The response to the surprisingly swift implosion--and shutdown--of Coursera's Fundamentals of Online Education in the higher ed community has been interesting to observe, particularly because I was a student in the course. Much of what is being reported is true (Slate; Chronicle of Higher Ed; Inside Higher Ed; Washington Post + comments to each of these): the course was very obviously not up to the quality of most other MOOCs on the Coursera menu. It was chaotic from the start. My first contact with the instructor was an email informing me that there were problems: no welcome to the class, no effort to orient me to the experience to come. Things only got worse over the course of the week before, suddenly, we were informed that it was being suspended indefinitely. As I wrote in an earlier post, I was surprised by the decision to pull the course rather than use the negative feedback as an opportunity to problem solve. I suspect that the instructor was completely blindsided by the whole situation, including some rather harsh personal attacks on the discussion board, and felt too overwhelmed to innovate while the class was in session. Certainly, one need only go to Twitter (e.g. #foemooc) to find plenty of criticism.
The decision to use Google Docs for students to organize themselves into groups at the very start of the semester) was shockingly naive. Google docs are great for small classes; they are fine for large enrollment courses like mine, with 400 students. They are useless in a course with 41,000 students (because only 50 people can be editing the doc at one time). In the aftermath of the Google Docs disaster, Coursera is doing damage control and blaming the negative feedback from users entirely on the fact that the Google Docs feature wasn't properly tested beforehand. To excerpt from the Inside Higher Education article: According to Richard A. DeMillo, director of Georgia Tech's Center for 21st Century
Universities, there wasn't enough time to test the features for group discussions. Asked if such testing should have taken place, DeMillo said that
it was important to put the issue in perspective. "In a bricks and
mortar course, it would have taken months to identify and make changes."
DeMillo said it was important to let instructors experiment. "If we
tell people to just do safe things, we'll stifle innovation," he said. So, basically, it's ok to do shoddy work and try to pass off a half-baked course on 41,000 students if you are, by someone's definition, being innovative. Andrew Ng seems to endorse this when, in the same article, he refers to the Google Docs discussion plan as "really innovative." Uh, ok.