Like traditional education institutions, identity and reputation are important in MOOCs. For providers such as Udacity, Coursera, and edX, it means that the end user experience is vital in perceptions of overall quality. If students encounter a poor course (design, video, layout), that experience casts a reputation on the overall course provider. If they can’t offer quality courses, how do we know the assessments will be good quality? Or that plagiarism is being taken seriously?
The first open course that I offered had a big impact on how I have since viewed courses. When we opened CCK08, I thought “yay us, course is now open, people will learn, it will be awesome”. While we had that experience, we also had numerous concerns and complaints about course format, design, layout, and so on. Students had a different view of what a “free course” is all about than I had at the time. I discovered that students who participated in the course added enormous value for others. While they were taking the course without fee, they were offering their personal views, opinions, and time. The fee for taking a MOOC is active participation, which in turn increases the quality of the learning experience for others. Sometimes the language around MOOCs is almost “look at our wonderful MOOC overlords and the knowledge they bestow on the masses”. MOOCs and learners need each other. The gift of free courses by MOOC providers is promptly returned by learners in the form of their contributions. The MOOC platforms are nothing without learners. The gift of our participation is as valuable as the gift of an open course.
In mid-2012, I thought Udacity was the most vulnerable MOOC provider. Coursera was signing up universities every month or so and was offering hundreds of courses. edX was very well funded, $60m, and represented two of the top universities in the world: Harvard and MIT. Udacity, in contrast, was rolling out a few courses every semester. While Sebastian Thrun was very capable of drawing media attention, the optics of momentum were with Coursera. In August, 2012, Udacity cancelled a course before it started. This was an interesting decision and one that revealed, in my opinion, that Udacity was willing to take short term pain for long term reputation as a quality provider. Udacity owns its content, Coursera is more of a platform. That means that Udacity has a better range of monetization strategies – content, teaching, platform, recognition. Coursera as a brand will rely heavily on their university partners.
OT: edX is the most exciting MOOC provider – their content is outstanding, the platform is the best of all three providers. They are not profit-driven which means they have a different range of decisions and different criteria for making them. edX doesn’t get the media love of Udacity/Coursera (there is a story in there somewhere about the self-enforcing media plays around for-profit ventures and ability to feed into the public media through those connections). It has also managed to escape many of the concerns of plagiarism and quality.
Today, Coursera faced a quality crisis as its Fundamentals of Online Education course suddenly went dark. UPDATE: Keith Devlin provides clarification in the comments about how Coursera works – i.e. it was likely the instructors decision to close the course.
There had been some course rumblings: “The course so far is a disaster, ‘a mess’ as numerous students have called it”.
Interestingly, the communication with students has been horrible:
@missoularedhead Just pulled the plug. Went for a coffee and when I cam back it was gone. Others kicked out while working in forums!
— Nigel Robertson (@easegill) February 3, 2013
We are in the early stages of MOOCs and quality processes in Coursera are still being developed. An important question to consider relates to the quality and reputation of not only the institute and Coursera:
@gsiemens Question for us all: in handling reputational anxiety for both the provider and the institution, who advocates for the instructor?
— Kate Bowles (@KateMfD) February 3, 2013
I’d add to that: who is advocating for learners who devoted a week to working through the content and suddenly had the course cancelled. How does a course make it into a system like Coursera without a quality check of technology and learning activities?
Update: email from Coursera to students: http://pastebin.com/RGxvuF7b