Here at Superprof, we’ve been keeping our keen eye on the embryonic educational phenomenons that are MOOCs (massive open online courses) and an article from the BBC today raised an eyebrow, with me at least.


Coursera, arguably the behemoth amongst fledgeling online universities with a whopping 2.8 million registered students has just announced it will now offer online courses from 62 universities after bringing a further 29 into the fold. Institutions in Italy, Japan and China are included in the new brethren.

As well as the new additions, Coursera reached another milestone after announcing the first online courses that will count towards a full degree. Though the courses on offer are considered as tough and as rigorous as their bricks and mortar cousins, until now Coursera’s online versions were not formally recognised as counting towards formal course credits.

So all good news then? Well, not exactly. The BBC article neglects to mention the understandable teething trouble at Coursera. This weekend, the professor of a ten-week course on Microeconomics for Managers (offered through the University of California) announced he was leaving after only its fifth week “…because of disagreements over how to best to conduct this course”

In an open note to students, Professor Richard McKenzie wrote that while he was initially impressed to hear that some 37,000 (!) students had enrolled in his class; “…enrollment count is meaningless”, pointing to the fact that in the first two weeks less than 40 % of students logged in to and only a fourth of the students had watched a single video lecture.

Prof. McKenzie was also disappointed that only around 2% of students actively engaged in discussions (even though most teachers would give their right arm for nearly 700 students to get involved, right?!)

This latest stumbling block at Coursera comes just two weeks after an online class was suspended entirely. The fact that the course was entitled ‘Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application’ left no-one short of an ironic chuckle.

Predictably with a project on this scale, the major issue that put pay to the course was inept technology. Indeed, one technical glitch was big enough to cause a Google server to crash. Another factor, as blogged by one student was ‘the lack of instructions for the assignments and the group activity—there was no clarity provided on the objective or purpose of the groups.’

Anyway, back here on this sceptred isle there’s more progress in our own journey along the MOOC motorway as five more universities join Futurelearn (the UK’s fledgling online university service) – Bath, Leicester, Nottingham, Queen’s Belfast and Reading are now included in the 18 universities and institutions providing online courses. The British Library is also looking at developing online courses using material from its extensive collections.

As we follow in the footsteps of our American friends and learn from the mistakes they make along the way, should we be worried about the unfortunately named man spearheading the UK’s MOOC project– one Mr M Bean?!

Perhaps not.

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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.