MOOCs: Daphne Koller of Coursera shares insights

Grab from Coursera site

“2012 was the year of the MOOC” claimed Coursera co-founder and Professor of Computing at Stanford Universtiy, Daphne Koller. This week at BETT she shared an avalanche of stats about massive open online courses (MOOCs), and provided insights into the Coursera platform specifically.

As of 29th January two and a half million people had signed-up to take one of Coursera’s 215 courses; 28% of the student body is from Europe and 35% from North America.

The completion rate of those who register for a course is between 5-10%. Whilst this sounds low, Koller interrogated the data and found the following:

  • Of those who register, and this is easily done as well as being free, 30% fail to participate in their selected course from day one;
  • 60% of those who do turn up intend to browse and see what the course is about, and watch the videos, but don’t wish to undertake homework etc;
  • Of those who submit the first homework assignment, 30% go on to complete the homework across the course.

It’s also interesting to note that at this nascent stage of MOOCs, 80% of Coursera’s students already have a university degree, and half of that group holds a postgraduate qualification. So this cohort is familiar with academia and employing strategies for self-directed learning, navigating academic frameworks and language, and for many of them formal accreditation or examination is not a driver for participation.

A ropy image of Daphne Koller at BETT 2013

Procrastination is an international phenomenon – as students all over the world log-on the day before homework is due.


Aha, the business model question…

Koller noted that the three current revenue models for Coursera are:

  • Certification: By paying  a US$50-$80 fee, students can receive a certificate of course completion.  Their identity is confirmed by using biometric profiles that allows for tracking and measurement of individual students.
  • Institutional course charges: Many institutions are unable to offer the breadth and depth of disciplines that larger and better funded institutions can provide. By purchasing rights to the Coursera materials, institutions can offer a greater diversity of topics to students. So far 120 institutions have expressed an interest in this offer.
  • Recruitment tool: For those students who wish to register with the recruitment service, their profiles will be made available to prospective employers who are able to search Coursera’s student database.


So, what’s in it for the universities?

Koller offered a range of reasons why universities are taking part in MOOCs, including:

  • Alignment with ‘social good’ of the institution
  • Marketing – the global reach and visibility of the institution is increased, and there has been feedback that this enhances the standing of the university with alumni, donors, parents and candidates.
  • Pedagogy – involvement with developing courses online is seen as a way of motivating staff to examine and alter the ways in which they teach. However, it is important to note that the ‘traditional mode of teaching’ of which Koller speaks is always the lecture to about 120 students in a lecture theatre. She is not referencing the multiple ways in which face-to-face teaching is undertaken within the arts and design educational environment. Neither, largely, are the institutions that are looking to vary the teaching practices of their staff on campus.


BETT 2013 exhibition

How can a tutor possibly feedback to, and assess, 50,000 students?

Easy, get a computer to do it, or facilitate peer engagement. The first, based on computer analysis, allows immediate feedback to answers submitted by individual students, so the computer is feeding back to the student.

Computer grading means that students treat this as a computer game.

The second method of feedback and assessment is through peer grading. Koller explains that peers are supplied with a grading rubric, and although ‘bad grading rubrics can be terrible’, good rubrics have proven to work well and enable peers to provide meaningful feedback.

 People want booster shots of education throughout their lives.


What is done with all this data being collected?

Big data is big news. It’s the buzz in 2013. Sophisticated data analytics provide Coursera, as well as other MOOC platforms, opportunities to interrogate the information gained from student interaction with their software. And boy do they have the capacity to track and analyse digital information. It seems that everything is tracked, stored and measured. So, the length of time that a student looks at a video is tracked, where they stop the video is tracked, how long they spend doing anything appears to be measured – every event is collected. Koller notes that whilst internet companies use this type of information to improve their service (usually for commercial gain), the MOOCs can use this information to make rapid changes that support pedagogy.

Whilst Coursera provides an institution who runs a course on its platform with the data from that course, Koller notes that because of issues around preserving anonymity where necessary, she is very careful when releasing data sets as ‘a lot of data is actually identifiable if you reverse engineer.’

We are only at the very beginning of developing pedagogy for an online medium.


Student communities

And finally, a bit about students and communities. A central part of the experience for MOOC students is online peer discussion. Apparently the larger the MOOC the better the experience as there will be a more active group and quicker response times in discussion forums. The second outcome from these peer discussions is that, as with online gaming communities, many learners are meeting face-to-face in the physical world. Physical ‘meet-ups’ are happening in coffee houses all over the world, and pubs in London. These physical get-togethers happen organically and were not part of the MOOC plan.

Make education available throughout the world for those motivated to learn anywhere in the world.


It remains to be seen how arts and design manifests itself within the massive scale open online learning environments, and how new forms of pedagogy develop. It seems apparent that approaches to learning and teaching within arts and design could valuably inform the development of MOOCs and online pedagogy across multiple disciplines.


Digital Present Innovation and MOOCs

Digital Present Political Economy of MOOCs

Coursera site