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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Coursera is a verb, a common noun, and an improvable experience.

My generation remembers the contrived ad with the nuns who pray by day and Yahoo! by night. Google had it made when the name became a verb. In the same vein, I think "Coursera" makes a fine verb, like in "Tonight I still have to Coursera for a couple of hours". And of course it's a noun as in "I'm auditing the Hinton neural net  and the Andrew Ng's machine learning Courseras".

Hinton has an English accent which passes the voice compression quite well, and he can be listened to at 1.25x speed. Here he is,  Coursera pops up his talking head for a few seconds at the beginning of each lecture, and then reverts to Powerpoint. 

Andrew Ng seems to have a bad microphone and a bad bandwidth Skype connection; his lecture sounds like a lispy synthesised voice, and makes for really bad listening when speeded up. Professor Ng, if you read this, please hire a sound engineer!

Actually, the Coursera experience is a bit slooooow.  I do like the interactive quizzlets embedded in the videos — they keep me awake, and in fact I watch eagerly as the marks moves to the next ask. I really would like more quizzes, to keep my attention focused, as it stands I can't really deal with more than 25 minutes of videos at a time. Also, I would like a nice ergonomic control to speed up, slow down and say - repeat 5 seconds - when attention has drifted. 

In the Hinton Coursera, the quizzes are not so carefully written and sometimes seem to look ahead a bit, requiring future content to answer. I don't know whether the quizzlet responses are stored by the system, but they could be used to modulate the learning speed in some way. 

Last, not least, I think Coursera should award some sort of minor certificate when you complete course requirements outside of the initial course timeframe — convenience of learning is the big plus to computer aided teaching, in addition to ubiquity. 


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