Coursera’s Disruptive Innovation as a Bridge for Educational Gap

Photo Feb 03, 7 33 31 PM

Berkeley has awakened my passion for technology and education. On Monday, February 3, 2014, I attended a talk entitled “The Online Revolution: Education for Everyone” by Daphne Koller, the co-founder and CEO of Coursera at the Wells Fargo Room in the Haas School of Business. “There is a sign of transformation in higher education. High quality content will become a commodity,” said Koller. As these words resonated in my head, they made me realize that online education was taking a step closer to make education accessible and available to everyone.

Coursera is a massive online open learning platform launched in January 2012 and now with +6.3 millions students, 600 courses offered, and 108 participant colleges around the world. The inception of Coursera is credited to an experiment of a Computer Science Graduate course that tested the model of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Soon after, 100 000 students enrolled in the class – not often heard in higher education. This showed the potential online education had in making education available to all, no matter variables, such as location and financial situation.

Koller highlighted some key features of Coursera that are unique to the company and also give a twist to the traditional methods of education.

Map illustrating the Learning Hubs located across the globe

Lectures are flexible, as students can go back, take the time they need to think and answer questions, learn at their own pace, and thus, get an individualized learning.

Computers grade weekly homework, in a fast and efficient way to check structured models such as codes and Excel, multiple choice, and short answers.

Online labs are very unique to Coursera, as the labs consist of using your environment and objects you can find to perform labs. For a lab assignment for a Physics class offered by Georgia Tech, labs get even more exciting for the grading is based on taking a video of lab and sending it to the professor, who then uses a program that tracks motion and velocity to assess the given assignments.

Immediate feedback makes learning become a “computer game,” as students end up telling themselves “I can do better than that!” This leads to self-induced mastery and the increase in mastery based learning shows to have a high correlation with higher student grades.

Peer grading is another tool to mitigate the challenge of grading a massive amount of writing assignments that computers lack the capacity to do so. Guided by specific rubrics, five students give feedback of a peer’s paper and of their own papers. The question whether this is reliable is addressed by a study that shows that the peer score and TA score grading have a strong correlation.

The strong community of students is another support mechanism in that students not only help each other by answering questions quickly, but also by creating a global perspective by bringing to the table their local colors. Learning hubs, in which students physically get together to form study groups and do the course materials led by a facilitator. Koller mentioned that these were part of the project that they have been advocated for their high rate of success.

Online education has become a hot topic with the advance in technology and different ways have been leveraging this tool to solve social ills, such as unequal education. True that there is the teaching that people can do better than computers and vice versa. The model blending high quality online content and dynamic learning has been working well for Coursera.

Daphne Koller answering questions from the audience

In addition to the seemingly opportunistic future of Coursera, we – as students living in the 21st century – should acknowledge that MOOCS as the “new frontier of education.” Technology is changing faster than ever before, and we, as future leaders with global mindsets and global perspectives, should also adapt to the changing environment and look for opportunities to leverage our resources and education become a right for all.

As a business student, this talk gave me a comprehensive overview of the changing landscape of education and technology. It made me realize the potential a digital bridge can provide in addressing big challenges such as educational inequality at a scale that past generations have never experienced.

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