Coursera is a for-profit company offering "universal access to the world’s best education." What they mean by "best education" is MOOCs offered by professors at the "top" universities. There's no evidence to support the claim that the best undergraduate courses for the general audience are those given by professors at Stanford, MIT, Princeton, and Harvard. Indeed, there's quite a bit of evidence that this isn't true.
Daphne Koller is going to talk about The Online Revolution: Learning Without Limits. Keep in mind that at the end of every article published in Science (AAAS publication) there's a small notice stating that, "The authors declare no financial conflict of interest" or statements that clearly spell out the conflicts.
Why is AAAS asking someone to give a plenary lecture about selling online courses from someone with a clear financial interest in promoting her company?
Science education is important and there's plenty of evidence that universities are graduating students who don't understand science and aren't capable of critical thinking. There are hundreds of people whose main research interest is pedagogy and especially science education. They have proposed solutions to the problem and suggestions on how we should change the way we teach. Very few of them think that MOOCs are the answer and very few of them are trying to market their ideas for profit [ Reaching Students: What Research Says About Effective Instruction in Undergraduate Science and Engineering (2015)].
Why not ask some of those experts to address the AAAS meeting and possibly explain what's wrong with canned videotaped lectures? MOOCs are just ways of transferring the way we teach now to the mass market. But what if the traditional way we now teach (lectures) is wrong? Isn't that a question that the delegates at San Jose ought to think about?
Here's Daphne Koller giving a TED talk. Near the end she talks about the importance of "active learning" (student-centered learning). I'm a big fan of student-centered learning. She implies that having students take online courses from "top" educators is consistent with active learning but she's wrong. It's the exact opposite. In my opinion, it's a step backwards and by promoting MOOCs we are going to make it more difficult to convince professors to change the way they teach. Instead, the ones who are good at delivering traditional lectures will bring in money for themselves and their universities.1 They will be getting the kudos and the teaching awards instead of those who are paying attention to evidence-based methods and trying to improve undergraduate education.
Here's another video. It's an interview with Daphne Koller from June 2013. Listen to the first few minutes and you'll hear a different view of active learning. Here, she explains the concept of the "flipped classroom" where students watch online videos and then come to class to participate in "something that's much more engaging and stimulating, active learning" (4 mins). There's nothing wrong with that except that students could read a textbook instead of watching a video. The important part of the learning is what happens in the classroom and not what happens in the textbook or the taped lecture.
She also explains how they are going to make money (5-6 mins).
Daphne Koller is very fond of repeating the myth that the best courses are the ones taught at the top research universities. (She happens to be a teacher at one of these universities.) I bet she can't prove it unless she's talking about very specialized upper level courses.
1. For-profit companies like Coursera offer kick-backs to the professors and schools that contribute courses.