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Courses Teaching quality of Coursera math courses after platform re-design?

  1. Feb 5, 2017 #1
    I'm currently in the 5th week of the 9-week Coursera course on first-level math logic, "Introduction to Mathematical Thinking," created by Keith Devlin of Stanford. I'm an older adult doing self-study, in hopes of brushing up my high school math & adding the other necessary math skills to eventually tackle non-Calculus physics. That's my minimum goal.

    Devlin's course is excellent; however I was surprised & even shocked to learn from him a few days ago (he still shows up in the class forums to answer questions here & there) that although he originated this MOOC as the first math MOOC ever, and really enjoyed it in its original incarnation, he is disappointed by the revisions to the format forced upon him by Coursera's re-design; and therefore, once this semester is over, he will no longer be actively participating in the class for future semesters. He talks about the change in Coursera format in this recent blog post at mooctalk.org:

    He doesn't talk in this post about the precise nature of the downgrades to Coursera features; but I gather that whatever they were, they have resulted in far less interactivity than was previously the case. And if you read the comments on that blog piece, you'll find that others seem to feel the same way about the change in Coursera, and are seeking other platforms (as is Devlin) for a greater degree of interactivity and quality than Coursera apparently now offers.

    Even so, what I like about Devlin's course in its current incarnation are three features in particular:
    • The videos are done really well; Devlin is not only an excellent speaker, but quizzes have been built into the video interface to make sure you're paying attention & not rushing. Compared to typical videos such as those at Kahn Academy, these stand out. I actually want to watch them. I don't get bored or impatient as I do with Kahn.
    • Devlin wrote a book for the course; the content is about the same as in the videos. The effect is synergistic. I also consult other books & web sites on logic, of course.
    • The forums are set up with not only Devlin (who pops in only now & again), but also "mentors", so if you can phrase a reasonable question, you're guaranteed of getting at least one if not more answers. The mentors vary in quality, but they all put forth a good effort to help. Discussion with other students also occurs, and though this too varies in quality, it can sometimes be very satisfying. Not as good as a real-life study group but better I think than studying entirely alone.
    These features in combination have created an active listening experience for me. I've never bothered to continue with Kahn because, sorry, the way it is set up is SO boring; I'd far rather read a book then sit there waiting for one of their videos to become interesting.

    My question is, for anybody who has experience & an opinion, what's the quality of other Coursera math courses these days? You can compare to the Devlin course if you know about that course, or to the feature set I describe above, or just in general, in terms of interactivity and feedback offered to students. I had been thinking of taking further Coursera math courses, and I probably would do so, if I knew they were of the same quality; but Devlin's disappointment in the redesign, even though he phrases it very politely, is giving me second thoughts. If a given course is free I can always find out for myself, I guess.

    P.S. I searched the forum for threads with Coursera in the title, and got two hits; but neither touches upon my question:
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 9, 2017 #2
    Coursera has become a bigger name these days and I'd like to find out more too!
  4. Feb 9, 2017 #3
    I'd love to be able to say "It's all good!" but can't.

    The content of the course I'm taking is excellent - but apparently Keith Devlin had to work hard to make this happen, as you can see in my original post quoting from his blog. He blames this on the Coursera redesign, which was done for reasons of economic survival. He doesn't blame the company for wanting to survive; but he says the redesign was not good from a content point of view.

    From what I have learned through my own participation, the redesign - not sure when it happened, but apparently either the end of 2015 or the start of 2016 - effectively reduced support for shared learning among students, by messing up two things: the forum platform, and weekly sequencing of classes.

    In regards to the forum platform, it's pretty awful. Alerts are available only via email. The default thread view is "newest first" which disrupts chronological order and makes it impossible to understand the thread as a conversation. A minor annoyance is that preview was taken away, which for a math course is annoying because you can't see whether your LaTeX formula has a mistake until you click "post." A classmate told me the old version of the forum was far better than this version.

    In regards to sequencing of classes, this is a problem I've also noticed. Previously, apparently you couldn't speed ahead of your classmates; content was released on a weekly schedule, so everyone was in sync. So the video lectures were more like real life lectures: everyone got the same information at the same time and so was working on the same problems when they went to the forums. Now, all the lectures are available from the get-go. The weekly schedule has been kept, but a small number of my classmates have disregarded this and zoomed ahead. When they post on the forum about content that is 4 weeks ahead of the rest of us, they never get answers; and they're not available to help with questions that we have, either.

    This sequencing problem was noted in a funky-looking, but otherwise plausible review I found by someone who professes to regularly review all the big MOOC platforms; here he's talking about the new version of the Coursera:
    The full review is here for what it's worth: http://hamelg.blogspot.com/2016/01/2016-mooc-provider-roundup-coursera.html

    Anyway there are a lot of concerns with how to design an effective MOOC. I doubt it's easy to do; it's something a good teacher would sweat over. I know Keith Devlin sweated over the MOOC course I'm taking now, because he wrote about doing so in his blog; but whether every teacher does, I don't know. I'm wary of online classes - I like this one, and would like to take more - but only if well-designed. I don't accept blanket recommendations of all Coursera courses, because a blanket recommendation can't possibly answer questions about quality.
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