Freedom For All To Teach Their Craft

I’ve just begun trying out the lectures at Udemy, which is different from other MOOCs in that it allows anyone to participate in the teaching. While Coursera and edX recruits professors from top universities, Udemy relies on contributions from volunteers. Although Udemy’s teachers can charge fees for their courses, many of the leaders are offering their lectures free of charge.

Udemy offers a platform for limitless “adjunct professors” — courses taught by the best in their perspective fields. To kick things off, I’ve started watching Marissa Mayer’s New Product Development Process (Marissa Mayer of Google) and Product Development at Facebook (lectures by Zuckerberg himself). Thus far, neither really seems like a course per se; rather more like a TED talk, but the potential is clearly there.

Aptly enough, Udemy has just launched their Teach2013 movement to motivate the masses to convince experts to come and share their insights on Udemy. I genuinely hope that experts will join this year and unleash the full potential of Udemy, but only time will tell.

teach 2013 udemy

Udemy really appears to empower educators according to TechCrunch, especially in the curriculum creation and design process. At some point, I’ll have to go through the steps of “creating a class” just to get the hands-on experience of using Udemy’s curriculum creation system.

While Udemy is not my go-to option for online classes at this time, I’m eager to see who will join its teaching ranks in 2013.



Coursera’s Signature Track Is More of the Same

Yesterday Coursera announced that they will be introducing a “signature track” for students who want their certification verified. By signing up, Coursera will do its best to verify that you, are the real you, based on your photo, “Signature Phrase”, and typing patterns.

Of course there will also be a slight fee for this certification — $30-$100. The entire procedure is an admirable effort for Coursera to keep up with edX’s and Udacity’s proctored exams. I commend Coursera for using typing pattern recognition algorithms rather than traditional testing centers, but in general, I don’t agree with the decision to move in this direction for generating revenue.

Additionally, the “signature track” has a few flaws right off the bat:

Although Coursera doesn’t plan to stop offering free classes, this move looks like more of the same. Charging for fees for classes just moves Coursera closer to the business model of traditional schools. More troubling is that this is not the “disruptive” change I had hoped and expected from MOOCs.

Critics may call me a hypocrite for not offering a better solution, but I’d probably be working for Coursera myself if I had one. Hopefully I’ll come up with such genius ideas after my Innovations class; or perhaps this blog itself is my effort to “try to stop creative people“.

For now, the following classes have the “Signature Track” option:


The Risk Of Using Free Online Classes For Credit

Offering credit for free online classes opens a world of potential, especially to those who otherwise could not afford a “typical college class” yet have the will and desire to learn. However, this potential for incredible good also comes with the incredible risk of ruining nearly all MOOCs — widespread cheating.

The beauty of current MOOCs is their purity. (Nearly) everyone who is enrolled is there because they have a genuine interest in the subject matter and have a unified goal of learning. Thus, the likelihood of cheating happening in these classes is reduced since, what’s the point?  Cheating occurs when students are forced to take classes and tests that they have no real interest in and feel is irrelevant.

I am also only refering to the traditional form of cheating where one student bothers another just for the answers. There can be benefits to “cheating” as a form of “creative problem solving”, but that is a fine line and those usually aren’t the cheaters I am worried about in MOOC classes. (For an idea of what I consider “creative problem solving via cheating” you can refer to the Kobayashi Maru in Star Trek.)

Certified accreditation from these online classes would begin to throw those “cheating students” into the mix, polluting the pool of honest students who are there for the sole purpose of learning. If students are required to enroll, there will be a reason for some students to cheat because they have no real interest in the material — they are there solely to meet a prerequisite, get a raise, or for some other requirement.

The MOOCs which resemble traditional classes like Coursera and edX are particularly susceptible to various forms of “cheating” or answer trading, particularly through the forums. To their credit, I have seen fairly good regulation through deletion of inappropriate posts, and peers responding with some depth rather than just answers.

This might be a pessimistic forecast, but my biggest personal fear is that if these MOOCs lose clout because of cheating, it will be difficult to attract the best schools, professors, and lecturers to teach. Currently, that is my main draw; learning from the best.

I certainly don’t expect any college credit or degree, nor a raise at my day job. I think its foolish to expect such a direct benefit, but that doesn’t mean I don’t expect a number of indirect benefits. For example, I do believe that it will be useful if I go back to school, for I can test out of prerequisites at the school I will attend. In my job, I do expect to get a raise if I am able to apply my new-found knowledge to improve the organization. None of these indirect benefits require accreditation by the American Council on Education.