Preview of “Networked Life” course and Coursera.org review article

I learned of Coursera.org and this particular course through the recent NPR media coverage in the first few days of October. As a volunteer columnist for the New Jersey CPA organization, I enrolled in this course in order to sample the service with the intention of using this experience as the basis for a review article that will follow. I initially enrolled in the course on October 2 and finished the course today, Oct. 6.

This is a summary of my impressions:
1) Coursera.org currently has a significant number of technical issues that raise the question of whether the platform is ready for “prime time”. While the glitches are not itemized here, it seems appropriate to say that a user accustomed to the level of service and reliability of popular online services like Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc. might be surprised by the glitches experienced on Coursera.org. The most significant glitch was that Coursera.org apparently “lost” my entire initial user account and therefore all coursework completed to date with it. Most would agree that this is an unacceptable level of technical reliability for an online service today. Coursera.org admits that its staff is overwhelmed with technical support requests at this time. I presume these issues stem from Coursera.org’s rapid growth over such a short time.

2) Every aspect of the course content, quality, the professor’s skills, are wonderfully impressive. Of course, the value is incomparable. Coursera.org may have the potential to help boost a gifted professor like University of Pennsylvania’s Michael Kearns into a “rock star” status (a long overdue social disruption). He makes me feel proud to come from Philly.

3) There seems to be a built-in conflict in the platform about timing of the education. Coursera.org emphasizes the feature that a user can cake the course anytime at their own pace. The professor sticks to a specific schedule. As a result, for example, a student who joins later than the professor’s schedule apparently gets no credit for some work and then a student who finishes early gets no credit for completion of the coursework. I noticed that other students expressed similar concerns on the class discussion forum. The impression left with the student/user is that this hints at some “power struggle” between Coursera.org and the University. It remains unclear to me how this may be resolved.

If anyone cares, my full review will appear in 1-2 months at either AICPA.org, PICPA.org or NJCPA.org depending on their interest and editorial scheduling.

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