MOOCs, Trust, and the Signature Track

07 Feb

By Jade E. Davis

Coursera CertificateOn Sunday I received an email from Coursera letting me know that the Signature Track was now available for Cathy Davidson’s MOOC, “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.” I felt myself tense up a little.

The Signature Track, for those who aren’t familiar with it, uses multiple forms of authentication (government-issued photo ID, webcam, credit card) to verify that people taking a course are who they say they are. The signature component of the verification is a biometric technique. Your unique typing pattern, like how many milliseconds you push down on the “e” key, is recorded, and you type in a signature phrase to verify your identity. The service was announced in January 2013 in a blog post, but unlike much of the other stuff happening around MOOCs at the time, it didn’t get that much press.

When The Chronicle published the contract between the University of Michigan and Coursera in July 2012, I became very interested in the topic of MOOCs.

Two parts of the contract made me uneasy:

WHEREAS, Company has developed a proprietary platform to host certain learning content that will be made available to end users online via the Internet;

“Platform” means Company’s proprietary software platform and algorithms used to host, transmit and make Content available via the Internet and to provide related services and functionalities, including automatic grading or facilitating peer-to-peer interactive activities.

For all the rhetoric centered on students and education, as evidenced by the Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller’s TED Talk that came out the next month, the company described itself as a platform for hosting (learning content) and proprietary algorithm. Coursera, much like Facebook, Twitter, and other huge social-networking sites, imagined itself as a big data company.

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on February 7, 2014 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed


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