Code Watch: MOOCs’ final grade: Inconclusive

I’ve recently gone back to college. Well, not exactly, but I have been attending a single class via a massive open online course (MOOC). The course I’m taking is “Principles of Reactive Programming” and is offered by Coursera. It’s being taught by Martin Odersky, Erik Meijer and Roland Kuhn, SD Times reports.

The high-order bit of any discussion of MOOCs has to be set to the quality of the lecturers: Odersky is Scala’s inventor; until recently, Meijer was a leading force in Microsoft’s languages division; and Kuhn is the technical lead of the well-regarded Akka framework. These are the types of speakers that would be exciting to hear give a 1-hour keynote at a conference; the privilege of receiving a coordinated 7-week course from such speakers is, by far, the dominant takeaway from the experience.

Not that the technical experience is bad. Coursera’s infrastructure is very efficient.

Signup is easy, pages are attractive, and all the logistical elements of the course (lectures, assignments and discussion forums) are easy to navigate. (I’m not sure if this is a broadly available feature, but the course’s homework-grading technology is quite slick: There’s a “submission” build target that uploads your code to a server that subjects it to a test suite, scores it, and posts the results to your account within a few minutes.)

The video lectures are also very clean. Rather than being PowerPoint or Keynote recordings, the content appears crisply displayed against a white background. It’s clear the text is being rendered directly, not videotaped from a whiteboard, yet the lecturer’s hand occasionally appears to annotate the content. It’s a nice piece of sorcery. I’ve mostly streamed the lectures and not had any buffering issues, but they are also available for download.

MOOCs had their 15 minutes as The Next Big Thing a few years ago and now are suffering a bit of a backlash.