Enjoying Stanford’s Coursera MOOC on Human-Computer
Interaction but (oh the irony) the screen design and pedagogy of the many
videos, is awful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to use, has good content and I’m
getting what I thought I’d get - a reasonable course. It is very video heavy, which is OK; let’s face
it most HE courses are lecture heavy - at least they’re not an hour long, I can
watch these when I want, repeat them and, in Coursera fashion, I get a bit of
formative assessment during the videos, something students rarely get in real
institutions. But it could have been so much better.
1. Small screen, low retention.
Now I don’t mean to be picky but having a tiny talking head (see above),
literally less than 4.5% the size of the screen on the bottom
right, is a BAD idea. Nass & Reeves (ironically from Stanford) did a great
experiment with video at different screen sizes, showing that
the smaller the screen size the lower the retention. Read the research guys.
2. Too much talking head.
It’s dull, the delivery is often poor and poorly edited
(i.e. padded out). It’s like watching a very long news item read on one news
story, time after time. Even worse is the fact that it’s a medium shot, showing
the whole upper body. Go on a video course guys, you need to see the white of
their eyes. Use close ups. To be fair there’s more images, graphs and screens
with audio only as the course progresses. Think about ‘attention’ guys.
3. Cognitive dissonance
The too much talking head error is compounded by presenting
text headings and blocks of text in a huge font over the rest of the screen.Mayer & Clark’s research showed that you don’t show text and video at same
time, as you have to hop back and forth from visual (reading - semantic) to audio channels. Even
worse, Scott the presenter reads the text but it’s not the text that appears
on the screen. Also, the framing of the video, with text cut in half behind the presenter is cognitive noise we can do without. Watch some TV guys.
4. Paucity of images
What’s odd is the fact that when schemas or techniques or
procedures are being described there’s often no images shown. This is like PowerPoint
without any pictures, just big headings. In many places the point, event or
procedure would have been better served by cutting away to what was being
described or relevant images. It gets better in some places. Very strange.
5. Presentation style
As it’s often a little dull, I found my attention tended to
drift. I can read faster than the presenter speaks, and when in the first video
he started looking down and reading points one by one, the video producer in me
rebelled. I get impatient with slow, amateurish delivery, which is why I like
the edX and Coursera x1.5 speed feature. In fact, so much of this sounds like
the reading of written material that it could have been text. Read something on
relevant media mix guys. I like Scott Klemmer, but he’s no presenter, and after a
while his excessive hand gestures and delivery style start to grate. This can be a problem for the single academic courses - it's like watching a ten week news programme with only one presenter.
6. Poor editing
The in-video questions are poorly edited in, so you often
get a snippet of a sentence from the next sequence. Small point but it makes
the production seem a little amateurish. Edit it properly guys. Again Nass & Reeves showed that these unexpected and awkward pauses and edits lower
7. Poor question design
In-video questions are made progressively easier and meaningless.
This is learning design at its worst. The
same question is posed, with the same options, up to four times. So when you’ve
answered 1 out of 4, the next question is 1 out of 3, the next 1 out of 2 and
the last a meaningless 1/1. Even worse, is the cardinal sin of two options
actually being correct but only one accepted. All of this is bizarre and lazy.
Read something on test items guys.
Not all Coursera MOOCs are so poor on video. The University
of Edinburgh MOOC on E-learning and Digital Cultures (one of 6 MOOCs attracting
306,000 starters), which ran at the start of the year, didn’t do talking heads,
relying on curated video. This caused some consternation with students who
expected lectures. This course had much more of a looser structure with
discussion, Google Hangouts and social media, none of it moderated by academics. Interestingly, I
liked this Edinburgh course less, as I thought it was weak on focus, depth and content.
There’s a balance to be struck here and much to do on improving the pedagogy
and design of MOOCs. I don't buy the cMOOC/xMOOC thing - it's a simplistic dualism. There a whole variety of pedagogies that lie between straight instruction and social constructivism (I like neither in their pure form).
Coursera should have done is do what this course recommends, apply the
usability test strategies that Krug, Norman and Nielsen recommend. Get in the
experts and do ‘voiced trials'. I have spent nearly 30 years designing and
producing online learning and would never have got a client to pay for these
courses. To be fair, compared to the benchmark of dull one hour long lectures,
it’s an improvement and it’s a start. This is a constructive critique of the
videos and I must remind you that the course is rich in assignments and practical work. Let’s hope they
get some HCI professionals in to make it a little more usable and ‘learner
and learning’ friendly. It’s not as if people haven’t done this before.