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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Coursera’s Rick Levin on the Evolution of MOOCs and Microcredentials | EdSurge

Photo: Jeffrey R. Young
"Coursera sits somewhat awkwardly on the border between traditional higher education and the Silicon Valley-forces working to disrupt it" notes Jeffrey R. Young, senior editor at EdSurge.

The venture-backed startup based in Mountain View (near all those online giants like Google and Facebook) has partnered with more than 150 colleges and universities around the world (including the old and famous ones like Princeton and Yale). The colleges create course videos and assignments that are offered on the company’s platform for free—and students can pay for a certificate showing completion.

How’s that going? EdSurge talked with Rick Levin, CEO of Coursera (and former president of one of those big-name universities, Yale) about how the mega-courses known as MOOCs have changed in the five years since the start of their hype-filled debut. And he shares what lessons he’s learned working at a startup.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

EdSurge: I’ve heard folks at Coursera refer to your courses and microcredential programs as “products.” That word struck me, since many academics are worried that higher education is becoming too commercialized. Is there a tension between the for-profit structure of Coursera and the nonprofit mission of your college partners?

RIck Levin: The advantage that we bring as a for-profit company is energy and direction and access to a labor force that's highly talented. There's an energy about our being a for-profit Silicon Valley entity that will create other services for university partners.

Sometimes our partners say we are moving too fast because we're coming up with new features all the time, and we're experimenting with new pricing models, and each of these changes requires a lot of explanations from the university departments who customize them.

It has been five years since Coursera launched its first MOOCs. What do you think is the biggest difference as far as pedagogy between those first attempts and the offerings you have today?

We've been adding features over time to make the learning experience better. We're better, first of all, at helping learners find the courses they want and the courses they need to advance their careers. There's some new stuff going on which is really exciting about analyzing the content of our courses so that we can really pinpoint exactly what are the skills that are being taught in each one—and in each part of each course—so that we can help target good advice to learners about where they need to go if they are on a particular career path. That's extremely helpful towards a career-focused learner.

In terms of a general learning experience, I would say we have improved the quality of our discussion forums. Instead of one big mess, now it's separated into different topical threads. We can open and close different groups so if an instructor wants to create a discussion forum for a subset of the learners, let's say, the alumni of an institution, they can have their own private discussion forum. And I think we're improving our ability to grade assessments online. We can handle not just multiple choice, but mathematical expressions, and short coding exercises that can be auto graded. Even short descriptive sentences. I think we'll get to a point where we can do even better in terms of what can be graded without human intervention.

Source:  EdSurge