Friday, 21 June 2013

A review of Coursera's Vaccines

Coursera’s Massive Open Online Course on vaccines from the University of Pennsylvania is starting on the 25th of June 2013.
Is it worth registering?
The Good MOOC reviews last year’s offering of this course:

  • Pedagogy

The goal of the course is unashamedly to encourage vaccination by dissipating the controversy surrounding it.
For this purpose, the professor goes over the history of vaccines, explains how different families of vaccines work, and covers in details vaccine exemption and the treatment vaccines get in the media.
The course is mostly made up of 15 to 20 minutes video segments of the instructor with some pauses for ‘in lecture quizzes’.
The end of lecture quizzes are often focused on details rather than on ensuring the main messages has got across.

  • Professor’s aura

Paul Offit is a pediatrician, a professor of vaccinology and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania and is Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He is also co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine and has published numerous research papers on vaccines safety.

  • Quality and availability of teaching staff

Unlike some MOOCs were a lot of learning happens by engaging with peers and assistant instructors in the forums, the vaccines class seems to mainly encourage passive learning.

  • Academic rigor

The passing grade for the certificate of completion is 90%. The assessment is entirely based on automatically graded quizzes but contained very detailed oriented questions.

  • Student body

Students in the course seemed mainly passive rather than actively engaged in discussions in the forums.

  • Corporate sponsors

The aim of the course was really about educating the general public about the benefits of vaccines rather than training future professionals.

  • Interactivity

This course has very low interactivity (no office hours, low engagement in the forums, no peer grading, etc.).

  • Technical platform

Coursera’s platform, although not used to its full potential was user friendly and reliable.

  • Production value

The video classes consist of shots of the professor looking straight into the camera and delivering the content with the help of a few slides. Basic but effective.

Coursera’s Vaccines class is clearly designed with the general public in mind. The instructor’s goal is to educate young parents about how safe vaccines are and how dangerous foregoing vaccination can be.

Despite this, quizzes are often made up of tricky questions focusing on obscure and minor details of the lectures which can throw off casual learners.

The lecturer is engaging, clearly knows his subject inside out and does a good job making a complex subject understandable. However, most enrollee will probably want to audit the course and not bother with obtaining a certificate.

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