edX 6.00x – the MOOC that failed to scale
I haven’t written very much recently about 6.00x, because other than the lectures posted for weeks 10 and 11 (which were excellent as usual) there’s been no measurable progress to report.
At the time of the second midterm exam the course team announced that it was going to drop one of the problem sets for this presentation, with the final two problem sets (9 and 10) due to be released on 12th December and 19th December respectively.
However, it’s now 18th December and no finger exercises for weeks 10 and 11 have been issued and nor is there any sign of problem set 9. Worse, there’s been no official communication from the course team about the absence of exercises and problem sets, with the last course-wide message posted covering the breakdown of scores from the second midterm exam. There have been a couple of staff responses published in answer to predominantly polite and constructive questions posted on the course forum, with one reply from a staff member saying that the reason for the lack of announcements was due to the difficulty of posting such information on the edX platform! Further information provided in another answer suggested that despite the rapid increase in numbers of people working on edX as a whole, there was only one person working on publishing the problem sets for 6.00x and getting the automated graders to work.
This state of affairs is a massive and negative contrast to my experience of 6.002x run earlier on this year. Lecture materials and labs were consistently published around 2 weeks ahead of the schedule, allowing the type of learner that online courses are aimed at to plan ahead around family and work commitments. I can’t remember there being any significant problems or outages with the problem graders on 6.002x either.
Perhaps the reason for the current issues with 6.00x is that the concept of edX is simply failing to scale. By that, I don’t mean that the computing platform they’re using is unable to scale – quite the opposite, with around 7,700 students having tackled at least one question on the midterm 2 exam. Rather, this experience appears to suggest that the idea itself is not capable of scaling under the auspices of a single organisation trying to run multiple courses simultaneously, all of which were originally designed for traditional (rather than online) methods of delivery. It’s also been apparent that the presence of the originator of MITx and edX, Anant Agarwal, which was so obvious during the first run of 6.002x, has had no equivalent on 6.00x. From my perspective as a student it feels that the team behind 6.00x has struggled to deliver a smooth learning experience because the effort required in course conversion and leadership had been somewhat underestimated.
It’s all very frustrating as what has been a very interesting course has been soured by these issues. edX, despite all of the goodwill surrounding it has failed (so far) to deliver 6.00x to a standard that would persuade me to try another course from them in the near future – free or otherwise.