I'm taking my first Coursera course right now. I'm taking the Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python course produce by Rice University.
Everything I know about Python I've learned on my own and I've never approached it in a very disciplined manner. So this class is structured for someone with no programming knowledge at all, but I am still picking up a few things here and there about Python. But mostly I needed it to be easy as my schedule is a bit crazy right now and I'm more interested in how the class is taught than the actual content. I just wanted to see what it would be like to use the Coursera system and try to learn.
So far I like it quite a bit. The instruction is primarily centered around two tools, lecture videos and on-line python environment/editor. The coding environment is CodeSkulptor which was put together by one of the instructors for the class, Scott Rixner. It's actually a pretty slick setup. Now - one thing I have found though - is that this combination works best in a multi-monitor environment. Normally I watch the video on one monitor while I have CodeSkulptor open in another. This way I can play around with the code, but also see notes and changes they make in the video. Doing this on one screen wouldn't work too well I think. Though I guess it could be possible if the monitor were large enough.
The week is divided into two parts. There are a set of videos that are followed by a quiz, then another set of videos followed by a second quiz. At the end of the week there is a mini-project. The first mini-project involved setting up some functions to emulate playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock. There is a very thorough rubric on exactly what is expected from the mini-project. This is important because the projects are reviewed and graded by peers. Each week after completing the mini-project, I have to review the projects for 5 other students by following the rubric. There is a form that I step through to do this and it is pretty easy, it does not take too long.
One thing I've found that makes the class work well, is that the professors are really working hard to make the videos easy to watch. I've done video to a camera when I'm alone before and it comes across like I'm depressed. To appear normal actually involves acting and doing things that feel like they are over the top. The instructors tell jokes, laugh, and in general make the video feel much more like a discussion. I'm impressed by how well they've done in that regard.
There is a little gui toolkit built into the CodeSkulptor environment. The class will involve making games with graphical elements. I think this is pretty cool, especially as it is all happening on-line without the need to download and install any software. I've done it all on my Fedora machines without any problems. They recommend using Firefox or Chrome, and repeatedly warn against using IE.
There are forums and pages with more information related to each week's topics
I'll take other Coursera courses as I can - to see how they vary - but so far I'm pretty impressed by the platform. I think it bodes well for on-line education. I think it's exciting to be able to learn from these professors at a school that is thousands of miles from where I live. Oh - and in the intro. video they say their expectation for enrollment is 50,000 students. Wow.