On Our Radar – Breaking the Ice: The First Weeks of My Coursera Experience

On Our Radar features HEQCO staff and guest bloggers offering their unique perspectives on trends, new ideas, and hot-button issues in higher education. The opinions are those of the authors.

Welcome to the fourth week of my online learning experience in the Health Policy and the Affordable Care Act course offered on Coursera. How would I describe the typical course week? Every Monday a set of lecture videos, usually 30-40 minutes in length, are released on a particular topic related to the course. Similar to a more traditional classroom, the subject matter begins with a broad overview of the American health care system and how it compares to other OECD nations. Then, the content narrows in scope to focus on specific issues.

These focused lectures seem to have a “mythbusters” vibe to them because Professor Emanuel centers his content around dispelling common misconceptions of the American health care system. The good news is that this teaching technique makes it easier to commit information to memory, which in turn allows for a more focused and practical discussion on how to deal with health care-related issues. The bad news is that many Americans still hold the common misconceptions that the professor tries to dispel. The most striking example discussed in class is understanding the average uninsured American. Many assume that the uninsured are lazy, unemployed and somehow deserve to be in their current situation.  But in reality, the typical uninsured American is young, white and working for an employer who does not offer health care insurance and has no intention of doing so in the near future.

The video lectures are entertaining and thought-provoking, and I now find myself having more engaged conversations with both Canadians and Americans about the idea of health care reform in the US. The homework assignments, however, do not live up to their expectations. Students are required to electronically submit weekly assignments over the Coursera webpage. There are usually five questions that require a 150-300 word answers. Because of the constraints of grading assignments for thousands of students worldwide, the assignments are not nearly as thought-provoking as an assignment in a more traditional higher education classroom and seem repetitive. This is compounded by the fact that in order to receive the mark for the assignment, all students are required to peer-assess at least five assignments that are randomly selected through the online web page. If any component is missing, the student will not receive full marks for that question, despite having a solid answer.

The true gem of this course, however, is the discussion forum found on the main page of the course website. The comments posted range from conspiracy theories of the so-called liberal slant of the course to truly interesting debates on health care reform in the US and how to make it a lasting reality. Students are always creating new threads (also known as discussion topics), and all students can see how many times a particular thread has been viewed (some have been viewed over 2,000 times) and how many posts are in the thread.

Stay tuned for my next post and consider trying a course for yourself. Coursera has recently announced the addition of twelve new top universities (the University of Toronto being one of them), and many new courses and disciplines have been added to appeal to a broader audience.

-Lauren Hudak, Research Analyst

One reply on “On Our Radar – Breaking the Ice: The First Weeks of My Coursera Experience”

I appreciate how you are candidly discussing your experience. Over the summer I began one Coursera course, but my research schedule overwhelmed it so I didn’t get past the second week (of a six week course, sad, I know). I asked one of my keener undergrads who has an interest in that topic (the evolution of the Internet) to try it out as well. While I found the canned content reasonably interesting, my undergrad experienced it as boring. Evidently, for some students, the viscerality of meatspace has some advantages.

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