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Well, I'm basically done with Coursera although I'll carry on with the required work for the remaining four weeks. My main takeaway from this experiment is all by way of negative: by how badly the course is designed, I am more confident in the choices I have made in designing my own courses, and by how badly the discussion boards work, I am more impressed than ever at what good choices Google+ made in designing this community software. (Kudos to +Yonatan Zunger and all the rest for the design of Google+ as a shared space!)
I would be really curious to know how Coursera is going to judge the success or failure of this class. What criteria will they use? From my perspective as a student, I realized this weekend that the c...
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Oh dear. I am going to be starting my first course in the middle of September, so I'm hoping the experience will be a positive one, but reading your post, I will perhaps not expect too much.
Laura, all of your criticisms of the Fantasy course apply also to the newly launched Gamification course. At least as Coursera is concerned, these courses aren't the future of education. They aren't even the present. They look like courses of the 20th century and earlier with even less instructor engagement.
+John Hopper I think I had very bad luck in my choice - from what I have heard from others, there is some variety from course to course. Our instructor is completely absent, doing nothing but providing videos - so, in his absence and in the absence of any good involvement from Coursera, there's just no way to recover from problems, some of which really could be easy to recover from. I'll do another Coursera course someday for sure - but I know this course cannot be the best they have to offer!
Interesting. I dropped out of my only coursera course partly because of lack of time due to a new project at work, partly because of something similar to your point #3.
The homework and assignments seemed a bit gratuitous and not really focused on the subject matter. To be more specific, the programming assignments were a lot about figuring out the intricacies of some implementation rather than really exploring the probabilistic graphical models we were studying.
And yes, a lot of exchange and feedback between students, not so much from the staff, yet probably still a bit better than what I hear from other courses.
+Kevin Ballestrini So true: it really felt like going back in time 10 years rather than going forward by participating in this class! Sorry to hear that Gamification is not working so well either; I really wanted to participate fully in this class for the 10 weeks, but I just couldn't see the point. I've heard better things about Internet History - in large part because Dr. Chuck is apparently committed to the class and trying to make improvements from week to week. In our class, every week is identical, down to verbatim robomails from "the professor" (I put that in quotes just because they are boilerplate, not being written by anyone really, just copied-and-pasted) to tell us when the videos are posted each week. There's a howling error in the essay prompt, too, identical every week, which was pointed out by various people in various discussions during the first week, but even that persists unchanged, so week after week we are told to think about Sleeping Beauty and her stepmother as we write... he meant Snow White - an easy mistake to fix... but no fix has been made - the larger problem, of course, being a verbatim identical essay prompt EVERY SINGLE WEEK...
I thought of taking a course, but now I think I'll skip it.  Thanks for the review, and some of the things you posted I had already suspected might be a problem for coursera. I did not expect that anonymous posting would be allowed, that seems like a huge oversight on the designers of the system.   
I just started my first  Coursera course today (blog post to follow). It's clearly very different from the Fantasy and SciFi courses - considerable variation across the Coursera platform.
+Shannan Muskopf I was glad at first just because so many things in the course were REALLY different from my own courses, so it was a good chance for me to get to participate in an experiment that I would never be likely to conduct in my own classes. So, in that sense, it was a great learning experience for me, but in negative ways.
I'm going to try something totally different as my next online learning experiment when this is one in a month - a friend of mine has gone to work for Treehouse - - which is an online place for learning to program. It's not free (subscription is $25/month), but it looks really appealing and I am incredibly impressed by this person's choice to go work for them (he is a WordPress/php supergenius). I think I need something that has NOTHING to do with grades, but which is instead 100% about learning. Just to cleanse my system of the Coursera grading fiasco, ha ha.
+Alan Cann I've really benefited from hearing from other participants at the discussion boards for this class who are enrolled in other Coursera classes and have pointed out areas where things are going better in other classes. That's why I posed the question in the blog post of how Coursera will evaluate the class - the professor is basically in absentia, and they are clearly okay with that for the duration of this class... but is it the kind of thing they want to renew and perpetuate as is? It's an administrative problem of great interest - plenty of university professors teach the same bad class semester after semester with no administrative oversight or intervention. Is Coursera, which has grown up inside that university culture, going to allow the same...?
+Stefano Kewan Lee That's what appealed to my friend - he's been doing some university teaching, debating about whether to go to grad school to get his PhD and embark on that kind of a career (he's interested in computer programming AND mythology)... he's got the soul of a teacher - but I've warned him that for many university faculty, teaching is pushed down to the bottom of the to-do list. I am really curious to hear what his experiences will be like teaching in this totally non-traditional learning space. (He just started a couple weeks ago.)
+Laura Gibbs  I entered one course recently just to see whazzup and was appalled that the professor had only posted the first and second weeks' work.  Designing an online course is at LEAST as difficult as designing a  land-based course, timing (when to present what), surprise (questions laid out in such a way that students actually surprise themselves), play (one simply cannot learn without play), eros (no, not sex, you know what I mean, that je ne sais quois that is part of the experience of learning, a personal relationship with the teacher from whom one feels inspired), graphics (cannot emphasize enough the COMPETITION for student attention generally), super-plagiarism-prevention techniques for assignments (otherwise, who are we kidding here?) and on and on and on.  Audio.  Video.  MILLIONS of test questions (so everyone gets a different test) but very little emphasis on tests (just enough to make sure students are getting the vocabulary).  I did my 10,000 hours and I cannot believe it, but there are still colleges out there who are telling their land-based instructors, OK, go create an online course.  It's crazy-making!

No one can walk in from teaching land-based and suddenly be able to teach online.  Working full-time for ten years (summers too), I FINALLY started to see how the puzzle fits together.  It's an entirely different enterprise altogether from F2F learning.  

The big problem is that even though administrations can see the money pouring in (oh yeah), they do not "believe" that it is delivering the quality of land-based (except for a few who took the time to actually TAKE a few courses).  Oh, they might argue the case, but they do not really believe it because what the hell is teaching, it's the lowest on the totem pole, just as you said.  Just because information is online, does not mean it is a course.  And as we know from Einstein, information is not knowledge.

Man I hope I can change the world fast enough so that I can see my dream come true:  really engaging, wonderfully presented courses WITH accreditation, for free, for anyone in the world who wants them.  The Consortium of Nations (all countries can put a few bucks together for the project) and, presto, with guidance and best practices?  We can educate the world.  We have to work fast because "book-taught" people will soon be gone and we will have no way to evaluate whether what we have created stands up.  The sick feeling I get at the dropout rates and the weirdly unschooled high school graduates who arrive in my classes (what ARE they doing all day?)  Are we just going to let this continue?  We had higher literacy rates in 1900!!!!  (98%)  

Our civilization depends on everyone becoming well educated.  And what is even more crazy-making is that to do it right would cost so little!  Frustration!
+Meg Tufano I wish the people at Coursera would read just your FIRST paragraph, even if they read nothing else from anyone about anything (which seems to be their approach...) - all the elements you have listed there so succinctly and vividly are exactly the elements that were missing in the class I tried. The eros thing is so true - there were a lot of students positively YEARNING, and who are still yearning, for a great learning experience, which is why I am esp. unhappy about the class; all that eros energy completely squandered or, worse, subjected to the hatefulness of anonymous posters at the discussion board. Not since junior high have I felt so persecuted for being "smart" (the quotation marks meant to convey the sneering tone of this malicious brand of anonymous poster)... but that is indeed the culture that has emerged at the discussion boards, where it is cool to be sarcastic, rude, downright cruel, etc., with impunity. While they do attack all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, they have a special mode of attack reserved for people who actually like to discuss literature at length or who take the ideals of education seriously, anyone who is willing to share that yearning for learning in public.
+John Hopper Different courses are structured in different ways so you can't necessarily judge one course by another.  I'm taking this F&SF course but, judging by the Modern Poetry email I received today, it won't be similar except in that it is a humanities course.  Given no writing assignments, I'm optimistic that the tension and frustration that have overshadowed the more positive aspects of the F&SF course will not be repeated.
+Satia Renee I will be so curious to hear if the discussion board is any better suited for interacting online. Anonymous posters aside, the discussion board software is just so bad to start with. A real drawback for an online course in my experience (although the avatars have made it somewhat better).
I've been feeling drained for a variety of reasons lately and haven't written about the forums but it's something that I do want to address.  I think the poor nesting of the comments/replies is ridiculous as it makes following the logical flow nearly impossible.  Anonymous posting invites abuse of any real intellectual discourse.  I have yet to participate in the forums without walking away feeling it was a waste of time.
Time-wasting, and just depressing - I've never been subjected to the kind of ad hominem attacks that are just standard fare over there now. I don't see how that can be good for anyone in any sense, much less something to be considered educational. I would have spent my time at the wiki gladly instead - but since Coursera didn't see fit to provide any answers to my questions about just how that was going to work re: future classes, I'm not going to waste my time with the wiki, assuming it is just going into the trash (and no doubt as soon as the wiki gets active, people will start defacing it, too - although I don't think you can get away with anonymous at the wiki).
Well, we can create an LMS using Google Apps and to heck with this nonsense of begging people in the tech area to do what we users know works!  
+Meg Tufano The single best thing I did in that Coursera class was letting students know how easy it was to create a writing portfolio using GoogleSites - other students did exactly that (as I did too - mycourseraportfolio), in order to save their work from the digital trashcan. :-)
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