One technological sticking point that faces online education startups like Coursera, which I profile today in MIT Technology Review’s November digital education report, is how to grade assignments from tens of thousands of students. This inability for computers to easily grade short answer questions, essays, or even drawings sets a limitation on course offerings, especially for humanities and social science classes. Right now, Coursera is solving this by setting up a peer-grading system for some classes so students can evaluate each other’s work.
While artificial intelligence has not advanced to a state that the robo-graders can take over, Coursera might end up solving some of these problems in unexpected ways, including by training a new generation of data scientists.
Consider the case of University of New Orleans’ mechanical engineering major Luis Tandalla, a native of Quito, Ecuador. Tandalla, who is 22, took Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng’s wildly-popular machine learning course online through Stanford University last year, and has since taken several more computer science classes offered through Coursera.