Regina Saphier: Suggestions for Coursera content quality control and sudden ideas for Coursera satellite startups

Regina Saphier: Suggestions for Coursera content quality control and sudden ideas for Coursera satellite startups


I believe there are Coursera students who completed some of the Ivy level courses (either online via Coursera and via other MOOCs, or offline on Campus at different colleges and universities) and would be willing to become “peer MOOC mentors” or “peer Coursera mentors”. Also, there are Coursera students who are not good at self motivation and are likely to stop if there is no personal peer mentoring (likely to stop are: minorities, members of disadvantaged groups, lazy upper middle class kids, less digitally literate elderly, people with learning differences, people with less advanced language skills, and people from cultures very different from the US culture) and some would be able and willing to pay as much for a “peer mentor” as “signature track” would cost them by using ProctorU (this is an existing company, a partner of Coursera, managing proctored exams). Also, people unable to pay could be sponsored by special donor created funds for “peer mentoring” too.

So, “MentorU” (I just made it up) is a business niche. A company possibly called “MentorU” could hire Coursera alumni internationally to mentor struggling peers and earn money.

It is no problem for me to complete a Coursera course on my own and alone because I have the self discipline, the independence, the tolerance for aloneness, the curiosity, the digital and the technological skills, the Ivy experience, the writing, reading, communications, and learning skills, the attitudes, the personality, the freedom, the insight, the language skills, the cultural knowledge, the technology itself, money to pay for the internet and for electricity, and I have time, and so on, that people in the developed world take for granted, but I can see how not everyone is created equal, not everyone has the same opportunities and possibilities and some people need help with online learning cultures, that require many many new and old skills, tools and freedoms at the same time.


Another problem is that some professors have no clue how to approach a Coursera audience and are unable to handle differences in student preparedness in a given subject matter. Professors also need a complex skill matrix for optimum performance via Coursera and not everyone has that skill set. For this reason I recommend a kind of reverse mentoring, from experienced Coursera students to inexperienced professors. Coursera courses by universities are products that must be developed in line with a MOOC standard that has to be precisely written down and shared with new course developers. Demand has to drive course offerings on a deeper level, content and quality must be optimized for the online environment.

So, “ConsultU” could be another niche for Coursera alumni interested in providing consulting services for Coursera course developers, TAs, professors, and anyone involved in course production. (Again, I am just inventing these possible start ups and their names.)

Pre-selective quizzes for knowledge level identification and testing professors too…

Another problem that I already mentioned above: the discrepancies between students. Since there is no pre-selection for different levels within a topic this is hard for some professors who are used to classes with somewhat similar knowledge levels. It is interesting to see how some professors are totally unable to handle the fact that their “single power figure” model does not work in an open course environment and are unable to tolerate “the bursting of the academic bubble” (bursting: economically and mentally, academically and psychologically, sociologically and culturally). Because of this transition issue, Coursera might want to introduce pre-selective quizzes for student knowledge level identification (for both, subject matter and language skills). I would add this option for professors, and I would incorporate this into the usability research that Coursera does. I would say, half of the courses would be based on pre-selection by knowledge level (the intro courses would have beginners mostly and the advanced courses would be taken by more prepared students mostly) and the other half of the courses would be running with a mixed student population. While this is going on, measure satisfaction score differences, completion rate differences, and grade level differences. In addition perhaps add the different language levels for extra division and for research purposes. Also, during the on-boarding process of professors there could be a test to measure professors’ preparedness for Coursera and provide them feedback in the areas where some of them are unprepared based on their test results.

I strongly believe that adding “MentorU”, “ConsultU” and the possibility of knowledge identification tests for grouping and for course design preparation would be meaningful options for user experience development (I would make the tests for students optional and if someone is an advanced student and wants to do a beginner class to refresh the material, its ok, and if someone is a brilliant beginner, why not go for the more advanced course…). I don’t think that the present passive acceptance of courses by Coursera without previously being in touch with the course developers directly is a good strategy. It is wrong. I mean, not reviewing the classes that you publish to the world via your platform, is like publishing scientific papers without peer reviews. A Coursera course development standard and a course design supervisory strategy should be incorporated into the business plan. You can not work without quality control for your external content. No matter how successful your start up if the news streams are picking up more and more stories about Coursera professors not able to live up to the challenge of this xMOOC (to the point of verbally attacking students and leaving the course in the middle of the program… and this happened twice already, once a complete course suspended, once a professor quitting), about students feeling lost in the system that keeps breaking down because the servers are unable to handle the huge demand, and by journalists idiotically repeating the stupid idea that thousands of students completing a course is somehow a failure if there were let’s say ten times more people registered for the course. Look, 10% success ratio in this domain is wonderful at this point.

I am sure there are wise ones, like me: I have done one complete course including the final exam to see how this new and work-in-progress platform is doing and am now monitoring many Coursera courses that I am registered for, until the platform becomes more mature and reliable. Having registered for 33 courses (some already over, some in progress, some have not even started yet) via Coursera as a writer and having completed one course does not make this Ivy league educated independent and curious blogger with fluent English in Hungary a “failure”, nor does it turn Coursera with millions of registered users and tens of thousands of course alumni into a “lost cause community” when we are talking about a pioneering, innovative, and fascinating start up that turns only 1 year old this year in 2013!

Coursera is the most successful attempt at MOOC right now and I say this with some insight into this hot topic. At the same time there are many issues that must be addressed by Coursera and by entrepreneurs interested in Coursera as a phenomenon and as a business opportunity.

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