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Something weird is happening at Coursera

Something weird is happening at Coursera. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but have boiled it down to two options. Both are problematic.

A bit of background

About two months ago, I posted a short article on a DesignJam that we hosted at UT Arlington. The designjam brought together numerous folks who had some interest in teaching and learning online, often at a massive scale (i.e. MOOCs). Paul Olivier Dehaye commented on the post and described his interest in running a dual-track MOOC, blending instructivist and more collaborative. He was referring to the Massive Teaching course on Coursera that he was to run in June. I’ve been continuing to refine my thinking on this since the designjam, but I had not been following Paul’s course. Today, Apostolos Koutropoulos posted about social experiments and confusion at Coursera. I did a bit of backtracking on Paul’s tweet stream.


and finally, in response to a tweet asking Paul what was happening, he replied

Two options:

1. Coursera has removed a faculty member from a course for some reason without explanation
2. Paul is running a fairly elaborate social experiment

I am uncomfortable with both. If Coursera has removed the course or the faculty member, some explanation is required, both for the sake of the faculty member and the student. The transparency of MOOC providers is rather poor. If Facebook randomly deleted people, it would cause angst. Coursera doesn’t state the conditions under which a faculty member can be removed or a course cancelled. Universities and faculty spend enormous time and resources developing and running courses. Students devote significant hours as well. Everyone deserves an explanation.

If Paul is running an experiment, well, that raises a range of ethical issues around active experimentation with learners. Kate Bowles links to paper and a Google doc that raises additional questions. Given heightened concerns about ethics in social media and experimentation on users, MOOC providers and faculty need to be clear on any research and analytics being conducted.