Coursera Launches!

Source: The Malaysian Insider, Apr 2012

Founders Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng say Coursera will be different because professors from top schools will teach under their university’s name and will adapt their most popular courses for the web, embedding assignments and exams into video lectures, answering questions from students on online forums — even, perhaps, hosting office hours via videoconference.

Multiple-choice and short-answer tests will be computer scored. Coursera will soon unveil a system of peer grading to assess more complex work, such as essays or algorithms.

Related RWW article, Apr 2012

The lecture is just one piece of a Coursera course, and it’s not the most important. The two essential elements are peer grading of assignments and the class forum. These present the technical challenge to delivering a meaningful classroom experience at Internet scale.

The Coursera grading technology is good at crunching structured output. It was easier when the courses were focused on computer science and engineering because student work could be easily tested and quantified. But for this launch, Coursera has figured out how to implement its technology for humanities courses as well using peer grading.

The professor comes up with a grading rubric for an assignment and gives it to students – after they submit their work – along with practice grading exercises. Once the students have completed the training, they’re qualified to grade each other. The process uses theory from crowdsourcing technology like Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Coursera has demonstrated that its peer grading can be about as accurate as your typical university teaching assistant. But unlike the T.A., it can grade 200,000 papers.

The other key technology in Coursera is its forums. No manual system could moderate a class discussion with hundreds of thousands of people in it. Coursera’s forum technology identifies and parses duplicate questions, and it auto-suggests related questions as students type. It also uses a Stack Overflow-style reputation system to surface the best conversations.

Related Mashable article, Apr 2012

“It opens doors to people who wouldn’t have had them opened otherwise,” Koller says. “Education is a real equalizer, even if it doesn’t come with a degree attached to it.”

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