2020 Coursera Virtual Conference: Reflections and Resources

2020 Coursera Virtual Conference: Reflections and Resources

By the Coursera Conference Team

The Coursera Conference is an opportunity for our global community to engage around innovative teaching and learning experiences. This year, after careful consideration for the growing concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19, the Coursera Conference transitioned from a two day, in-person event to a free, fully virtual experience focused on “The Digital Transformation of Higher Education, COVID-19 and Beyond.” 

With an audience of over 3,200 attendees from 78 countries, we are humbled that the 2020 Coursera Virtual Conference enabled so many people from around the world to connect and discuss higher education’s most pressing issues.

In addition to forcing a pivot in the program’s format, the pandemic was also a common topic of conversation. Here are four themes that surfaced during the conference — from the bookending remarks by our co-founders to the four sessions in between.

Coursera Co-Founder Daphne Koller opened with an acknowledgement that many workers now will not be able to make a living but said Coursera is a place for millions of people “genuinely looking for some hope and the path forward.” 

Pointing to research from McKinsey and the World Economic Forum, Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda described how our catalog and stackable content can help the most vulnerable — people in “jobs making the lowest wages, with the lowest levels of education.” 

Shravan Goli, Chief Product Officer at Coursera, said the company has seen a 1500% month-over-month increase in demand for personal development content on the platform between February and March of this year.

In conversation with Coursera Chief Enterprise Officer Leah Belsky, Duke University’s Associate Vice Provost for Digital Education and Innovation Matthew Rascoff predicted that the increased adoption of courseware will be a longer-range impact. “We need to move away from the language of ‘teaching someone else’s course,’” Rascoff said, adding that “curation is its own art. The new model of teaching and learning is going to reward that resourcefulness.” 

In a panel moderated by former Coursera CEO and former president of Yale University Rick Levin, HolonIQ Co-CEO and Co-Founder Patrick Brothers said course sharing especially makes sense “at the foundational level where the content differentiation isn’t high.”

Ted Mitchell, President of the American Council on Education, drew a parallel between course sharing and another classroom instrument we often rely on. “We’ve done this before: textbooks are the old version of this exact conversation. Textbooks are a distillation of a high-level, common understanding of a field of study,” Mitchell said, “we are just doing it now far more efficiently.”

Shravan Goli, Emily Glassberg Sands, and Ken Sun, product leaders at Coursera, showed how we are helping educators respond to the pandemic with product innovations such as CourseMatch and Live2Coursera, which will automatically upload Zoom recordings for future use in a course. Ken also deemed Coursera’s new Machine-Assisted Peer Review “the most groundbreaking improvement ever.” The tool enables grading at scale with a machine learning model that can automatically assess 48% of the 1.9 million submissions.

Dr. Simone Buitendijk, Vice Provost at Imperial College London, sees “enormous possibilities in the COVID-19 crisis” to speed up global collaboration, but said institutions need to put rankings aside and move away from being very competitive with each other. 

Bringing the topic closer to home, Dr. Sharon Kardia, Associate Dean for Education and Millicent W. Higgins Collegiate Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan, said we need many lines of connection to be built for the next leap in education, starting within campuses — schools and colleges inside a university need to find more ways to collaborate.

While access is key, Dr. Rupamanjari Ghosh, Vice-Chancellor of Shiv Nadar University, said “affordable education without quality is highly dangerous and no good for anybody.” 

Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda pointed out that “the marginal cost of delivery to a fully online course is quite low and the value is quite high.” Given these economics, Coursera and our community of partners can help — especially as the pandemic highlights compounding layers of inequality in the workforce: Do you work for a company whose business model is mostly digital? If so, do you have the kind of job that can be done remotely? Even further, do you have the tools, technology, and bandwidth?

Coursera’s Co-Founder Andrew Ng, noted that as school campuses close around the world, “it’s up to all of us to use the digital realm to make sure that education becomes more, rather than less, accessible.”

It was humbling to see partners, educators, learners, and leaders from around the world gather on Zoom for Coursera’s first-ever virtual conference. If you couldn’t join us, you can watch recordings of all presentations during the 2020 Coursera Virtual Conference: