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It is likely that students' perceptions of this course are being clouded by poor technical infrastructure. It's a free course and of course a pilot, but having been involved in delivering mass on-line education, I know that even a small outage or brownout is a 100% outage for those students that have put aside that timeslot for their learning.

What should Stanford (and other organisations) do to help here?

1. Monitor user experience every 3 minutes.
2. Have a separate "lowfi" text only news site that reports issues linked from all deliverable and use it to report issues after they are affecting more than say 50 students. A range of system "status lights" can be used to reflect different aspects of the service being reported on.
3. Assume that stuff will go wrong for some students and ensure there is a buffer built in allow 8 days elapsed time for a 5 day course cycle - the students will find stuff to do during the other 3 days.
4. Strong and regular communication can turn an outage and negative experienced into a the positive feeling that "these folks are trying hard".
5. Load balance content and have a FIRE BREAK policy that prevents positive feedback loops (not a good thing in engineering) from taking whole services down.

It's not enough for the content to be good because service delivery as well as content underpin any learning experience.

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