MOOC Homework – Tech Talk

The folks at Coursera have graciously allowed me to say a few words at their blog on the subject of succeeding on homework, quizzes and other assignments associated with MOOC courses.

The focal message of that posting is to do what it takes to get the most out of MOOC assignments: pace yourself for maximum absorption of material, do as many assignments as you can (even ones that don’t necessarily contribute to your grade), only submit work you’d be proud to hand to your professor in a face-to-face classroom, etc.

I also offhandedly mentioned one of my homework flubs (mistaking AM and PM and thus missing the chance to submit a peer-reviewed essay for my Modernism class by the deadline).  And this brings up some additional practical (including technical) issues to consider when dealing with the systems supporting the submission of quizzes, essays and other MOOCwork.

The few times I’ve had to search out or interact with tech support for one of my MOOC classes, I’ve gotten what I need in a timely fashion.  But having run a software firm in the past (an online testing company as it happens, which had to deal with many of the same technical issues students run into working on MOOC platforms), it’s generally better to avoid common errors, rather than try to fix a problem after the fact.

With that in mind, here are some further recommendations to keep in mind:


In addition to paying careful attention to deadlines (to avoid the AM/PM issue I ran into), you should avoid taking quizzes or submitting material to a grading system at the last minute.

Given human nature, it’s likely that any assignment-related components of a MOOC platform will be getting hit the most right at the deadline.   And given the nature of technology, if something is going to fall over, it will be at the point where the system is under maximum pressure.

Now these systems are pretty robust (I’ve not run into any platform problems so far), but I have lost wireless close to a deadline which is not an experience anyone wants to go through.  So getting your work in a day or two in advance is highly recommended.

Only Use Supported Configurations

Each MOOC provider includes lists of supported browsers and other technical details regarding what software you should and shouldn’t use when interacting with their platform.

Given that these platforms are modular, it’s possible that you won’t run into issues doing some things (like watching video lectures) on an unsupported browser, but that other platform components (such as quizzing systems) will give you problems if you don’t have the right hardware and software.

So before you start your first class, check the tech specs and make sure you’re not doing something that might cause you agita in the future.

Follow Directions

Don’t be one of those poor souls who hit the Save button thinking that they’ve submitted their work for grading, only to discover later that there’s a separate Submit button for alerting the system that you’re ready to have your work evaluated.

And remember that even if companies like Coursera provide support to help you with technical problems, there’s not a lot they can do for you to undo your own blunders (such as my AM/PM fiasco, the accidental submission of the wrong assignment, or missing a deadline due to confusion over Save and Submit, for example).

So far, deadlines have never been so pressing that there has not been time to read through all of the instructions associated with an assignment from beginning to end, a practice I highly recommend to make sure you don’t get penalized for accidents that could have easily been avoided.

Document Your Submissions

A lot of these recommendations are built off of input from the Coursera tech team (meaning they’re issues you can assume affect a reasonable numbers of MOOC students).  And they also recommended taking a screen shot of the screen that indicates an assignment has been successfully submitted to act as a paper trail in case you run into problems later.

Summing up, it’s no mean feat to create technology that allows tens or hundreds of thousands of students to interact with all of the components of an online course (lectures, quizzes, etc.).  But big, complex systems are big and complex.  And given that most tech support problems can be traced back to user error, it’s best to take the few simple steps needed to ensure that such errors don’t interfere with your success in any of your MOOC classes.

It’s come time to hit the Submit button on my blogging software (as opposed to Save).  So ciao for now.

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One Response to MOOC Homework – Tech Talk

  1. Rozalia June 11, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    Great post – on a practical sidenote for Coursera procrastinators like myself – you really can’t persuade us not to do things the last minute, we are an army :p – ALWAYS click on that little clock underneath the deadlines and copy paste the calendar app – it will automatically adjust to your time zone.

    Be sure to tick your OWN time zone in your Coursera profile – hence it will display the deadline based on your area of residence, not California.

    12 means 00 after midnight – learned that the hard way.


    Use Chrome.

    ps. Coursera alllows for a full hour bonus after each deadline – use it wisely.

    That’s all folks! Off to procrastination mode.

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