The Life: David Malan, a senior lecturer in computer science at Harvard University's school of engineering and applied sciences, explains how a Mooc works behind the scenes.
Satellite campuses with a global reach
David Malan, a senior lecturer in computer science at Harvard University's school of engineering and applied sciences, explains how a Mooc works behind the scenes.
How many people took part in the course, and how many dropped out?
We anticipated that we might have several thousand students take the course at once. We needed an infrastructure that could support that. A total of 150,000 registered, 100,000 of whom engaged [with the course] in some form. There was a definite decrease over time. It's not unexpected. In those 150,000 students, around 12,000 were intending to submit the work actively.
What does the large number of dropouts tell you?
They were getting out of the course what they wanted to. Even I have signed up for a number of Moocs that I don't even begin to engage with, just to see what other people were doing.
How would you describe the average student?
We have every possible age group - the average age is 28. And we think we had at least one person from every country and territory in the world - the US with about 29 per cent, followed by India with 9 per cent, UK with 6 per cent, Canada with 3 per cent, Russia with 3 per cent, and everyone else below 3 per cent.
What problems did you encounter during the course?
Scalability and having servers and sufficiently correct software in place that we could handle tens of thousands of students without things buckling under the weight.
You trip over every single bug we had made on our end. But things held up well. It was expensive in terms of the development time, support time, technology costs or human costs. Our intention is to at least make sure this is self-sustaining, even if it's ultimately non-profit.
What do Moocs mean for overseas satellite campuses?
Online courses could replace satellite campuses. We participate differently now. People are getting more comfortable with engaging with courses online. But there's much less in the way of in-person communications - it's harder to raise your hand to ask a question. As bandwidth gets better and software gets better, that will be mitigated.