I Failed a Writing Assignment on Coursera

Fun fact: I am a full-time technical writer

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

So, here’s the situation. I get paid to write. My job title: senior technical writer.

The title doesn’t matter. It doesn’t guarantee that I won’t make typos or that I’ll be a living example of grammatical perfection. It doesn’t make me a walking dictionary, nor an expert in the art of writing.

However… I sure as hell assumed it would mean I’d get a passing grade in this introductory technical writing course on Coursera.

Yeah. You know what they say about assuming.

I took this course, honestly, because I thought it would be easy. Before I jumped into the Google Cloud Platform courses, I figured I should get a hang of Coursera as a platform by taking something I could breeze through.

Well, I learned something about myself when I started this course: this type of learning is not for me.

I failed one of the quizzes twice.

Imagine a question like, “Which of the following things are important to include in Document X? Choose all that apply.” Get the correct combination of correct responses, or you get a zero for the question. There’s no partial credit. There’s no “You got 6 out of 7, so you get 6 points.” No. you just get a zero.

Now imagine that all of the questions are like this.

These quizzes weren’t assessing what I had learned. They were assessing my ability to focus long enough to memorize the correct responses from the videos that I had just watched.

I wish I could say that I made it through the quizzes relatively unscathed, but that would be a big fat lie.

I had to take some of them twice.

(Maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better here, but… there were typos all over the quizzes.)

The part that nearly made me drop the course: peer-reviewed writing assignments.

I put effort into these assignments. I proofread them. I ran them through Grammarly. I went through the checklists they provided and made sure I could check off every box.

I left thoughtful comments on my peers’ assignments while I patiently awaited my score so I could move on to the next module.

I waited with anticipation, like this: 😃

And then the scores came in.


My peers left me comments along the lines of u should try again (I’m not kidding) and Very good assignment. Please do a peer review for me {URL HERE}.

They gave me a 1 (out of something much higher than 1) in grammar and conventions, too, which pissed me off.

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Photo by Rhys Kentish on Unsplash

Maybe I had done something wrong, I thought.

I went back and looked at the parameters of the assignment. I checked off each item in my mind, cross-referencing my submission and trying to make sense of the comments.

After a quick moment of “Maybe I don’t deserve to be a professional writer!”, I decided to re-upload the assignment without changing a damn thing and to seek new peer reviews.



Herein lies the problem with peer reviews.

  • People do not understand how to read rubrics.
  • Nobody gets practice in using the rubrics (i.e. norming) before being put in charge of everyone else’s grades.
  • Classmates subtly bribe each other with positive peer reviews (take a look at the forums in the next online course you take that features a peer review component).
  • In Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), there is no professor to give that peer-reviewed assignment a second look. Do you hate that girl from the Week 3 forum? Did she leave a rude comment on your last assignment? FAIL HER. Nobody’s going to overrule you.
  • The people who review your assignment usually have no qualifications to do so. They’re grading your assignment because they have to review X number of assignments or they’ll fail the module, too.

I eventually passed the course, but not without a struggle and a temporary blow to my confidence.

Next up? Google Cloud. Let’s do this!


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✨ serial questioner • technical writer/devops • editor of Diary of an SRE • thank you for connecting 👩🏻‍💻 kerisavoca.com

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