Everyone and their brother is going to be writing about this article today so I might as well get in on the action (since I’ve staked out this beat for some time now). Among other things, the article tells us that the MOOC-meisters at Coursera are getting in on the humanities already:
To date, most MOOCs have covered computer science, math and engineering, but Coursera is expanding into areas like medicine, poetry and history.
I’m a historian, so let’s talk specifically about history, OK? Specifically, let’s look at how all those essays this massive number of online students will write are going to be graded:
Grading presents some questions, too. Coursera’s humanities courses use peer-to-peer grading, with students first having to show that they can match a professor’s grading of an assignment, and then grade the work of five classmates, in return for which their work is graded by five fellow students. But, Ms. Koller said, what would happen to a student who cannot match the professor’s grading has not been determined.
Gee, you’d think they’d actually work that out in advance, wouldn’t you?
But let’s suppose they actually did work that out. Your students can match your grading on history essays. Can they match your reasoning too? When I grade, I spend the vast majority of my time writing comments in the margins (on essays, papers and draft papers) and at least one paragraph at the end explaining why a student got the grade they got so that they can do better next time. I do this because a) It’s my job. and b) That’s kind of what education is all about.
Are student peers going to do that? Can student peers do that? Well, if they could they would have to know all the historical material covered on the test, but how would they respond to information they didn’t know if they’re grading a test that’s better than their’s? More importantly, at least for my classes, they’d have to know something about what makes good writing good. I have plenty of students who do, but that’s after three or four years of having people like me (and their English professors*) explain to them why they got the grades they got and how they can do better.
Does Coursera really think they can get away with making money off substandard education for the masses? The article offers me a hint of why I think they might:
“About two-thirds of Coursera’s students are from overseas…”
I think they’re counting on those international students not being able to tell the difference between an actual education and rote memorization. That’s why it’s so important that we non-super professors do our best to get the word out about what a real college education can be.
* Geez, if I’m freaked out by this part of that article, I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow morning and see what all the English professors out there think.