An open request to online course organisers

I’ve written before about the opportunities offered by MOOCs (massively open online courses) and how they threaten to disrupt and transform the education sector. The number of subjects available keeps growing, the quality of the material continues to improve and my opinion remains unchanged.

However, I have a modest request for course organisers that would make them much more useful.

One of the more challenging and rewarding courses available so far is Stanford University’s “Human-Computer Interaction”. Here is one of the course certificates …


.. and you still have no idea what this student learned, do you? The course title gives no sense of its scope, though even a stark outline would look like this:


Now you might be thinking that this is a pretty comprehensive list, but any fool could sit through a few videos and answer some multiple-choice questions. What if I told you this candidate devoted at least 15 hours a week for two months on it? Amongst other things, students had to find volunteers to interview and observe; take photos; solve practical problems; make prototypes; design, build and evaluate their own apps …

My request is simply that the certificate should give an idea of the scope and depth of the course, with some of the challenges it presented, otherwise it serves no purpose. This would give the certificates some currency in the workplace and make the courses even more appealing.

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3 Responses to An open request to online course organisers

  1. Curious, as I’m researching the pedagogy of MOOC’s in relation to certificate forms — did you receive significant feedback? If so, was it mainly from the instructor or from a cohort?

    I would imagine a preferred certificate would, as you suggest, contain details in your project goals and the qualities of completion. More preferable would be recommendations for improvement and some notion of how your work shows your competence/budding skills.

    Cheers, looking forward to hearing back — JL

    • Pootering says:

      These courses attract tens of thousands of students, so all the feedback was peer review. However, this was of an excellent standard and the course included a strict rubric to follow in grading work. All students were required to pass a test in grading real examples of work from previous courses before they were let loose on the real thing. All work was also graded by several peers and the average mark awarded only once the extremes had been discarded.

      • I like the idea, as an ESL teacher, of increasing my students’ abilities to provide each other with helpful feedback (and structure is of course needed) as it may produce in time a self-critical understanding of their own learning.

        For a peer-grading model, what you describe sounds fairly responsible for introduction courses to a subject.

        However, I wonder how helpful this level of feedback is to you over the long-term, as I wonder for my students. While the exercise of peer-review is a good one, is it sufficient to determine literacy and/or expertise in a subject? For a true process or project-model, there will have to be a significant variety with feedback from a leader (not necessarily a lecturer).

        Glad to hear your experience was helpful — ‘t would of course be best if the rubric at least demonstrated where your work fit into the scale. ‘T would be even better if the grading scale weren’t what mattered, but the (meaningfully) subjective qualities of the work itself and the skills demonstrated. Knowledge is very much what we do.

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