Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Coursera Thoughts Part Eight

All of my posts about coursera can be found here.

As the Fantasy & Science Fiction course comes to a close, the Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) course is gearing up and once again the glitches are coming.  Now, I’m bound to compare this humanities course with the other so, before I begin looking at the glitch of the week, let’s look at the two courses side by side.

Fantasy & Science Fiction
Modern & Contemporary Poetry
Every other week
Word Count
Yes:  250-320
Essay Content
Clear but clearly confusing
Clear and specific
Peer Review Grade
Essays on Forum
By author
Forum Essays Anonymous
Author’s choice
Peer Review on Forum
Usually by essay writer’s choice
Forum Reviews Anonymous

This week, the first of the ModPo essays was due and many students were surprised to find their essays shared on the forums and not anonymously.  I don’t know if this was a glitch but I did see some people who were balking, perhaps because they were already familiar with the anonymity afforded in other courses. 

So where’s the glitch?  It seems that the essays that were graded by the professor and the TAs were given a priority in the random distribution so that anyone who had already received a peer review would receive more than anyone else.  Soon, some essays had five or more reviews while others languished with one or none. 

Before I even noticed there was a problem (but admittedly after some students brought it to the attention of the forums), there was an email saying “Uh oh, we have a glitch.”  The email explained the error and asked all students to seek out the essays on the forum which had received one or no reviews and submit something.  Even those who have not submitted an essay could jump in and do this and were encouraged to do so.


But this morning there was another email saying that the glitch has been fixed and asked all students who had not already read and reviewed the required four essays to refresh the page and read the new essays that would appear.  And what if you had already read the required four essays?  These students were asked to please read one more because now that the problem is fixed.

What?  A problem was exposed and the professor found a means to work around the glitch before the coursera web designers can even get moving?  And then when the problem was fixed the professor once again communicated with the students to keep the momentum of the reviews going? 

Eric Rabkin
Image found here.
In the meantime, when there was a glitch with the essays in the Fantasy & Science Fiction course where students could not submit their essays and started emailing them to the professor.  Now, perhaps Dr. Al Filreis learn from Dr. Eric Rabkin’s but when Dr. Rabkin and his TAs started receiving essays from students who were unable to submit he chose to respond with an email as well.  His email said that he had no intention of reading any of the essays and that the students needed to stop sending him emails and if they have any issues, they should bring them to the forums.

Wow.   Way to dismiss the concerns of your customers while showing them just how insignificant education can really be, and basically laying a foundation for what followed. 

I’ve expressed my frustration with how blatantly some of the students have abused the system, when they are not busy anonymously abusing other students on the forums.  But now I wonder.  Maybe those students would have not been turned into trolls if the professor and his TAs had shown some of the same commitment to the success of the course and expressed a sincere appreciation for the education that anyone in education should have—regardless of whether your students are sitting in the same room with you or somewhere, out there, online. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a very good summary of how the two course structures shape up in comparison. And, as I have been a little absent from my computer over the last few days, it seems I have been lucky enough to have completely missed the essay glitch with Fantasy/SciFi! There is a definite contrast between the approach that the two professors have taken, and I would be interested to see how the atmosphere in the forums develops for ModPo over the next few weeks. Of course, the subject matter of Fantasy/SciFi may have attracted a different set of 'students' to ModPo, but these are all things that Coursera needs to be learning from.

    In ModPo, I was not surprised to find that the essays were posted to the forums with our names on it. I thought about posting my essay on my blog prior to the submission deadline but then thought better of it because there was nothing in the course information to say that this would be done anonymously. I think it is a bit odd that the peer reviews done through the writing assessment system are posted anonymously, though, when our essays are not. I can't really think of why that would be; surely posting the reviewers' names would encourage better quality reviews (and the professor has already gently hinted that some of them have not been as thorough or constructive as he would have liked).