Back in 2012, I took a Coursera course in Operations Management, to test the waters of the new world of MOOCs. I shared my experience in a number of articles here.
I was impressed with the thoroughness of the course (in fact, I did not see it through to completion because it was just too demanding and I was in it just to check it out). I did, however, find myself wondering how the MOOC model might become financially viable. I also expressed concerns about the potential for cheating and how this might limit schools' willingness to accept credit for these courses.
Recently, I learned that Coursera was offering a course in Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills. As it happens, I am responsible for a Strategic Goal at the college that requires us to more closely examine how effectively we are incorporating 21st century goals into our programs, and assessment will certainly play a key role in that.
We are also considering whether or not Coursera's offerings might provide affordable, convenient, quality professional development for our faculty. Clearly I couldn't pass this opportunity up. I signed up!
Course Structure, Mechanics
As I write this, I have started the final week of the course, and it has been a great experience overall. I spent much of this long weekend developing my final project, which counts for 45% of the grade. My assignment was to develop a Collaborative Problem Solving exercise for learners. I developed a project that could take place over several weeks in the Emerging Information Technologies course that I teach a couple times a year.
Collaborative Problem Solving incorporates numerous 21st century skills, and it was a logical way to bring focus to the topic of teaching and assessing 21st century skills. Over the course of the 5 week MOOC, background was given, and a framework for the skills needed to excel at CPS was developed, along with a corresponding rubric.The subject matter was taught in such a way that participants were provided the tools and skills they needed to apply this construct to their teaching situations.
This course felt quite a bit different from the Operations Management course I took back in 2012, but certain fundamentals were similar. Each week the course consisted of numerous videos and some related reading (generally optional). Most weeks there was a quiz (or a few of them) as well.
One particularly interesting aspect of the course is the grading of the project that constitutes 45% of the grade. The grading is being done via rubric using a peer assessment approach. We all have to grade 4 peer submissions. The rubric is a great tool for leveling the playing field so to speak, helping to ensure that key considerations are used with a degree of consistency in the grading of the work.
Verifiable? Yes. Viable? That remains to be seen (but they seem to be headed in the right direction)
I opted for the Verified Certificate option, wherein I can pay $49 for the certificate at the end of the course (if I attain an adequate grade). I was subject to a couple identity verification processes each time I submitted a quiz or assignment. One was a keystroke dynamics mechanism (I had to type a phrase – the same one every time) and the other was a webcam picture. I had also provided a picture of a valid form of identify at the start of the course (I used my driver's license).
These seem like pretty reliable automated identify validation techniques, although I am not clear on how the ID picture (my license) is validate against the web cam pics (my blurry license image is very different from the web cam pics). I would also imagine that the web cam pics could be quite inconsistent depending on where, when, and how they are taken, and have no idea if the technology that are using would detect that and what actions would be taken as a result (mine were quite consistent as I took most of them from the same computer, in the location).
As for the financial viability of the MOOC, having a fee associated with earning a validated certificate obviously provides some income, so that seems to be a step in the right direction in terms of making these constructs financially viable. In fact, this 2013 article explained that these certs are bringing in income. However, it seems there is still a long way to go to attain profitability.
It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out over the long term.