Austin American-Statesman Ken Herman column [Austin American-Statesman]
(Austin American-Statesman (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 30--I think we need a deeper-dive look at an online course oddity that my colleague Ralph K.M. Haurwitz disclosed in Monday's paper.
Haurwitz is one of the brightest people in our newsroom. He's a college man -- University of Pittsburgh, class of '75. He's long used the distinctive middle initials in his byline to distinguish himself from the other Ralph Haurwitzes at our paper. The dual middle initials always fascinated a former Austinite who often was known by his single middle initial. George W. Bush clearly was jealous that Haurwitz has two middle initials.
Anyway, being a man thirsty for knowledge, K.M. (as nobody calls him) signed up for a MOOC. MOOCs are "massive open online courses" offered by an increasing number of universities, including a massive one right here in Austin. "Take great courses from the world's best universities," it says on the edx.org website that hosts MOOCs from the University of Texas, University of California-Berkeley, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"They are the best courses," it says, "from the best professors and the best schools, spanning dozens of subjects. Some edX courses now offer ID verified Certificates of Achievement."
Ooh, I bet those impress the ladies.
Haurwitz is taking a UT MOOC entitled, "Take Your Medicine -- The Impact of Drug Development." I'm not sure what's going on at his house and why he's interested in drug development, but continuing education always should be encouraged.
Course progress is measured by periodic quizzes utilizing multiple-choice and true-false questions. After answering, participants are told they have used one of their two "submissions," meaning they get one more chance to pick the correct answer if their first answer was incorrect.
Here's an example of a true-false question: "The Investigational New Drug Application contains data about all the preclinical studies the sponsor has conducted with the compound." As with the multiple-choice questions, participants get two chances to pick the right answer to the true-false questions.
Anybody see a problem there? Haurwitz did (remember, he's a college man) and he blogged about it: "Two chances to get a true-false question right? Come on."
Come on, indeed. I checked in with Harrison Keller, UT's vice provost for higher education policy and executive director of the Center for Teaching and Learning. (That makes him important because teaching and learning are among the most important things that go on at UT.) Keller's got a Ph.D from Georgetown University and he is UT's MOOCman.
So, Dr. Keller, what's the deal with two chances to answer a true-false question?
"Hi Ken," he said in an email. "The short answer would be quirks with the underlying platform."
(Raise your hand if you've ever had a health care professional tell you there are quirks with your underlying platform.)
"I don't want to come off too critical of the edX software engineers," Keller wrote, "because I do think they have done an incredible amount of work on the platform over the course of a year or so. But there are a number of things that pop up that still need to be addressed."
Keller offered to put me in touch with "some of our instructional technologists." Fearing a language barrier, I passed on that offer.
"I think this is just an issue of the immaturity of the platform," Keller wrote of the true-false snafu.
(Raise your hand if anybody in your immediate family ever has suggested there's an issue with the immaturity of your platform.)
And Keller added this: "We're not using the platform on campus for quizzes that are graded, though, so students shouldn't get their hopes up."
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