Vanderbilt: Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations

Vanderbilt: Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations

Overall Course Rating:  8/10

Completion Date: August 19, 2013
Platform: Coursera

—— Lectures ——
David A. Owens gives fantastic lectures that keep you engaged and interested throughout the course. Unlike other courses I have taken, I watched these lectures with a partner, and we couldn’t help but stop between videos and engage in great creative discussions.

Owens’s approach is different from most “creative thinking” approaches, and he makes it clear from the beginning (including the preview video). What does “thinking outside of the box” really mean? It’s so vague and can mean anything. Owens does a great job of trying to “expand the box” rather than thinking “outside the box”. The box for Owens were the six constraints most people back. The constraints were:

  1. Individual Constraints
  2. Group Constraints
  3. Organizational Constraints
  4. Industry/Market Constraints
  5. Societal Constraints
  6. Technological Constraints

My complaint about the presentation is that I wish his constraint graph (see image at the top) was more mathematical instead of just a generic atom-like object. Hopefully one day he can recruit a math Ph.D. to help him draw a more accurate picture of how to identify and bend the constraints stopping an individual from thinking creatively.

Owens also steps through the methods for a group to establish a quality creative process throughout the course. He discusses how the whole ideation process catalyzes a giant avalanche of ideas, which have to be whittled down to a few and then how the process expands again, exploring add-ons and features, until we finally end with the final, innovative, product or solution.

—— Assignments and Exams ——
The course offered two tracks: Standard Track and Studio Mastery Track. The difference was completion of a project to implement a innovative new idea, which didn’t have to be a new technological discovery, but just an innovative solution to an existing problem, such as a required sign-out sheet for the bathroom key that keeps getting lost by people in your office.

Both tracks required the completion of weekly quizzes, lectures, AND required participation in online discussions. The quizzes and surveys associated with this class were not very beneficial for me. The first two questions were usually:

  1. Did you complete the readings for this week?
  2. Did you watch the videos for this week?

These two are usually proceeded by a few simple questions from the video/reading. The online discussions had mixed results. Originally everyone had to post, but after seeing many similar, repetitive posts, students just had bump good posts instead. I’m not sure this had the learning effect Owens hoped for, but it was a good way to get more students on to the forums.

The group assignments from following the Studio Mastery Track are INCREDIBLY BENEFICIAL, especially if you can form a group with local people that you can meet with regularly. My group met weekly and it helped to clearly demonstrate many of the constraints Owens discusses. The peer review process is much less beneficial and, at times, can feel arduous after having so much fun “innovating” with your group. However, there has to be some kind of stick/carrot to motivate most of us students to form groups and go through the process.

—— Additional Intangibles ——
Navigating the layout of this class was the worst. I think among all of the online courses I have taken, the weekly activities of this class were the most difficult to navigate. If the class is offered again, I hope they hire a professional to layout all the course materials in a more clear and concise manner.

Owens (like many other MOOC professors) also pushes his own book which is parallel to the course, Creative People Must Be Stopped. I liked the course enough that I went out and bought myself a copy, and I find it a good way to review basics if I find myself running into any of the constraints taught.

—— Conclusion ——
I highly recommend this course, with the caveat being you will gain a lot more if you have 1 or 2 people around you that can work through the Studio Mastery Track together. It was fun, it was not time-consuming, yet I still feel as though I learned a lot that will be applicable to my life. That’s always the best kind of class.

—— Take this course if… ——

  • You find yourself having trouble being creative in any way
  • You have 1 or 2 friends interested in taking a fun course together

UVA: Foundations of Business Strategy

UVA: Foundations of Business Strategy

Overall Course Rating:  5/10

Completion Date: April 25, 2013
Platform: Coursera

—— Lectures ——
Michael Lenox of UVA’s Darden School of Business puts together a very basic business strategy course for students who have no experience in the field at all. The lectures are clear, succinct, short, but lack depth. But I believe that was Lenox’s intention, as the course was designed for people with no background, and it is perfect for them.

Students who have no prior business knowledge will leave comfortably knowing basic tools for analysis such as Five Forces Analysis, the Competitive Life Cycle, Capabilities Analysis, and the Diversification Matrix. Lenox won’t go into great depth explaining these tools, however he does apply them to real companies such as Google, Apple, Redhook, and Disney to give students a good feel of how to actually use the tools.

—— Assignments and Exams ——
Weekly quizzes test your understanding along the way, but they are not challenging and I can’t even recall if they counted towards the final grade. There was one final assignment that accounted for most, if not all of your grade in this course.

The final assignment was for student’s to do their own analysis of a company. I myself did a brief slideshow analysis of LinkedIn. It was crude, but it was good practice to try and apply all the analysis tools to a real company.

The final assignment was probably the only worthwhile exercise. It could have been more beneficial if there was more detailed feedback on the assignment, but regardless it was good practice using the toolkit.

—— Additional Intangibles ——
Lenox’s videos used a black background, which few people probably notice, but was a lot easier on my eyes than the typical white background. It was also nice when I was watching the videos at night in a dark room.

I’m also not sure if Coursera’s graders were working properly as I was actually issued two different Statements of Accomplishment in April and then again in May. In addition, it only displays my grade as “You earned 100.0%”, which is the same as my Principles of Economics for Scientists course which experienced technical difficulties during the final grading period.

—— Conclusion ——
The lectures are easy to watch, and the assignments take very little time. This is a MOOC that requires minimal time investment from its students. The class is ideal for students with no background in business and want just a taste of the kind of (non-quantitative) business analysis that investors do.

The course just began again on Coursera on January 13, 2014. It’s not too late to join in and learn the basics of business strategy analysis!

—— Take this course if… ——

  • You want a quick and basic crash course in analyzing companies
  • You’re looking for a new way to analyze your long-term stock investments
  • You don’t want to commit a lot of time to a MOOC

UPenn: Gamification

UPenn: Gamification

Overall Course Rating:  7/10

Completion Date: May 28, 2013
Platform: Coursera

—— Lectures ——
Kevin Werbach really integrates his content into his lectures, which are interesting and full of real-world examples. He even “gamifies” his lectures a bit by telling students to look for a hidden code in the background of his lectures. Lectures are both easy AND fun to watch.

Like the other UPenn teachers on Coursera, he does a phenomenal job of making the subject matter interesting for students watching on the other end. I particularly enjoyed his lectures on Game Elements and Motivation and Psychology. Werbach does a good job of using examples to demonstrate both good and bad usage of game elements in systems. And of course, it’s always important to teach the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivators, and then, explore how we might intrinsically motivate people.

My first time through Webach’s course, I thought to myself, “this is how MOOC lectures should all be done”. Of course everyone has their own lecture style, and I understand that, but Werbach’s is one of the best out there.

—— Assignments and Exams ——
The automatically graded quizzes and assignments were great, but they implemented a 20% penalization for each resubmission. Therefore, unless you did very poorly the first time around, it usually wasn’t beneficial for your grade to redo an assignment/quiz (but you should prove to yourself that you’ve mastered the knowledge). I do prefer a penalty system, otherwise students don’t really even have to try.

I felt the peer-reviewed written assignments were NOT helpful. It was a good exercise in forcing the student to brainstorm about how they would go about gamifying an activity, but I have hesitations in general about peer assessed assignments. For me, if Werbach was actually grading my assignment, I would’ve put much more thought into the submissions (especially the last written assignment), and I would have been adamant about getting a lot of feedback. More constructive feedback from peers may have improved my impression of these assignments as I tried very hard to give detailed responses to the peers I reviewed.

—— Additional Intangibles ——
I took the Signature Track version of this course; I’m not really sure if it added any value. It was merely my first foray into Coursera’s “verified” service. I’ll eventually get around to edX and Udacity’s paid services as well for comparison.

The entire subject of Gamification is recognized as a key to improving many industries, particularly education and preventative healthcare (leading to apps such as Zombies, Run!). And, more and more marketing and business development professionals are realizing gamification can significantly increase customer engagement.

I also loved the video short, Sight, which Werbach showed during one of the lectures.

The entire subject matter reminds me greatly of Jane McGonigal’s work. She may not like the specific term “gamification”, but she is definitely a proponent of using games to make the world a better place too.

—— Conclusion ——
Overall, I would recommend this course to anyone, since gamification can be applied to almost any thing/field/area. This is a course where I feel that the lectures are MUCH MORE beneficial than the assignments. In fact, I probably would’ve rated the course higher if there were no written assignments.

I would actually highly recommend Werbach’s Gamification to students who don’t really want to devote themselves to a full MOOC; Just sign up and watch all of the lecture videos without dedicating yourself to the assignments. I think a student can learn just as much by watching the lectures and applying the knowledge to his own life/business.

The next round starts January 27th, 2014 on Coursera!

—— Take this course if… ——

  • You want a new perspective on how to achieve the old goals
  • Are looking for a great interdisciplinary course in psychology and motivation
  • Love games and wish you could make everything a game

Caltech: Principles of Economics for Scientists

Caltech: Principles of Economics for Scientists

Overall Course Rating:  6/10

Completion Date: September 9, 2013
Platform: Coursera

—— Lectures ——
Antonio Rangel definitely teaches one of the most math-heavy introductory economics classes I’ve ever experienced. The lecture material covers the typical first-year microeconomics topics, but Rangel does not shy away from diving into the nitty-gritty calculations and reasoning.

I loved Rangel’s lectures overall. His excitement echoes through in his lectures, and the videos are almost all under 10 minutes in duration, making them very easy to watch. Problem set questions are are mostly given via video as well (similar to quizzes on Udacity), which is helpful for more complicated questions.

You can also be confident that lectures are real Caltech quality because Rangel emphasized that the same videos were concurrently being used to teach the on-campus students at Caltech. The difference being, actual Caltech students had dedicated office hours and direct access to the professor and TAs.

Be aware, Rangel does have an accent, and I highly recommend watching the videos with subtitles, otherwise some parts may be slightly difficult to understand.

—— Assignments and Exams ——
Almost all graded assignments were difficult. Partially because of the subject matter, but also because unlike many other MOOCs, you were only given one attempt per quiz/problem/exam. In addition, most questions required you to make connections based on lectures and apply calculations and formulas. Do not expect to ace assignments by rewatching lectures and regurgitating back the same information.

However, all students should get 100% on the quizzes because the answer videos were accessible before attempting the problem. I’m not sure if this is a drawback of the course’s implementation style, or if it is a constraint of Coursera’s platform. Regardless, quizzes account for the smallest percentage of the final grade.

One HUGE drawback was a lack of close revisions of questions and answers. Because of this, graded questions and answers frequently had to be revised mid-week to adjust for errors. Despite these errors, I don’t think it will be a problem for future classes if the same/similar questions are used again since most errors should have been caught by the first cohort of students.

—— Additional Intangibles ——
You will likely get lost in this course if you are not comfortable with calculus. (If something like this doesn’t look intimidating, then you’ll be perfectly fine.) I haven’t had a calculus course since freshman year of college, and my lack of familiarity (particularly with integrals) really showed in this course. If you still want to try, Rangel usually shows the “easy way” very briefly before diving into explanations of the more accurate “hard way”.

The biggest problem this course encountered was technical difficulties. An entire graded portion—the lab exercises—had to be scrapped due to technical problems. I was originally looking forward to this portion as it was intended to be a “market trading activity” where students competed against peers for their grade. It was originally required every week, but after two attempts, the labs never came to fruition. Hopefully future classes will get to experience it.

Distribution of Statements of Accomplishment also experienced technical issues. I finished my final exam in April, but did not receive my Statement of Accomplishment until September. The positive point is that Rangel was very engaged in helping all students who earned a certificate, get it.

—— Conclusion ——
For me personally, this was one of the more difficult MOOCs I’ve taken to date. Again, this might just be because I have not used calculus in roughly 10 years. I would recommend this class to any math or science major who wants to learn microeconomics. By the end, you will probably have a better understanding of microeconomics than the economics majors around you.

It is worth noting that this class will be offered again, NOT through Coursera, but rather through edX starting January 7, 2014. This makes me a little hesitant to recommend the course because my primary complaint about its initial offering would be the technical issues. Now, the course team will have to adapt to the edX platform, and I’m not sure what new technical issues may arise from the switch.

—— Personal Recommendations ——

  • Recommended for math or science students who want to learn microeconomics
  • No resubmissions on graded assignments makes it harder than the average MOOC
  • Review your calculus first (derivatives and integrals)

Stanford: Introduction to Databases

Stanford: Introduction to Databases

Overall Course Rating:  10/10

Completion Date: April 1, 2013
Platform: Stanford Class2Go

—— Lectures ——
Jennifer Widom is a phenomenal MOOC teacher. She is able to condense a very complex subject matter into succinct videos including detailed examples. If you have never worked with databases or tables before, then it may be a bit difficult to pick up initially, but Widom does a great job of onboarding laypeople. She clearly has video lecturing experience from teaching the SCPD course online.

In addition, her lectures also cover a broad array of topics with good depth. Some topics I found particularly useful include XML, JSON, and differences between various open source SQL databases. Some of the topics are bit more abstract, such as the Unified Modeling Language, and not absolutely essential (thought extremely beneficial), but Widom does a good job of demonstrating their importance in each video.

You can also see that the online class mirrors the actual Stanford class exactly in terms of content. The most significant difference is that Stanford student’s get a big term project.

—— Assignments and Exams ——
All assignments were fair and excellent practice. Some exercises were quite challenging, and I had to exert quite a bit of brain power to get the right answer, but you know you’re learning when you run into such mental blocks. After doing Widom’s exercises, you will confidently be able to tell others that you can handle XML and SQL queries.

Because this class has been offered a number of times already, there were almost no mistakes (except edits you’ll see in her lecture videos). But it is very refreshing to see a technical course with nearly no mistakes, AND all of the questions are worded clearly without ambiguity. Ambiguous questions are a problem I’ve encountered in other online courses.

—— Additional Intangibles ——
Widom has been teaching this course as a MOOC since Fall 2011, and it is evident throughout the entire course, from lectures to materials to organization. First offered on a pre-Coursera platform, then ported to Stanford Class2Go, now it will be available on January 7, 2014 through Stanford Online which runs on the open source edX platform.

I also like that the Statement of Accomplishment gave me a breakdown of exactly how I performed in each aspect of the course:

  • Quizzes: 71.0 out of a maximum of 71.0
  • Exercises: 54.0 out of a maximum of 54.0
  • Exams: 27.0 out of a maximum of 38.0
  • Challenge Level Exercises: 46.0 out of a maximum of 46.0
  • Scaled Total (exercises doubled, exams tripled): 260.0 out of a maximum of 293.0

I like that all of the materials were well organized and easy to download in bulk, including examples covered in the lectures. This made it easy to go back and reference Widom’s code after the lecture. I would recommend some kind of code editor just to make your own submissions easier to proofread. My personal favorites are Sublime Text and Notepad++ (sorry Mac users).

—— Conclusion ——
To date, this has been my favorite and most rewarding MOOC. I would honestly recommend it to everyone. I would argue that it is essential for anyone in a Computer Science or Engineering program, regardless of whether you want to specialize in databases or not.

This student survey from the 2011 course offering further reinforces my point. You can also read Widom’s personal thoughts from the inaugural class; you’ll see that she was one of the earliest adopters of “free-to-the-world” courses.

—— Personal Recommendations ——

  • The course should be required by all CS programs
  • Learn to run SQL queries and XML queries
  • If you aren’t interested in databases, you should take it just to learn a new way of thinking about organized information