Course Review: Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I recently took the Coursera class Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom, from the University of California-Irvine‘s Melissa Loble. This review is written based on the course as it existed in March 2015.

This review serves three functions:

  • For prospective students, should I take this course?
  • For prospective employers and admissions offices, what does having completed this course say about a potential employee or student?
  • For course developers and educators, what can I learn from how this course is developed and delivered?

This review will contain two parts: an objective description of the course content, structure, and experience, and a subjective analysis of the course’s value to students, employers, and educators.

Course Description

Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom is a five-week class that serves as a survey of up-and-coming technologies being used in K-12 classes, such as learning management systems, social network integration, gamification, MOOCs, and open educational resources.  The full description is available here. The course is self-described with the following:

Learn about emerging trends and technologies in K-12 virtual instruction. Join us as we explore this dynamic landscape and investigate how we can more deeply engage students in the virtual classroom through the use of innovative practices and technologies.


Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom was a five-week course, with each week consisting of a different “module”. The final week was light on material, but the other weeks covered around two hours of video material each. Each week concluded with a short five-question quiz, and the course concluded with a 35-question final exam. The course also featured a short peer reviewed assignment halfway through.

Overall, the course can be completed in around fifteen total hours including all activities. The lecture material averages two hours per week, while the quizzes, assignment, and peer review total likely another hour.


Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom is broken into five modules, although the fifth module is merely a short ‘conclusion’ module. The other four modules are: “The Role of Technology in Virtual Education”, “Social Technologies in Virtual Education”, “Game-Based Learning & Badges in Virtual Education”, and “Open Content in Virtual Education”. Each module explores a variety of different tools within that topic. The third module on game-based learning, for instance, examines gamification, games used for learning, augmented reality, and wearable technology.

By design, Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom is something of a practical survey course. It does not cover any learning science or psychology in why these technologies work. It similarly does not go into great detail on how they work or how to use them. The main objective of the course is simply to introduce the tools and give some high-level guidelines for what to do and what to avoid in attempting to use them in the classroom.

In this way, the target audience of Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom is very clear: teachers. This isn’t a course for developers of new educational technology, or researchers interested in how educational technology affects the classroom experience. This is a course for teachers who are interested in using educational technology in their actual classrooms tomorrow, but simply don’t know what’s out there or how to best use it.


There are three types of assessments in Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom:

  • Four five-question multiple choice quizzes, each of which can be taken up to three times and which show the student what they got wrong after each take.
  • One medium-length writing assignment (1500 word) asking the student to design and justify a learning activity based in educational technology.
  • A final quiz of 35 multiple choice questions which can be taken three times but which does not give students detailed feedback on their wrong answers after each take.

The assignment is graded through peer review, with three peers grading each assignment and each peer grading three assignments.


In terms of knowledge, there are no prerequisites to this class. Experienced teachers will likely have a stronger foundation from which to build, but there is no content contingent on teaching experience. In terms of appeal, however, only those with a background in teaching are likely to be interested in the course content.

Identity Verification

For Verified Certificates ($50 at the time that I signed up), students complete the Coursera two-phase authentication: a typing sample is submitted and a picture is taken of the student immediately after completing the assessment. Assuming that these are adequate in ascertaining the student’s identity, they are nonetheless not difficult to circumvent. It would be trivial to collaborate with someone else on the assignments or even outright submit someone else’s work. This verification only assures that the student was present when the work was submitted.

If the student is not enrolled in a Verified Certificate, there is no identity verification at all.

Course Analysis

Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom uses a traditional talking head approach alongside bullet-point slides. The speaker, Melissa Loble, presents the material in a friendly and engaging fashion, although the presentation of the material is always limited by the reliance on text slides rather than visuals or demonstrations. Given that the nature of the course is to inform teachers of the tools available to them, though, this isn’t overly problematic, although some demonstrations certainly could have improved the course.

As mentioned before, the content is most appealing to teachers looking for something practical to do in their classrooms immediately after finishing the course. That’s one of my hats, and so I was interested in how some of these things might be used. However, I also work in educational technology research, and I was a little disheartened by some of the course content. The course, for example, speaks in glowing terms of the appeal of gamification to create extrinsic motivation, but significant literature exists to suggest that relying on extrinsic motivation may ultimately hurt students.

As mentioned previously, there are three types of assessments. The short repeatable quizzes do not reflect much deep learning in my opinion; as I’ve referenced before, it’s often trivial to get a good score on these just through trial and error. The final exam, on the other hand, is more meaningful: 35 questions without receiving feedback on individual wrong answers makes for a more reliable assessment, even if multiple choice questions are still a poor way to evaluate deeper learning. The peer reviewed assignment was interesting and one of the more thorough ones I’ve completed as part of a Coursera course, but the evaluation was disheartening. Research indicates peer review can be as reliable as human grading, but that research relied on five peer graders. Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom, like most Coursera classes, uses only three. For me, I received an average of 40 words of low-quality feedback per reviewer, and the lack of assessment and feedback pull the chair out from under the usefulness of the assignment, unfortunately.

Aside from the video lectures and the assessments, the course also has significant additional activity. In addition to the discussion forums, accounts or communities were provided through Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+ to demonstrate the use of those tools in a MOOC like this. The course also demonstrated the use of live Twitter chats and Google Hangouts on Air, with eight combined synchronous events.

Overall, this is a teaching class taught by teachers, not learning scientists. This means it is very practical and grounded in real technologies and opportunities, but it also means that it occasionally missteps and praises interventions that other researchers might caution against using.

For Prospective Students

Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom is absolutely a class by teachers, for teachers. It won’t provide much interesting content for people working in other areas of educational technology like the business or research sides, but it provides an abundance of resources ready for teachers to use quickly in their classroom. It could use the perspective of a learning scientist to check if the tools suggested actually lead to desirable changes, but for students in its target audience, it has an abundance of interesting material/

Take this course if:

  • You’re a teacher, especially a K-12 teacher although higher-level instructors might be interested in some elements as well.
  • You’re open to using technology in your classroom, but aren’t sure how.
  • You have some experience with educational technology, but want to explore other possibilities.

Don’t take this course if:

  • You’re not a teacher.
  • You’re not able to engage yourself in optional activities; without the Twitter chats, Hangouts, and discussions, the class isn’t that impactful.
  • You come from a learning sciences, cognitive science, or psychology background.

For Prospective Employers and Admissions Offices

With regard to identity verification, the identity verification for the Verified Certificate is trivial to circumvent. Thus, a Verified Certificate in Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom should carry limited clout for that reason alone. The remaining analysis will infer that the student did complete the certificate themselves.

With regard to assessment, the rigor of the course is slightly higher than many other MOOCs, and more importantly, that level of rigor is accurately assessed. The trial-and-error quizzes provide little and make up a significant portion of the grade. However, the final exam provides this accurate assessment as it’s not possible to simply trial-and-error to a good score, and at 45% of the course grade, it’s not possible to perform well in the course without performing decently on the final. The final isn’t exactly rigorous, but it’s at least reliable. The only other assignment is peer graded, and while I, personally, have some reservations about the validity and reliability of peer grading, research has shown this approach to be effective (with five graders, while this uses only three).

With regard to contentEmerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom provides a good view of multiple strategies and technologies that can be used in a K-12 classroom. Many of these are extensible to other levels and areas as well, including higher education and corporate education. The content is exclusively relevant to teachers, so this course should not be relevant for an applicant for a non-teaching position, but for applicants to teaching positions it’s a credit to the applicant.

Personally, if I saw Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom on an applicant’s resume for an application to a teacher position, I’d be most optimistic simply about the applicant’s desire to explore educational technology. While the course gives a good overview of tools, I’d be wary of whether or not someone can leverage these tools successfully based on this course alone; however, the interest in doing so is the first step toward doing so successfully, and completion of this course adequately demonstrates that interest.

For Course Developers and Educators

There are three main things in Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom that I’d like to see more courses do:

  • Think outside of the video. As I mentioned above, if you’re not going to at least watch the Twitter chats and Google Hangouts, this class is not very impactful. It’s these demonstrates of educational technology in action that make the class more worthwhile than many traditional MOOCs. The videos are pleasant to watch but not overly engaging, but the additional activities and interactions set this course apart.
  • Target your audience. I’ve noted a few times that people involved in the business or research sides of educational technology are not likely to get much out of the course. That’s notable to me since I’m involved in all three sides, but for the majority of people this structure would be optimal. It’s better to have three short courses that each are perfectly targeted to one-third of the audience than to have one long course that two-thirds of the audience is going to find boring and uninteresting at any given time. MOOCs give us the flexibility to segment like this.
  • Know your audience. Narrowly targeting one audience is great, but it can fail if you are not also aware of that audience’s interests. A course targeted to teachers that focused on the business elements of educational technology companies would not go over well because it fails to understand what its audience is actually interested in seeing.

For more information, please see the course web site. If I’ve left out anything crucial to understanding this course, let me know below!

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