Campus Community Discusses MOOCs at Tech During Town Hall

When Georgia Tech announced its partnership with Coursera six months ago, “MOOC” was a new acronym to many. But a lot has changed since then. 

“We are getting calls about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” said Rafael L. Bras, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, during yesterday’s town hall on online learning. “We’ve made a significant impact in a short period of time, and this is a source of tremendous pride for Georgia Tech.”  

Through Coursera, an online learning platform that has partnered with Tech and other premier institutions to offer free courses for the general public, Georgia Tech has created eight massive open online courses (MOOCs), which currently have a combined enrollment of 162,133 students. 

Additionally, the Gates Foundation recently awarded funding to develop three general education courses — English Composition, Physics 101 and Introductory Psychology. Some 10 to 15 other courses are also under development. 

During the town hall, members of the audience had an opportunity to share their comments, questions and concerns regarding MOOCs. 

Mark Braunstein, a professor of the practice in the School of Interactive Computing, is currently developing a Coursera course titled “Health Informatics in the Cloud.” He shared that creating the course had required more work than he initially expected and that he’d found himself putting a lot of thought into how to teach the material in a way that would be clear and compelling. 

Bras stressed that professors should embrace creativity when it comes to engaging students, even if it means incorporating technologies into lectures that they may not be familiar with.

For example, if someone wanted to use animations in his lessons but didn’t have the subject matter knowledge to create them, he could ask the Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) or the Division of Professional Education for help, Bras said.

Another member of the audience expressed concern about how faculty members would be compensated for the time they invested in creating and delivering MOOCs. 

“There is no question that at least initially the work required to create a quality course in this new format is significant,” Bras said.

Those interested in developing a MOOC should first consult with their school chair or supervisor. C21U can evaluate each offering and determine the appropriate support to make it possible for the professor to participate. 

“It is clear, though, that these are experiments and educational research that require the individual’s self-interest and commitment,” Bras added. “As we learn, the development of this type of course will be easier. Furthermore, when MOOCs yield revenues from use outside of GT, the professor, his or her unit and the Institute will benefit. In addition, Georgia Tech’s promotion and tenure processes value educational innovation and experimentation with impact. Educational efforts of faculty are always valued.”

The audience was also curious about how Georgia Tech could use MOOCs to positively impact the on-campus community.

Bras explained that his office has provided a small grant, “Learning from MOOCs,” to the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL) to facilitate five teams, or “mini innovation hubs,” that will examine questions such as this one. 

Over the course of one to two years, each hub, which will be comprised of faculty members and students, will research a question or challenge related to MOOCs (or more generally, technology-enhanced education), which might include, for example, how to take a course designed for a small class and modify it for a MOOC or how to assess MOOCs using qualitative feedback.  

During a November event, more than 80 participants brainstormed ideas that could be the basis of one of the questions or challenges that the hubs will examine. The event was organized by Donna Llewellyn of CETL, Michael McCracken of C21U and Wendy Newstetter of the College of Engineering.

“It is really exciting to see the enthusiasm for exploring these types of issues related to learning and teaching,” Llewellyn said. “The research mindset that we all expect to see in the technical arenas is being used to investigate how we can answer interesting questions related to higher education today.”

By the close of the November event, a set of 10 potential research ideas had been established, each with a “champion” charged with carrying it forward. Each of these champions has been asked to provide one or two paragraphs about their proposed question/issue by the end of finals week.  The leaders of the project will then meet with each group to help them plan their next steps.

Faculty who are interested in learning more about the hubs should contact Donna Llewellyn.

Those interested in teaching a Coursera course should click here

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