Daily Archives: September 15, 2012

Coursera, Scores, and Certificates “With Distinction”

As my Internet History Technology, and Security Coursera course is winding down as students take the final, the discussion is turning to the issue of certificates. There will certainly be certificates for those that meet the minimum score. But there is still a discussion around how the certificates look and what the certificates contain.

One student (R.D.R.C.) proposed a great question:

I know that in some of the other courses on Coursera they are giving a Certificate with Distinction for those how score very high, I was wondering if we would have that here since there is no mention of it. Should those with 75 average get the same “commendation (since it isnt accreditation”) as those who scored 95 or above? Was just wondering.

Here is my answer I posted to the course forum

I am not going to distinguish the certificates. There are lots of factors that lead to the ultimate number of points. An important factor for many was technical issues and problems. I do not have the time to double grade 6000 students assignments if there was a glitch. The grade of “75 points” allowed a certificate to be earned by a diligent student even if there were some technical difficulties. I did not want to make points “so valuable” that students would get upset over every little thing that went wrong. If I set some “91” as “distinguished” – I would start hearing from hundreds of people who got a 90 because there was a bad question or the Coursera software or their Internet connection suffered a glitch on them.

It is also why I am not putting the points earned on the certificate. I was in communication with a student coming to the University of Michgan and he sent me two of his Coursera certificates as evidence of his skill. They were hard courses and so I knew that the certificates represented real work. And the rest of his transcript/resume supported that he was a very talented student.

But his certificates from Coursera had the scores on them – one of his scores was 750 / 700 – and it made me wonder. I did not wonder about the student’s achievement. It make it look to me like the points were too easy to earn – which makes me question the teacher of the class. I too have given “extra credit” in my course – so if you think I am being a little inconsistent – you are right. :) The difference is that in my course, I know *exactly why* I set up grading the way I did and how easy/hard points were to earn. In this other course, I don’t have inside information on how hard points were to get – or what the purpose of extra credit was. My point is that not knowing the grading approach and seeing a 750/700 – caused me to question the *course* but not question not the student’s achievement.

In a course like this, we need to be flexible in awarding points for many reasons – but as a result students who are (a) highly skilled before they come into the class or (b) have nothing go wrong, or (c) have lots of free time and are not juggling family or other schooling achieve these astronomical scores. Including the score to me reduced the value of the certificate IMHO even though the student I was interacting with had an extremely high score. It is like including a grade point averages on a diploma when you graduate – a diploma is far more than your grade point average.

We need to learn in this kind of new teaching and learning pattern that your achievement is not automatically higher because you are in the top 10 percent of the ultimate score. The score is only a proxy / approximation for what you have learned. And what you have taught others as part of a learning community is even more important and hard to measure.

In this class we have some in this course that are near to 120 / 100 – it is great to get these high scores – but it does not diminish those who got 80/100 or even 78/100.

What I am thinking of doing is labeling all the certificates as “the first time the course was taught” (or similar wording) to indicate that you are all pioneers and helped me so much in crafting what the course has become. You are the “first graduating class of the University of IHTS”. From this point forward whenever the course is taught (in Coursera or live) – your contributions wil be part of the course and I thank you.