I would be really curious to know how Coursera is going to judge the success or failure of this class. What criteria will they use? From my perspective as a student, I realized this weekend that the course is basically a failure - I'll finish up with the reading (which is great), and I'll write the essays and continue to do the peer review, but I'm no longer participating in the discussion boards (except to reply to any non-anonymous comments someone addresses to me directly) and I'm probably not going to do much more blogging here. Below are the criteria by which I'm rating the class as a failure for my own purposes and why I have no interest in participating beyond the bare minimum at this point.
1. Anonymous posting makes a toxic discussion board. I've never participated in an online environment where anonymous posting is allowed, and I don't think I will ever do so again. I wonder if Coursera is even thinking about this problem? If people want to sling mud online, there are plenty of places to do so, but it has no place in an educational environment. Persistent pseudonyms, yes, no problem at all - but anonymous posting, based on my experience over the past six weeks, adds nothing to the experience and instead has the potential to ruin it. To me, the most important part of a course like this is to participate in a community of shared learning; that has not happened, despite my best efforts. I have been a very active discussion board participant, which just makes me a bigger target for the anonymi to hit… although I am not only the type of person subject to mockery - there's a discussion board thread which consists solely of making fun of other people in the class. Everyone is a potential subject for abuse; anonymous is an equal opportunity scoffer.
2. Coursera is completely unresponsive to student requests for help and information via the discussion boards. We are told at the Coursera Contact page that any course-related questions should be posted at the discussion boards because Coursera staff are monitoring them regularly. I have to conclude this is not true. I have not seen a post from a Coursera staff member in response to a student query since the first week of class. One week ago, I asked some important questions about the wiki which appeared out of nowhere one night; I renewed my question periodically, other students bumped the thread so that it appeared on the main page of discussion board posts all week - but no response. (The wiki could have been an incredibly useful addition to the class, but since Coursera has provided no information about its long-term fate, it's impossible for me to decide about whether it is worth participating there or not.)
3. The work for the class is not intended to have any lasting value. Week after week we write essays, but there is no archive of student work. Week after week we write reviews of essays, but it is all anonymous, with no sustained person-to-person contact. The emphasis is not on the quality of that contact, but on the numerical grades - every week I get a robomail from Coursera that gives me a numerical breakdown of the grading in the past week. I don't want a numerical breakdown of grading… I'd like to see the best essays of the week! I'd like to know that the time I invested in providing feedback was actually of value to others! I'd like to know that we are not just doing this "for the grade" - but in the Coursera model we are, in fact, just doing it for the grade, and the discussion boards are filled with complaints from people who feel, understandably, that they are being graded unfairly (for all that I dislike grading, it needs to be done fairly - but that is not the case here at all, as people get marked down because of accusations of plagiarism for which there is no appeal, just to take one example).
I could go on (and on and on) about other aspects of the class that I don't think are working very well, but I'll stop with the folkloric "law of three" and list just those three reasons, since these are the reasons why I have decided that I am no longer going to participate in the class in any meaningful way beyond the requirements (and the requirements are only to write the essays and do the peer feedback).
So, as I said, I would really like to know how Coursera will judge whether the class succeeded or not. So far they have collected zero input from us about our experience in the class - are they only going to gather input from those who are left standing at the end? To be honest, that is one of my few motivations for continuing to participate at a minimum level for the next four weeks; I would like for my input to count, if they do indeed gather input at the end. Of the three reasons for my basically quitting the class now and just persisting in doing the minimum, two would be incredibly easy to fix (they are administrative problems), while the third item is more complex, since it gets at the underlying course design which, for many reasons, I would rate as a failure. Will Coursera do anything about this? Do they care? I will certainly sign up for the class again the next time it is offered, just to take a look and see if there are any positive changes - or whether Coursera is going to simply plow on ahead, confident in its large enrollment numbers, without evaluating the actual student experience.