Comments I made in a comparative discussion

The second paragraph is my initial comparative post that I used to start a discussion about two Coursera professors, Kearns and Werbach, and their (respectively) unsuccessful and immediately successful adjustment to the pioneering Coursera MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platform. It is not about these two people, not a personal thing, it is about my impressions as an observer in this particular learning environment, with its special expectations. Obviously both are gifted, hardworking humans. However, their performances are shockingly different in the MOOC context. Both are professors of the same outstanding university in the US.

I am in the middle of my Gamification course with Kevin Werbach. I like his expressive style (I can see that he loves teaching), I like that he is talking to me, that there is a face to face element (even if not live), and I enjoy essay writing. I did not plan on taking the tests and writing the essays (just wanted to watch the videos), but I find the course motivating and I am taking the tests and I am writing the essays. 🙂 However, I have the total opposite sentiment when I am watching Michael Kearns (Networked Life)… his voice is so deep that sometimes it is hard to understand what he is saying (my English is pretty good, so that’s not it), his style is almost robotic, and I only see his face (lacking emotions) at the beginning of the lecture. The rest is slides (he is often reading them). Also, each lecture video is started with the same boring intro (complete lack of empathy for the viewer who is watching several videos a day), and it includes an indication that the lecture is “live”… No it isn’t! The background images are totally out of context. So, in this case the fact that it is an old series with not much alteration for Coursera is kind of sad. Also, how can you make such a fascinating topic so boring and dry? The only positive experience is the availability of all video materials (posted right at the beginning of the course). I am continuing to take the tests and write the essays in the Gamification course, and only watch the Networked Life course videos (as long as I am not falling asleep while listening to a monotonous voice mostly reading the slides to me… not even fully explaining some of the key concepts that are tested in the related quiz). Both courses are produced by the University of Pennsylvania. (I am an Ivy League alumna… I have a Masters degree from Teachers College Columbia University Graduate School of Education, in Interdisciplinary Studies in Education… so I know what I am talking about…) I am curious about your experiences! Please, mindfully compare instructors in a similar fashion to help others when looking for more courses to register for.” (23 people liked this comment on facebook until I posted this text on my new Coursera blog)

After I posted this text on facebook, dozens of similar comments were posted by other students, who also take both classes and had very similar sentiments. More comment “likes” were coming in as I kept posting to respond to students. So, below I am going to post further comments that I wrote to show how the discussion unfolded. I do not want to expose students so I am not posting what they wrote, nor do I mention them by name, to respect their privacy. Sometimes you can reverse engineer their comments from my answers. The sequence of my comments turned out nicely, summarizing my narrative regarding Coursera. Therefore, instead of an introductory essay, I am going to quote my major comments in their order of appearance on facebook.
“I have been thinking about dropping Networked Life (by Michael Kearns). That is the most powerful feedback: a huge number of people dropping a class, especially people like me, who did well on the first quiz, but I think he will assume that it is just too hard for us, and that is wrong. He just appears to have little or no passion for online teaching. I am really interested in networks… hope a better course comes along in this area.”

Gamification is a good course, and I am sure it will be even better in the future, adapted even more for the Coursera environment, and it is because Kevin Werbach enjoys the process himself too. 🙂 He is a passionate educator.” (4 likes)

“Not fair to discredit other instructors?” I have a right to my public and professional opinion, especially when working with a beta system. My opinion is balanced, open, totally fair, and rest assured, I posted the same thing on the Networked Life facebook page first. What is not fair about the truth by the way…? Just read the reactions to my post… I am not the only one with this opinion. Having an opinion is fair.” (3 likes)

We had hundreds of years of professors telling students how good or bad they are… This baby, is a new era. It is Coursera! I take classes and I give immediate feedback, if you as a professor are super, good, bad or sadly hopeless. And either you make changes my dear, learn to teach, or you are out as a teacher. You can still be a researcher, publisher, mentor, inventor, CEO, pilot, or whatever, just stop teaching if you are not able to move into the twenty first century and live up to expectations in top level online higher education. Because: you are not a bad person, not a bad employee, rather just a bad teacher. And if you are good, if you can become good in online higher education, we will love you for it, we will pick you up and carry you to global rock star professor status. You can always improve yourself if you want to make it in this area. All I am saying: Thank you if you are good, and try harder if you are not yet good at it, because I give my best as a student. 🙂 Expect my respect for effort, quality, etc., and not for status. Never for status. Always for effort, knowledge and passion. Kevin Werbach has all these! He has the best chance of making it as a Coursera favorite. Good for him.” (6 likes)

“Well, T. R., I am dyslexic, but I did well on the Networked Life quiz, and also on the Gamification quizzes, so I have no trouble understanding the concepts, nor do I have language issues, because I am an Ivy League alumna. I see that you are a Wharton MBA (U. of Penn), so lets assume that you also have the necessary intellectual capacity to do the tests. But if I could do it (not a native speaker of English), with dyslexia, it would be important to uncover the reason why you failed. For example, it is possible, that your learning style is different, and this modality does not suit your mind. How did you do in other Coursera courses? Are you used to independent learning, or are you more of an “in person, with friends” kind of learner? Have you done such tests online in the past? Did you grasp the test method? Or in fact is it the professor in Networked Life…? You just aren’t on the same wave length at all… it happens… Stay in the game! Try Gamification. :-)”

“T., it appears that it is just that one class for you… I think it is important for us to talk about the issues, so that nobody would feel bad. The point is not to collect bad feelings, the point is to learn and enjoy it. I think I started to talk about this discrepancy between the two lecturers here because I had high expectations for Networked Life too as a new learning era experience and I am not used to dropping classes (I did not drop it). However, as Courserians, we should act as if having dinner in a fine all you can eat running sushi restaurant… Eat what you like. Do not eat, what you do not like. We should be glad that Gamification is an enjoyable experience. Gamification is good sushi. 🙂 You should be encouraged by your good performance in the other classes and enjoy the premium food for your mind. 🙂

“M. S.: Michael Kearns (Networked Life) could be better, most definitely, if he made an effort. I hope his class comes back renewed next time, and I will gladly take it. I just won’t live a new life according to old rules. I have no problem with effort, when I see that the professor is making an effort too. I can tell when a class is well designed. Now it is not. It could be next time. But imagine Kevin Werbach teaching Networked Life too! I am sure, we would not be having this discussion. We would be happy and focused.” (2 likes)

“Regarding “plants and zombies”… I did not even click there during the Gamification course… It is not why I am here. As you say, it is for your son. I still had no problem grasping it and answering the quiz question about it. As I wrote before, there is room for development even in the Gamification course, no matter how much I enjoy it already.”

“N. T.: Yes, Kearns is reading the notes, I did write that. We totally agree: we do not need him to read the notes, because that we can do in a much more interesting way, if we liked on our own. Definitely lacking examples too and there is a disconnect between the lecture and the test. True. I would be totally ashamed of myself if I delivered a lecture like this.” (1 like)

“When Kevin Werbach‘s examples are a bit silly or childish here and there, I feel it has to do with his playfulness and I forgive him these small things because his heart and mind is virtually streaming all over the servers and you can feel it, and you learn from this energetic online pioneer.”

“H. C.: I am glad to hear that you are satisfied with all three of your Coursera professors. (Blogger’s note: Kearns was not among them.) I should mention, that I also enjoyed Scott Klemmer’s HCI (from Stanford), but I have to add, that I “only” watched the videos (did not take the tests) because I registered on Coursera when HCI was almost overScott was also very enthusiastic, sometimes trying to say a bit too many things and trying to add everything from design, to statistics into the class. I definitely got a nice overview of the topic, feel no need for testing. In my humble opinion, HCI also has a bright Coursera future. A third class on my long Coursera course list from U.Penn. is Modern and Contemporary American Poetry by Al Filreis. He is a veteran in online teaching, he is very communicative and nice, but the truth is, I am not so interested in Emily Dickinson (not modern enough for me)… and I did not expect having to listen to half a dozen American students trying to analyze a poem (that is the class… recorded workshops…)… not exactly poets… they are planning to become teachers… as a writer, to me… not what I expected… it does not mean it is bad, just not super interesting to me. Gamification is my best Coursera experience until now.” (1 like)

“By the way, K. M., I should point out, that H. C. could not be a Coursera “teacher’s pet” (you wrote that about him) even if he tried (he obviously didn’t) because there is no such thing as a “teacher’s pet” in this learning environment. Professors have no personal contact with any of us, and have zero influence on individual test and exam results. So, even people with yet undeveloped social skills or momentarily low emotional maturity can do well in these courses. This modality is as objective as it gets regarding ability and effort (not counting the problematic peer review layer, but even that is anonymous). F. D.: It is also irrelevant from a grade point of view if I publicly like a course or not, because my grades never depend on any professor. Plus, I have three degrees already, not even here for the certification. “Just” here to further expand my world view and know even more about online education (technically about its inner workings, methodology, components, people, qualities, problems, issues, limitations and possibilities). In fact its online education that I am professionally interested in, and Coursera is the best example until now. There are many old school (institutionalized, hierarchical and industrial power) ideas about education that people must be able to forget to move freely and happily in this new era. I am sure you can see what I mean. :-)” (1 like)

“I progressed in my Networked Life course today, and suddenly I gave it a new title: Computational Network AnalysisThe original title is totally misleading.” (1 like. The same comment in the Networked Life group resulted in 7 likes.)

As a matter of fact, initially I posted my first comparative text in the Networked Life facebook group, but there I posted it as a comment under a thread. Later, in Gamification I posted it as a major post, because there are ten times more people and I wanted to trigger a discussion (I felt people would feel less inhibited to criticize their NWLife professor, when removed from the NWLife facebook surface). Even later, on the Networked Life fb surface I posted the new course title suggestion as a major post and added a few more comments:

I am sure there is a reason why there are 10 times more people in the Gamification facebook group (people love the course)… WELL: Base your Networked Life course on statistics (downplay its importance in the course description), put in little effort to adjust it to the Coursera platform, speak monotonously, almost never show your face, and get most people (even the highly educated ones) to un-subscribe from your course. Congratulations… (I have a business degree from the UK, and a degree in Education from the US… I should love this course… I did well on the first test, but I still hate the delivery style… sadly old school…)” (1 like)

If you would like to understand the way I argued above (I am originally an education “researcher”, now a blogger/writer), and if you would like to read dozens of comments by other students on this topic, you could have a look at this very active discussion on the Gamification facebook group wall (simply ask to join the group and you can start reading as soon as you are in):

Now back to the Gamification facebook group wall thread:

“I know about Social Network Analysis (by UofM… from lovely Ann Arbor)… I registered for it weeks ago. I am looking forward to it. Glad to have a female Coursera professor, finally…”

At this time a note from Professor Kearns was posted by someone and after reading it, I wrote:

Not the kind of professor who is super connected to student reality, really… the number of students actually working on his “Networked Life” material, the number of people in his facebook group, the number of critical comments under this thread… all this speaks for itself… but he sends out an upbeat message trying to be funny… While I am not a fan of the expression “massive open online course” (MOOC)… his is a “minimal open online course”… I mean, true, it is still MOOC… but only the acronyms are the same. I kept looking at the background images (from all over the world) in his intros, and what he thinks is funny, is really just awkward. I am still going to watch the videos, just skip the intros, and keep hoping for a major remake of the “Networked Life” course.

This I posted in both discussions:

The point is flow learning. Of course you can do it. That was no question. We both were able, but the goal is not having to force yourself to do something (still: effort is expected, of course). The point is a new kind of education that takes you through the material in your tempo, in your learning style, without making you feel bad, and while having fun learning. To use a word from the Networked Life course, in another context (as throughput), the diameter of the Networked Life course is small… while the diameter of the Gamification course is huge (designed to let more students succeed, because Coursera is out to remove elitism from top level education), and the latter is the right approach, right from the start. By the way, it is also an old school concept that people must be tested with tests after taking a class or course… also standard deadlines are old school… still the terrible “one size fits all” outdated concept of measuring the outcome of the process… One major thing however is different within Coursera! Ongoing, central data analysis helps to understand how you learn, and how the professor is performing as an online educator. In this context one professor is doing really well on the “MOOC teaching test”, and the other one is not doing so well in this environment, and not even making much effort. In this context, the educator who is unable to adjust in real time is the quitter, and the feedback is the massive refusal of his approach until he changes his course material and delivery style. Remember, I am originally an education researcher (from one of the top three education research institutions of the US), now a blogger, here to analyze the Coursera platform and write about it when I am done with the Gamification course (or sooner). When you force yourself to progress in Networked Life, you delay the much needed change of education as we know it. But it will change anyway. There is no turning back.” (1 like in Gamification, and 2 likes in NWLife)

Note: I had to regularly explain to some people why I am so passionate about the process, this is why I keep repeating my background. Below I am responding to a very elitist comment (from the young American woman who failed her first Networked Life quiz, but later forced herself to do it):

Is it not possible, that you think elitism always equals quality? Also, making something accessible does not mean it is low quality. And you should consider the goal of Coursera as its member (remember, students from areas in India or Africa where there is no electricity most of the day are reading your comments… they are not in any way less deserving members of humanity): Coursera is there to let even the students of under privileged communities be able to get intellectually challenging, top education. I feel obligated in my position to advocate for a better Networked Life course for this very reason. I have a powerful voice. As an Ivy League graduate myself I believe (and hope) that the days of bubble world elite education are numbered… It is exactly out of touch Ivy League graduates who walked the ambitious or less critical middle class and others into the global economic crisis (based on what you mentioned, the “eat or be eaten” ideal of past centuries… not the ideal of this century). People are not equal, but they should have an equal right to really good education, in the best interest of humanity, and future leaders should not be out of touch with reality.” (1 like)

” “Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act.” ― Albert Einstein” (1 like)

” “…amazing talent can be found anywhere. Maybe the next Albert Einstein or the next Steve Jobs is living somewhere in a remote village in Africa. And if we could offer that person an education, they would be able to come up with the next big idea and make the world a better place for all of us.” (Coursera’s Daphne Koller, at TED Global, June 2012)” (1 like)

Finally, I posted the TED talk below by Daphne Koller (co-founder of Coursera), to close the facebook discussion thread consisting of my first post and 83 comments made by others and me on the Gamification facebook group wall (plus there were some more on the NWLife fb group wall).

Kevin Werbach


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