Postsecondary Learning

Koller's Course(ra) Ahead

By Betsy Corcoran     Jul 31, 2013

Koller's Course(ra) Ahead

During a recent cab ride from the San Francisco airport, thecabbie gave me an earful about her latest passion: the history and even anaccounting class she was taking on Coursera. And when I took a recent peek at the class list, I swooned abit too: Song writing and jazz improvisation with legends from the Berkelee School ofMusic. Sign me up.

The competitive nature of our economy--exacerbated by therecent crushing downturn--has made much of education a march to certificationsand credentials. Exactly what the implications of MOOC--massive onlinecourses--will be long-term is still anybody's guess: Plenty of universities,colleges and professor worry that making education free will endanger theirinstitutions and even livelihoods.

Others believe the MOOCs are a much-needed course correctionto the escalating costs associated with higher education. The National Center forEducation Statistics calculates that between 2000–01 and 2010–11, pricesfor undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions rose 42%;statisticians at Bloomberg News Service figure that college costs have gone up amind-blowing 1,120% over the past 35 years

Whatever the future holds, however, there's no question thatpeople are drawn to these classes:

Recently Coursera announced that it would start offeringprofessional development programs for teachers: A class on the Foundations of Teaching forLearning 1: Introduction (which starts August 5) has drawn more than 18,000registrations; a parallel class, FirstYear Teaching (Elementary Grades) - Success from the Start (debuting August6) has more than 10,000 enrolled. For now there is no official credential associatedwith these--just a "statement of accomplishment" and the clear desirethat people have to learn more.

Daphne Koller, cofounder of Coursera, spoke recently with me on the company's directions. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

EdSurge: What are futuredirections for your platform?

Koller: Our first mobile developer showed up today! We're also veryinterested in the international market--in translation and localization. Weare, though an app platform: we want to define a rich ecosystem for student tocollaborate, do simulations and exploit a whole range of cool and interestingapplications. We don't have the bandwidth to develop all those by ourselves. Wewill have a shared data model with well-defined APIs. And yes, I'd expect likeany app platform, there will be shared revenue. Not because that's our revenuemodel but because we think it will lead to a better experience for users.

What's surprised youabout how Coursera is evolving?

The uptake on peer grading was a surprise. We knew peergrading was important in the humanities, where the most interesting assignmentscan't be graded by a machine. But then we saw how commonly it became used in awhole range of courses.  Peoplelike to be graded by people.  [Thatmeans a new priority] is supporting group work. We want to create groups withinthe platform and support more social learning pieces.

How is Courserahandling credentialling?

We've already announced a signature track that doesverification based on keystrokes. That's one level of academic integrity:Youare not giving a certificate to Donald duck. That's important aspect ofmaintaining the value of the university brand that goes on the certificate. Formore high stakes investment, we're using standard methodology such as… remoteproctoring of exams. That's currently the norm. We're just co-opting thattechnology.

And you make money byissuing credentials?

There are many ways we can make money on value-addedservices on top of the signature track. [For instance we can do] tutoring andthings that have a higher touch. There are a lot of opportunities forinstitutional use of our content, too.  Universities see the amazing courses we have. We sharerevenue with the schools and professors who develop those courses.  

How does qualitycontrol of those courses happen?

We have amazing people who really care about helpinginstructors teach better. By and large, our courses are great and theuniversities produce strong quality control. The nice thing is the instructorsget so much visibility in what works and what doesn't from the analytics we canpull off the platform. And the comments that students post on the discussionforums. It helps them rethink their class sometimes.

Does it matter ifCoursera is a for-profit or nonprofit?

The notion offor profit and nonprofit is a red herring. If you're not charging for contentbut you're living off of some way of monetizing [the interactions or whathappens on your platform], it doesn't matter what your tax status is. There's atechnical question of whether open source or an API-based platform is a betterplatform for creating a rich ecosystem for people. There are a large number ofexamples where API platforms are more usable and [perhaps] better maintained.That may be because it's not just adhoc group of developers but a single team that'smaking the platform functional and easy to plug into.

There are plenty ofcritiques of MOOCs, too, such as the Udacity's tangle at San Jose State.

As you embark on a new endeavor and try out differentthings, there are some experiments that work out well and some that you'll needto rethink and redefine. So declaring failure after an experiment is prematureand a symptom of the hyperbolic nature of the coverage of MOOCs. In bothdirections.  In the same way that a single successful experiment wouldn't indicate that we won the war, there is nosingle indication that we've lost it. We're on a very long road oftransformation of education after 400 or 500 years without change.

Postsecondary Learning

Koller's Course(ra) Ahead

By Betsy Corcoran     Jul 31, 2013

Koller's Course(ra) Ahead

During a recent cab ride from the San Francisco airport, thecabbie gave me an earful about her latest passion: the history and even anaccounting class she was taking on Coursera. And when I took a recent peek at the class list, I swooned abit too: Song writing and jazz improvisation with legends from the Berkelee School ofMusic. Sign me up.

The competitive nature of our economy--exacerbated by therecent crushing downturn--has made much of education a march to certificationsand credentials. Exactly what the implications of MOOC--massive onlinecourses--will be long-term is still anybody's guess: Plenty of universities,colleges and professor worry that making education free will endanger theirinstitutions and even livelihoods.

Others believe the MOOCs are a much-needed course correctionto the escalating costs associated with higher education. The National Center forEducation Statistics calculates that between 2000–01 and 2010–11, pricesfor undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions rose 42%;statisticians at Bloomberg News Service figure that college costs have gone up amind-blowing 1,120% over the past 35 years

Whatever the future holds, however, there's no question thatpeople are drawn to these classes:

Recently Coursera announced that it would start offeringprofessional development programs for teachers: A class on the Foundations of Teaching forLearning 1: Introduction (which starts August 5) has drawn more than 18,000registrations; a parallel class, FirstYear Teaching (Elementary Grades) - Success from the Start (debuting August6) has more than 10,000 enrolled. For now there is no official credential associatedwith these--just a "statement of accomplishment" and the clear desirethat people have to learn more.

Daphne Koller, cofounder of Coursera, spoke recently with me on the company's directions. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

EdSurge: What are futuredirections for your platform?

Koller: Our first mobile developer showed up today! We're also veryinterested in the international market--in translation and localization. Weare, though an app platform: we want to define a rich ecosystem for student tocollaborate, do simulations and exploit a whole range of cool and interestingapplications. We don't have the bandwidth to develop all those by ourselves. Wewill have a shared data model with well-defined APIs. And yes, I'd expect likeany app platform, there will be shared revenue. Not because that's our revenuemodel but because we think it will lead to a better experience for users.

What's surprised youabout how Coursera is evolving?

The uptake on peer grading was a surprise. We knew peergrading was important in the humanities, where the most interesting assignmentscan't be graded by a machine. But then we saw how commonly it became used in awhole range of courses.  Peoplelike to be graded by people.  [Thatmeans a new priority] is supporting group work. We want to create groups withinthe platform and support more social learning pieces.

How is Courserahandling credentialling?

We've already announced a signature track that doesverification based on keystrokes. That's one level of academic integrity:Youare not giving a certificate to Donald duck. That's important aspect ofmaintaining the value of the university brand that goes on the certificate. Formore high stakes investment, we're using standard methodology such as… remoteproctoring of exams. That's currently the norm. We're just co-opting thattechnology.

And you make money byissuing credentials?

There are many ways we can make money on value-addedservices on top of the signature track. [For instance we can do] tutoring andthings that have a higher touch. There are a lot of opportunities forinstitutional use of our content, too.  Universities see the amazing courses we have. We sharerevenue with the schools and professors who develop those courses.  

How does qualitycontrol of those courses happen?

We have amazing people who really care about helpinginstructors teach better. By and large, our courses are great and theuniversities produce strong quality control. The nice thing is the instructorsget so much visibility in what works and what doesn't from the analytics we canpull off the platform. And the comments that students post on the discussionforums. It helps them rethink their class sometimes.

Does it matter ifCoursera is a for-profit or nonprofit?

The notion offor profit and nonprofit is a red herring. If you're not charging for contentbut you're living off of some way of monetizing [the interactions or whathappens on your platform], it doesn't matter what your tax status is. There's atechnical question of whether open source or an API-based platform is a betterplatform for creating a rich ecosystem for people. There are a large number ofexamples where API platforms are more usable and [perhaps] better maintained.That may be because it's not just adhoc group of developers but a single team that'smaking the platform functional and easy to plug into.

There are plenty ofcritiques of MOOCs, too, such as the Udacity's tangle at San Jose State.

As you embark on a new endeavor and try out differentthings, there are some experiments that work out well and some that you'll needto rethink and redefine. So declaring failure after an experiment is prematureand a symptom of the hyperbolic nature of the coverage of MOOCs. In bothdirections.  In the same way that a single successful experiment wouldn't indicate that we won the war, there is nosingle indication that we've lost it. We're on a very long road oftransformation of education after 400 or 500 years without change.

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