Online education is something I’ve been interested in for some time now and I am convinced that more and more universities and educational bodies will move toward an online model. The advantages are immense, notably the size of the community that can take part and the cost savings that come into play in this economy of scale. I have dabbled in teaching interactively online in the past (mostly on a one-on-one level), but I recently became aware of a site called Coursera. It is an online education site that was launched in April this year and already has more than 1 million users. Although alternative sites exist offering access to video lectures, Coursera’s point of difference is that it’s highly-structured courses, which are delivered by professors from reputed partner universities, are punctuated by homework assignments and finish with a final exam (like a traditional University course) and a certificate.
The class I’m following at the moment is called ‘Introductory to Operations Management. It focusses on increasing the efficiency and profitability of production processes, from takeaway shops to dentists’ offices. Initially, I didn’t choose this for its relevance to my work (although I find it fascinating to reflect on where my day has gone in terms of minutes and productivity), but rather something challenging that I hadn’t thought about before. And admittedly, given the time since I studied statistics at high school, some of the course’s concepts are a little tricky for me to grasp.
But this is where the huge international community comes in. The Coursera forums are full of people asking and answering questions, so if I haven’t understood something in a lecture (which by the way I can watch as many times as I need), a little searching will lead me to help I need. For all that is mathematical this works very well and I imagine in a language course that these forums could be an excellent way for people to communicate and help each other with any problems.
Unfortunately for the moment Coursera doesn’t offer any language courses. I assume that the logistics of grading 60,000 students’ work becomes much more complicated when it moves beyond multi-choice number problems. Some online-education enthusiasts that I had the pleasure of lunching with earlier in the week spoke about a peer-grading system, whereby on submitting an assignment, students would be asked to grade five other assignments. The assignments would therefore have a variety of opinions as to their mark and students could even give feedback.
So for the moment I’ll be keeping an eye out to see some large-scale online language teaching and learning other things with the ever-adapting tool that is Coursera!
Grégory Maubon has a nice post on online education here, looking at different MOOCS.