Lessons from a crypto class

For fun I am taking a Coursera class in Cryptography. I don’t need the content of the course but it’s a fun way to relax. I am also taking the course to experience a digital course as a student, to experience the Coursera platform and to experience the another instructor’s  educational methodology to stimulate thinking on my own.  Taking a technical course is interesting as my own field of instruction (weather from satellites) is technical.

Coursera have a description of their pedagogical foundations. It looks like the core idea is to use good instructional methods with some mastery learning approaches (from Bloom’s 2-sigma problem paper). I wonder if Coursera have statistics to show how much into 2-sigma they get for each course ….

When I signed up I had seen the preview materials so I felt I had something to learn [I did not understand the questions], but would not be out of my depth [despite not understanding the questions it looked ok – and it’s a low risk environment].

The structure / format took a while to get used to. The video lectures were pretty clear and for me had a nice chunk size. in each 10-12 min block there were usually a couple of interactive questions.   What was new was new to me was use of  of forums as the key source of question/ answer and feedback. Questions were answered very quickly by other students, and I answered some questions. Up votes enable people to promote or demote particular answers. Each week block had a particular homework question set, with 4 possibilities to sit the homework. I found some of the homework tough – and for some of the areas I didn’t get the  question feedback was enough to get going, but most of the time the forums were a better place to get some ideas [I.e. I found an expression of my mis-understanding and a corrective feedback that was useful]. The quiz questions required recall of some knowledge by mainly some thinking / working out  and production of a result.   [in my own field I think  we concentrate (too much) on knowledge recall questions]. There was also the optional opportunity to complete a programming assignment each week –  these were relatively straight forward and again guidance was available on the forums.

Work commitments meant I wasn’t able to meet the final deadlines for the homework. So I did not complete the course. Picking up with a future class is an option.

Initially I miss the presence of the instructor in the forums (something about a touchstone of correct and right), we saw the instructor in the recorded lectures. After a while it became clear that the cohort was biog enough and had a enough knowledge within it that I missed the instructor presence less.

I also missed variation in instruction methods – in essence there was only the forums and the video lecture. I think I would have appreciated other asynchronous teaching methods or other ways to get feedback when I had the wrong ideas.