World History MOOC Report 11: In which I have too much time on my hands.

9 11 2012

So I’m writing this post from a cheap hotel out by the highway in Lafayette, Indiana.* When I got back yesterday afternoon after a long day of research I thought I’d take care of my self-imposed MOOC-related responsibilities for the week before I did some other work and went to bed, when I realized that watching these videos was taking an incredibly long time.

Part of this was definitely the quality of the free wifi here. The thing buffered every minute or two for a few seconds. But then I took a look at the video listings and did some quick math in my head. The parts of the first lecture of the week added up to about seven minutes more than the first lecture of the week! That’s when I started experimenting with speeding Jeremy up to 1.25x and then 1.5x speed. That button is right there at the bottom of my pop-up screen, but then I felt guilty as I kind of know Professor Adelman now (at least just a little bit). Therefore, I just listened to him talk the way that God and Coursera intended me to hear him.

This does raise an interesting point, though. Ordinary professors are bound by the constraints of the periods that separate their classes from other classes. Superprofessors have no such constraints. After all, what are you gonna do? Demand your money back?

When I have too much time on my hands like yesterday, this is definitely a good thing but I wonder how people who are a lot more pressed for time than I am feel when they realize that this week’s lectures are going long. To compound the matter, Jeremy was recommending lots of outside reading books in this weeks’ first lecture. They were excellent recommendations (I need to sit down and actually read Alexis de Tocqueville straight through myself someday), but it makes you wonder exactly who is this class aimed at. Is it supposed to be fun extra learning for busy professionals and retirees or a substitute for college?

Apparently, Clay Shirky explained which students that Coursera is counting on at the opening session of Educause the other day:

The missing piece is a caveat in Coursera’s terms of service that prohibits the use of Coursera’s MOOCs for anything but informal education.

“You may not take any Online Course offered by Coursera,” stipulate the terms, “or use any Letter of Completion as part of any tuition-based or for-credit certification or program for any college, university, or other academic institution without the express written permission from Coursera.”

In other words, they’re not going to make any money unless their free product is a college substitute. If students speed all their superprofessors up to 1.50x, they could all shave fifty percent off the time they need to get their degrees. That’ll solve the college cost crisis!**

PS to Jeremy: Tell Dan that when you say that a map is particularly important, he should probably be absolutely certain that the audience at home can actually read the names of the countries and cities on it.

* FWIW, Purdue has the nicest food court in its student union that I have EVER seen. I am so jealous.

** Assuming superprofessors like Jeremy don’t spoil the party by making their lectures fifty percent longer than regular face-to-face classes are.



3 responses

9 11 2012

ok, I talked with Dan. Actually, the trouble is more with the resolution coming through from my computer from the original, since the much-maligned capitalist publishers WW Norton (who are, by the way, employee-owned; see how complex the world is?) made the maps for books not for screen viewing. Not much we can do about these at this stage.

You might also look at the online forum discussions. There I think you will see lots of seminar-style engagement. (Though I predict you will find this also a pale version of the real thing…)

9 11 2012
Jonathan Rees


Do you all know the ration of forum participants to the overall number of students in the class? Yes, you know where I’m going with this, but similarly you’ll defend a low number the same way you defend the quiz return rates and the number will still be very interesting one way or another.

11 11 2012

I would be interested to know this, Jonathan. But we just don’t have the data. My guess is that it’s a relatively small percentage of a large pool of 86k enrolled. It only confirms what we know about MOOCs, and this course is no exception, which is that real participation (as opposed to more passive “consumption”) represents a small share.

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