Saturday, November 16, 2013

Coursera

I've completed Tim Roughgarden's Algorithms: Design and Analysis Part I and Part II, as well as Dan Boneh's Cryptography Part I.


As to be expected from Stanford, the level of instruction is very high.  A few thoughts on the courses:

  • It's clear that the professors are personally interested in teaching and reaching a wide audience.   Despite the non-trivial material covered, the courses were quite lucid -- more so than many of my undergraduate classes.
  • For me, the difficulty level was just right.  Some of the programming assignment were challenging, requiring 15 - 20 hours.  But they were doable and satisfying.   So I imagine that anyone who's studied some computer science, with sufficient motivation, would be able to complete the courses.  And I think a topic like cryptography is interesting to more knowledgeable folks, too, as it pertains to almost every aspect of our electronic lives.


As for the Coursera format:

  • The fact that courses run over a fixed period is noteworthy.  At this point, other MOOCs like edX and iversity seems to share this approach, with the notable exception of Udacity. Perhaps I'll address this further in another post, but the clear advantage of the approach is that the forums are in sync. Assuming there's a normal distribution of knowledge among participants, chances are that someone else can answer a question you have.  I found the forum discussions very helpful, especially in completing open-ended assignments like the Traveling Salesman Problem.
  • The evaluation system works well for the programming assignments, given that: (a) there is a unique answer that can be verified easily; (b) a certain degree of optimality is required to find the answer, i.e. if you can get the right answer, your solution is likely decent.  It's nice to see these substantial assignments supplemented by in-video and weekly multiple choice quizzes.  I suppose the larger question for MOOCs is how effective feedback can be provided in the humanities.
  • Breaking up classes into many small modules makes a lot of sense.  This approach seems common at all MOOCs.  It's practical in terms of keeping one's attention, finding specific parts to review, and skipping select topics when appropriate.  There's no one falling asleep in lecture here.



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