Taking a Coursera course: Step 1 signing up

One of my goals for this fall was to enroll in a Coursera MOOC to both get a better understanding of how they work, and to learn some new stuff.

The course I decided on is called Networked Life, offered by Dr. Michael Kearns at Penn State. The description looked intriguing as network theory is something I have wanted to dig a bit deeper into for awhile.

Networked Life looks at how our world is connected — socially, strategically and technologically — and why it matters.

  • What science underlies companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google?
  • How does your position in a social network (dis)advantage you?
  • What do game theory and the Paris subway have to do with Internet routing?
  • How might a social network influence election outcomes?
  • What are the economics of email spam?
  • How does Google find what you’re looking for… and exactly how do they make money doing so?

First thing I did was Google Dr. Kearns, hoping to find a Twitter account where I could connect and follow him. But the best I could find was a group Twitter account from his department at Penn State.

Sign up process was pretty straightforward and asked for the bare minimum of information: name, email and password.

As soon as you sign up you get the ability to share that info with your network.

Now, no doubt a large part of the intent here from Coursera is to increase enrollment. But it was also good to see not only an acknowledgement that a learning network was going to be an important piece in ensuring that you, the student, will be successful, but an actual prompt to begin developing your own network so that;

You will be able to discuss and work on material together.

This is where having an already established network of people begins to (hopefully) pay off for students. I was able to send a tweet, post on FB and post on G+ that I was not only taking the course, but also looking for others to come along and learn with me (and help me learn as well).

A few minutes later, I got an email welcoming me into the course.

Dear Clint Lalonde,
Thank you for signing up for Networked Life!
We look forward to seeing you in class, and we’ll notify you again when the class is about to start. Stay tuned!
Prof. Michael Kearns

For this interested in the PKM mechanics of how I am going to organize the info during this course, step one was creating a label in Gmail that automatically filters Coursera email and adds a colour code to those emails so I notice them in my already cluttered inbox. I have also created a Twitter list and any other students who I come across on Twitter that are also enrolled in this course will be added to this list. My other plan is to blog as much as I can about not only the mechanics of the course, but about the contents as well. So, if I can stick to it for 10 weeks, expect a few blog posts about networks in the coming weeks.

The Honour Code

I read over the honour code (thanks for keeping it short and sweet Coursera), which seems fine and fair, although this little bit in section 3 (my emphasis) does make me pause for a second:

I will not make solutions to homework, quizzes or exams available to anyone else. This includes both solutions written by me, as well as any official solutions provided by the course staff.

Quizzes and exams – okay, fair enough. But my own homework? Heck, getting feedback on my homework from THE WORLD is something that I want to happen. I want to be able to post my homework online and have others take a look at, respond to, critique, agree/disagree with and otherwise hack at ‘er. I want to share my homework, not for the benefit of someone else (although that may happen) but for the benefit of myself and my learning.

Mind you, if most of the homework I get is more cut and dry answer-10-multiple-choice-questions-that-will-then-be-graded-by-a-machine (which I suspect will be the case), then my homework may be more like a quiz than some kind of long form piece of writing that might be more conducive to open discussion among peers. We’ll see.

The ToS and Privacy Policy

On to the Terms of Service, which includes this line:

Neither the User Content (as defined below) on these Sites, nor any links to other websites, are screened, moderated, approved, reviewed or endorsed by Coursera or its participating institutions.

I read this as a) fair warning that the forums could be a free range for all kinds of opinions, some good and some bad and b) there will probably be little instructor presence in the interactive bits of the course (ie forums), which I’d expect when there are thousands of people in the course contributing.

There is also this bit in the terms of service where I grant Coursera the right to use whatever content I post in the course:

With respect to User Content you submit or otherwise make available in connection with your use of the Site, and subject to the Privacy Policy, you grant Coursera and the Participating Institutions a fully transferable, worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to use, distribute, sublicense, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such User Content.

Well, at least it doesn’t say “sell”. But I did pop down to take a look at the Privacy Policy and found this bit that makes me wonder exactly what a “business partner” is:

We may share your Personally Identifiable Information with business partners of Coursera to receive communications from such parties that you have opted in to.

Not sure who that might be or what that might mean. Free may have a bit of a price.

Finally, this bit in the Terms makes it clear that Coursera MOOC’s are an ongoing experiment, and we, the students, are the data providing subjects:

Records of your participation in Online Courses may be used for researching online education. In the interests of this research, you may be exposed to slight variations in the course materials that will not substantially alter your learning experience. All research findings will be reported at the aggregate level and will not expose your personal identity.

Hopefully, there is some research work going on behind the scenes and that work gets published so that we all benefit from understanding how (and if) this model works, and how it can be refined and improved.

Okay, on to learning new stuff!



Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out https://edtechfactotum.com/.