel, to trying to figure out complex math concepts. Somebody charismatic among a multitude on mediocre has made a video or a tutorial.

    We are comparing an old method of tuition with a new concept of online learning. There are elements of online learning that cannot duplicate face to face tuition, but the reverse is overwhelmingly on the

    • by tyrione (134248)

      This is a developing concept with the potential of being a paradigm shift. Now days anything you want to do, there is a YouTube video. From baking bread, to understanding excel, to trying to figure out complex math concepts. Somebody charismatic among a multitude on mediocre has made a video or a tutorial.

      We are comparing an old method of tuition with a new concept of online learning. There are elements of online learning that cannot duplicate face to face tuition, but the reverse is overwhelmingly on the side of online learning.

      Some of the greatest innovators are self taught. Some of the most brilliant mathematicians/scientists are also self taught. How many more self taught brilliant minds will this produce ? How many more of the rest of us will not have access to knowledge there is no way we would have pursued under the "old" system ?

      For every self-taught you have tens of thousands equally taught or greater. Sorry, but Newton came around once. Same with Einstein, Bohr, etc. They all had formal training.

      • by jrmech (2714225)
        As an engineering grad student, I have found (at least at my University) that the grad professors are horrendous at explaining material, and most of the "clarification" I get from asking them questions just leads me back to books/ the Inter-tubes. I have taken a Coursera course and it worked very well (HCI). That being said, the material was no-where near as difficult as the advanced engineering courses I'm referencing, so who knows how that more difficult material would compare in an online setting....
  • But can they scale student interaction?

    If you mean "scale it from its real world analogue", then no. No, they cannot, because...

    If you mean "scale it from smaller online courses", then yes, because online classes essentially have no interaction, at any scale.
  • ... and they've never actually met!

    Don't be fooled by the raw numbers. Look at how many meetups they've had, and whether any of those Meetups actually occurred. My one lists 3 past meetups, but the location had never been finalized - no one actually got together and met up.

  • I'm doing a machine learning course with them right now, and they ask you as one part of the homework to write Matlab code, and include a script that connects to their servers, and checks your code for correctness. This, plus a set of partly randomized multiple-choice questions for each lecture are a great help for me to focus on the content.

    That's pretty awesome in my book, way more than any forums (well already at Uni I mostly skipped the lectures and discussion groups, and passed everything by reading th

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