Open Online Education #2: Coursera

Last time, I explored Versal, a non-university related open online education opportunity for individuals and businesses. There are other options that are affiliated with universities. One of those is called Coursera.

Coursera is linked to universities around the world. Courses are provided free of charge. A few can be taken at any time and at the student’s own pace. A few require better timing and follow a regular course schedule ranging from four to fifteen weeks. Classes come in various languages, and the videos were available with subtitles in several languages.

Some of the courses lead to a certificate of some sort and possibly credit in the sponsoring university’s system. There were a few “certificate programs” that were like mini-degree plans. The one I looked at — Foundations of Teaching for Learning — was eight courses plus a capstone project. There was a fee for doing this at the certificate level: $281.  The courses can be completed for free, but there is no certificate to go with it. At that cost, I do wonder what the certificate is good for. If it’s little better than the continuing education required of all teachers, it might be handy for that, but otherwise, I don’t know what sort of accreditation the system has or whether the certificate would be recognized by anyone.

As a test, I chose one of the self-paced ones: Stanford University’s Child Nutrition and Cooking. The course consisted of videos, most under ten minutes, with a quiz after every few of them. The production values were good, but when I watched the first two videos, I found about 75% of the content in them was identical, almost as if one were a slightly tweaked script of the other one. Even many of the video snippets were the same. As I scrolled through the rest of the videos, I found practical info, statistical info, cooking demos, and a few I couldn’t make sense out of from the title.

I did watch the two segments on allergies and taste (I have such a horrendous allergy/intolerance list that I’m always curious about what learned medical sorts have to say about them), and then I took the quiz that went with them. The questions were not particularly difficult, but there were a couple tricks in there. After submitting the answers, I received immediate feedback on which were right and wrong. For the one I answered incorrectly (yes, on purpose … I wanted to see what would happen 😉 ), it gave me a video reference and time index to go review. However, I could take the quiz over and get the same questions a second time, so with only three answer choices, process of elimination is not difficult.

Perhaps it’s just a factor of the course I chose, but this seemed to be a pretty low level, almost high school-oriented course. I suspect the ones that take a certain number of weeks to complete and run more like a regular class are probably more complex. The FAQ for the site says assignments are peer-graded, but there were none in this Nutrition course.

For someone who wanted to continue learning stuff of interest without shelling out the thousands of dollars necessary for a regular, face-to-face university, this might be a good option.

(c) 2006 Jisc // Retrieved unchanged on this date from Flickr Creative Commons
(c) 2006 Jisc // Retrieved unchanged on this date from Flickr Creative Commons
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