Statistical MOOCing

I’ve recently started yet another MOOC. This time it’s Coursera’s Statistics One. It’s early days yet (I’m only on lecture two), but there are some interesting contrasts with another statistics MOOC I recently did, Udacity’s ST101 Introduction to Statistics.

The Coursera offering consists of videos, typically about fifteen to twenty minutes long and totalling around three to four hours per week, one quiz and one assignment per week. The quiz and assignment only allow one attempt.

What I like is that the content looks more formal and rigorous than the Udacity offering, and critically, we’ll actually be doing meaningful calculations using the R statistical software, which we’re using with the first year students at Leicester University. With Udacity, I felt their statistics course was more of a ‘Look how interesting statistics are’ rather than ‘This is how you use statistics’.

My concern is with the assessment. With Udacity, the videos were short, sometimes only a few seconds long in some sections before an in-video quiz was used, often to take a student step-by-step through a process or development of an idea, rather than simply recall information. With the Coursera MOOC, there are a couple of quiz slides at the end of each video, but the course notes specifically state:

‘The purpose of these “in-video quizzes” is to motivate you to engage in the material and to practice retrieving newly learned information. Your performance on these questions will be monitored for course evaluation purposes only.’

In other words, they are there to promote recall and aid course management, and by having the quizzes at the end the student simply sits and listens rather than learns by doing. It may be that once we get into actually calculating things the in-video quizzes will require more interaction, but at the moment I’m disappointed. Even with the scale of these MOOCs Udacity shows that there are alternatives to the ultra-didactic route. What I’d like is the rigour of the Coursera content and the engagement of the Udacity formative assessment. What I’d really like is a stats MOOC that is more ‘task-based’ to use Lisa M Lane’s terminology.

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