Midsummer whimsy: How to write recommendations for 847 students

Imagine writing a letter of reccommendation for one of the hundreds of students in your money-saving Massive Open Online Course:

I’m pleased to recommend the person who identifies herself as Amy Clayton in my MOOC of 11,389 students, Education and Society. I have known Ms. Clayton since she began the course on May 16, 2012 at 4:15 a.m. Her avatar visited the class website regularly, and its eyes were wide-open, indicating her close attention to the class. She—or her friends and family—completed 80 percent of the course, including two multiple-choice quizzes and an exam requiring her to cut and paste content from PowerPoint slides into a textbox. She was a fine student, with a class rank of 2,101 in the course, plus or minus 657.

Ms. Clayton’s avatar read 28 percent of the random online student postings originating all over the world between 1:00 and 4:00 a.m. When she commented, 7 percent of the other students read her comments, and 1.3 percent responded to them. Machines grading her essays judged her to be an A student. The depth and complexity of her thinking are indicated by her ability to construct sentences with an average length of 7.8 words. The Assistant to the Executive Associate Teaching Assistant for the Enterprise Division of the course reports that she had several substantive email exchanges with Ms. Clayton during the term.

A Sociological Eye on Education