Coursera Statistics Week Two – Mr Grumpy Comes to Town

I’m coming to the end of week two of the Coursera Statistics One course, with just the quiz and assignment to do over the weekend. There have been a lot of forum postings because people are having difficulty using R, with many people saying they’re dropping out because of the problems they’re having getting the software to run and get results etc, particularly since there were some errors in the main lectures, for example hist(someVar) was used when it should have been hist(someObject$someVar). I’ve been posting to the forums and helping out where I can, which has fitted nicely with the eModerating course I’ve also been taking over the last two weeks. In response, Coursera has posted a number of video tutorials on using R by a female staff member. She’s very good – the tutorials are detailed and comprehensive without being confusing. For example, she demos common mistakes and what the corresponding error messages look like, but this is where Mr Grumpy makes an appearance. This is week two and these videos have been created specifically to help people with R, but there are mistakes in them. At one point, list.files() is shown as all one word, which would give an error.

  • Is is too much to ask that something as well funded as Coursera using video as the primary teaching method could actually produce videos without errors in them?
  • This is week two – surely anyone who’s used R would see the need to give support to students who’ve never encountered it before (and probably are strangers to the command line as well) from the beginning of the course and possibly as a week 0 activity.
  • There is no certificate of achievement (not an issue for me) but quiz and assignment submissions were initially restricted to one attempt only. If there’s no certificate, why not allow multiple attempts from the start so that students can master the materials and fomatively assess their own progress?

Whatever happened to learning design? How does the initial course presentation meet Professor Conway’s aim of maximising retention? And just to make it clear, I’m criticising the pedagogy here, not the content or the presentation of the content, which I find to be very good.

I’d be interested in hearing perspectives from others on the course.

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4 thoughts on “Coursera Statistics Week Two – Mr Grumpy Comes to Town

  1. Agree. I am one of the folks having difficulties – and I know command line pretty well, but not R. And some of the explanations are just too short for me.

    There seem to be a few typos, smaller inaccuracies, which throw me – and at least a few other newbies in R – totally off. I spend double as many hours as intended, and just cannot keep that up (working full time). I spend a lot of that time seeking answers from the forums and on Google.
    I’d rather have it a bit less packed and fast, more details and go for more than 6 weeks.

    I would have expected something immaculate and tested, coming from Princeton and having an experienced lecturer present this to 75,000 people. I wonder what this does to Princeton’s reputation.

  2. “If there’s no certificate, why not allow multiple attempts from the start so that students can master the materials and fomatively assess their own progress?”

    That’s a very good point. We do have a certificate in ours, but are given 2 attempts at the quiz. But what has been noticed is that there is no indication of what the correct answer is when you get a question wrong. Seems to me if the point is learning (and not certification) then giving people the correct answer when they get a question wrong so they can actually learn from their mistakes would be good pedagogical practice.

    • I’m in the Gamification course. We get five attempts for each quiz and the highest score is the one that counts. The catch is that starting with the third attempt, your score will be reduced each time by 25%. It’s unlikely that your score will improve after the second attempt due to the reduction, but if you’re stuck on a particular question you could use those additional attempts just to learn the correct answer.

      This seems like a fair approach, but it can be annoying if there’s just one question that you’re particularly stuck on. You’d have to wade through the whole quiz three+ times just to learn where you went wrong on that one question.

      If the point of the multiple-attempt setup is for students to learn from mistakes (which I think is great), then what they could do is limit the quiz to two rounds, and display the correct answer only if you get the same question wrong twice in a row. Or, reveal the correct answers after the first round, but provide a new set of questions in the second round and do the same.

  3. we actually had a good community of students growing at the StudyRoom for Statistics (www.getstudyroom.com) because everyone was struggling with R.
    But after week 2~3 a lot of people started leaving or told us that they were not going to continue the class.
    For the other classes like Intro to Mathematical Thinking the community in the StudyRoom is healthy and growing with hundreds of students coming everyday to help each other on hard concepts, homework or even simply to chill there while they watch the lectures.

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