Coursera [#NYTEdTech]

Daphne Koller said the following to an audience of 400 people [starting at 19:08 in the linked video] attending an educational technology conference.

There are so few opportunities for those of us here in this room to learn something new in an engaging and fun and high quality way.

From my notes. Red question mark is mine and was definitely not reflected in Ms. Koller's tone.

My notes are a paraphrasing. Red question mark is mine and was definitely not reflected in Ms. Koller’s tone.

She followed up immediately with this claim:

If you take away the residential requirement for enrollment [in college], all of us can be lifelong learners.

Also from my notes. Red comment mine.

Also from my notes. Red comment mine.

As a service to readers, I will state the assumption here:

“Lifelong learning” refers to learning that meets an external standard, and which is externally certified.

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8 responses to “Coursera [#NYTEdTech]

  1. I am so glad I am not that person. How sad and boring to think of all the lifelong learning opportunities she is missing.

  2. Michael Paul Goldenberg

    Can’t speak for anyone else, least of all the earnest-looking Ms. Koller, but I’m a life-long learner and I don’t need no steenking Coursera, formal courses, or badges. If you have contact info for her, feel free to pass that along.

  3. I do not have contact info. She should be easy to track down at Stanford, though.

  4. Wow. And… ick.

    I think I might have laughed out loud at the “so few opportunities” thing. I am surrounded by so many opportunities to learn, that I’m only disappointed that I don’t have the time to dedicate to every interest I have.

  5. Why on earth would you want to contact that professor? To hassle her and tell her you were offended?

    Obviously most people in the room are interested in learning things. But her standard is very high–if you’re interested in learning extremely difficult things like artificial intelligence, good luck learning it on your own without a tool like Coursera. Let me use myself as an example. I was a physics undergrad, but beyond a certain point in quantum mechanics, I didn’t really understand anything I was doing. I could solve the equations correctly, but I had no idea what anything meant. If I wanted to rectify that now, I’d either have to enroll in a college class or audit it with the professor’s opinion. But I might struggle to keep up with the class since some of my physics is rusty. So if I’m not comfortable with doing that, or if I simply can’t due to schedule constraints, isn’t it clear that something like Coursera, which would let me tackle it at my own pace?

    I really don’t know how you could object to what she said unless you were deliberately looking for a way to interpret her comment in the least favorable light.

    • Michael Paul Goldenberg

      @KevinHall999: I did contact her and shared my viewpoint. That’s why I wanted to contact her. And I viewed a lengthy TED talk of hers to be sure my impression was correct. She reduces self-education to that which can be learned within the confines of an institution, preferably a high-quality one like Stanford. She then sings the praises, repeatedly, of online courses given by. . . (wait for it!) high-quality institutions of higher learning like . . . (drum roll) Stanford. And, shockingly, she teaches at . . . right again! Stanford. And works on projects that bring online courses to “da people!”

      In and of itself, no big deal. But taken in context, a conveniently narrow view. And I have ample basis to raise doubts. She NEVER mentions the incredibly low percentage of students who actually complete these courses. I wonder how that slipped by her. . .

      Hey, I hope they continue to offer those courses. I took one, with Keith Devlin, last year and it was generally quite good. But it isn’t THE answer, it’s not a magic bullet, and it’s not something everyone needs. Nor is the only way to get the sorts of things people seek when they want to be lifelong learners. She is selling something, and like most salespeople, she’s not big on discussing the down side or the possibility that the product may not even be appropriate for a lot of people. You don’t make sales downplaying your own product or services, but there is such a thing as academic integrity. Because she’s also a Stanford University professor, and that is supposed carry some gravitas such that we don’t expect a huckster or sideshow barker. At least, I don’t. Your mileage may vary.

    • You say, “…something like Coursera, which would let me tackle it at my own pace?”
      But that’s just it. Coursera does NOT let you learn at your own pace. Classes start on arbitrary dates, recorded video lectures are posted on a weekly schedule with deadlines for assignments. I cannot take a class and learn something on my own schedule. I have to wait for weeks for all class material to be available.

  6. One reason people drop out of Coursera courses is precisely that they’re NOT interested in the “badge” or certificate of completion. They’re learning things a la carte because it’s for their own personal development rather than for a degree.

    I fail to see the problem with a professor from a high-quality (your words, not mine) institution encouraging others to take free courses from high-quality institutions. From the standpoint of the learner, what could the objection be? I know I’m guessing here, but are you objecting from the instructor side instead, i.e., that professors at other types of institutions are getting locked out of offering their courses on Coursera, even though, for example, Christopher might be able to offer a better course on math ed than someone at Stanford? I guess I could see that point, but I don’t see how that makes Koller a “sideshow barker”.

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