To aid my own course development efforts and better understand the merits and limitations of a MOOC offering, I undertook a rubric based evaluation of two introductory psychology courses. One was offered through Coursera (in partnership with University of Toronto), the other through Udacity (in partnership with San Jose State)

Work description:
Both MOOCs (which were free) were sampled by exploring the first few weeks of material in depth with cursory analysis of the remaining content. Using a rubric designed specifically for course evaluation, I scored the courses and provided detailed discussion.

Learner target:
Educational professionals, prospective MOOC students

Technology employed:
Coursera, Udacity, Google Sheets

Theoretical foundations:
The rubric for course construction and evaluation developed by Ternus, Palmer and Faulk (2007) was utilized. This rubric allows for evaluation across five dimensions (structure, content, processes and outcomes) representing approximately 25 different elements. To aid this evaluation effort, I created a Google Sheets based version of the rubric (here’s a blank one) that automatically aggregates dimension and total scores.

The Coursera course significantly outscored the Udacity course (62 points versus 38, out of a possible 87). See detailed rubric scoring and comments.

Results discussion:
This was a great example of why disciplined, rubric based evaluations are vital. For if you asked me for overall impressions, I would have told you that I favored the Coursera offering, but only slightly. In retrospect, I believe my overall impression was disproportionately influenced by the impressive Udacity course platform and its overall approachability.

That said, it would be inadvisable to generalize the results of this evaluation to make “better than” statements about the MOOC providers. Many of the factors influencing the overall scores are a reflection of the partnering academic institutions and their course designs. Nor would I jump to conclusions that 62 out of 87 (or even 37 out of 87) indicates a poor course. Any MOOC would score poorly on some elements (e.g., access to faculty).

My other big takeaway was how differently one can approach the same subject matter even within the constraints of an online course. For example, the Coursera offering provided many more opportunities for deeper learning including a Digital Labcoat application that leveraged participant sourced data as well as essay writing accompanied by a peer review system. This exercise certainly expanded my notions of the learning activities that can be executed in a MOOC setting and was vital in expanding my own course development vocabulary.