Lunch and Learn: Alternatives to the Traditional Textbook

On Thursday, October 25, the Center for Educational Resources (CER) hosted Logo for Lunch and Learn program showing the words Lunch and Learn in orange with a fork above and a pen below the lettering. Faculty Conversations on Teaching at the bottom.the first Lunch and Learn for the 2018-2019 academic year. Marian Feldman, Professor and Chair of History of Art, Professor of Near Eastern Studies; and Joanne Selinski, Associate Teaching Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Computer Science; presented on Alternatives to the Traditional Textbook.

Marian Feldman started with a presentation on the Open Educational Resource (OER) she created several years ago for her courses on ancient Mesopotamian art [see slides]. She commented that Mesopotamian art may seem esoteric; not many people are readily familiar with the subject matter. Mesopotamian culture began in the 10th millennium BCE, centered in (but at times extending well beyond) what is now Iraq, and flourished in the Bronze and Iron Ages with the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Neo-Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian empires from the 3rd millennium to the 6th century BCE.

“Open Educational Resources are free and openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching, learning, research, and other purposes.” (creativecommons.org) Feldman’s motivation for creating OER for her course stemmed in large part from the fact that there was no good textbook available. The only text, The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient (Frankfort) was published in 1954, and though new editions were released up until 1996, the material was not updated. In 2017, a new text, Art of Mesopotamia (Bahrani), was published, but at $90 a copy, Feldman plans to stick with the OER she developed as a free alternative for her students that is also more directly relevant to the materials she covers.

The OER has other value as well. When Mesopotamian art is introduced in a standard survey of art course, a $90 textbook is overkill, while the modularity of her OER works perfectly for an introductory approach. Feldman was also interested in highlighting these works of art in a time when many cultural heritage sites and objects in the region have been destroyed or are under threat. The OER as an open resource puts information in the public domain where it is easily accessible.

Screen shot of OpenStax CNX website home page.Feldman applied for and won Technology Fellowship Grants (2015 and 2016) from the Center for Educational Resources (CER) that allowed her to work with two graduate students in Near Eastern Studies, Megan Lewis and Avary Taylor, to undertake the project. The CER advised her on a platform for sharing the modules—OpenStax CNX at Rice University. From the website: “OpenStax publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed, openly licensed textbooks that are absolutely free online and low cost in print.” OpenStax CNX was a good fit because Feldman was not particularly technology oriented, and it offered a relatively easy-to-use platform. She also liked the “knowledge chunks” concept where content modules can be aggregated into a custom “text” for students. The platform uses a Creative Commons license and content is freely accessible to all.

Feldman and her graduate students created 15 modules over two years. Each module is stand alone, and many incorporate videos. The modules can be downloaded as a PDF—which students found useful for study purposes—although multimedia content such as videos is not viewable in the PDF. She noted that because the platform is open, she cannot track use by individual students to be sure that they are viewing the modules. However, end-of-course surveys of the students indicated that they had found the OER modules to be valuable course content. She received positive feedback from colleagues as well. The one complaint from students was that at times the platform was slow, particularly when playing multimedia clips and downloading materials.

There were challenges with creating the OER modules. Feldman acknowledged that it was a lot of work. All multimedia content—images, videos, interactive materials—had to be in the public domain or permission had to be obtained from the rights holders. There were some technological challenges with the platform. Feldman described it as “clunky” at times. The built in HTML editor was easy to use, but limiting for formatting purposes. She had hoped that having the students use the modules might allow her to do less in-class lecturing, but that was not the case.

Feldman has run some analytics on the modules, using Google Analytics, and discovered that beyond her own use (and that of her students), the modules have been viewed by others, but perhaps not as much as she might have hoped. Over a 12-month period excluding JHU use, the various modules were viewed between 6 and 150 times. There was a big spread on the IP access—viewers came to the site from around the world. The relatively small numbers of viewers for her modules on OpenStax CNX are in contrast to a TED-Ed Animation project she worked on during the same time period, targeted at the K-12 constituency. The Rise and Fall of the Assyrian Empire has received over a million views!

zyBooks website home page screenshot.Joanne Selinski introduced the audience to zyBooks, billed as an affordable, interactive, online textbook platform for STEM disciplines. Selinski is piloting the use of a zyBook for the Gateway Computing course she is teaching, although she had previously used a limited version of zyBooks in teaching a Java course. While zyBooks is not free, it is relatively low-cost, about $50 per student depending on instructor customizations.

Selenski noted that she had the opposite problem from Feldman—her field, computer science, is constantly changing and advancing so that texts become outdated quickly and must be updated frequently. Print texts simply can’t keep up with the changing curriculum. Moreover, courses are not standardized across departments and institutions, so a standardized text may not be flexible enough for adaptation to a particular curriculum. And, every instructor teaches standard courses differently, so there really is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all textbook. Thus the discipline has seen a move from print books to courseware on interactive platforms.

In Selinski’s experience, students didn’t read textbooks and she would have to repeat the information in class. Homework assignments applied the work done in class. Using zyBooks allowed her to flip her class model, with students learning concepts outside of class and doing applied work in class individually or in groups. She had wanted to flip her class previously, but didn’t want to use only videos for outside-of-class instruction. While she does use some videos as a supplement, zyBooks provided a great overall solution.

Selinski gave a demonstration of the customized zyBook that she developed for her Gateway Computing course. The modules are a mix of various types of demonstrations and exercises interspersed with fill-in-the-blank, true-false, and multiple choice questions. She finds that the quizzing while doing method is beneficial to student learning. There are challenge activities for students looking for more advanced work, but they are not required as in-class group work covers the challenge material. Everything is auto-graded. Selinski can choose which assignments will be graded. The biggest benefit is that students get introduced to the core material before they come to class.

Selinski noted that the company worked closely with her (and other JHU faculty in the pilot) to develop their texts from a menu of pre-created modules. She liked that zyBooks offers lots of options for customization. The interface is easy to use. She can add notes on the modules for specific instructions or to make comments. More advanced students can take advantage of extra materials. She was able to add a student who enrolled in the class late and change the deadlines/due dates for that individual. And, she can see who has done what in terms of the on-line work. Overall, zyBooks has great reporting features. Her one caveat was that students won’t do work unless it is required.

Because this is the first semester of use, she does not yet have data on student response to the platform, however informal comments suggest that students like it overall. She responded to student complaints that too much was required in the early part of the semester and reduced required material to some extent. She will like be more selective when using zyBooks next semester.

A lively discussion followed the presentations. There was a question about whether material from these alternative texts could be integrated into Blackboard, JHU’s course management system. In both cases, the answer is no, that these are separate platforms. Links to material can be provided in Blackboard, but the content resides on the platform—OpenStax or zyBooks.

Selinski was asked to elaborate on what students do during class time. Classes are small sections of 19 or fewer students, and she has a teaching assistant, so she can have them working individually or in small groups and oversee them all. Generally, there is an in-class assignment, activity, or problem to be solved that reflects the material covered in zyBooks. Sometimes students are working on paper, others times on their laptops, other times on the board. For some activities she may do a brief lecture for background before the students start working.

There were questions about the zyBooks platform, course development, and subscription model, and the availability of materials for students on both platforms after a course has ended. Selinski elaborated that zyBooks offers general texts that are updated frequently and can be customized by each instructor for their use. A course can be saved and copied for use in a subsequent semester. There is no sharing across institutions—another institution cannot readily see a JHU instance of a course. Students subscriptions are for the duration of the semester; after which they cannot access the course. They are able to download PDFs of content during the semester they are enrolled. Feldman noted that OpenStax CNX is by nature open and free accessible to anyone at any time.

There was some discussion about the benefits of interactivity, and there was agreement that modality should match the content being presented. As for print versus online, it is clear that it may come down to personal preference–some prefer reading online while others want a hard copy of a text. Feldman noted that the evolution of the Internet has led to a re-thinking of the concept of an intellectual canon for an area of humanistic study. The Internet allows a break from such narratives with inherent advantages and drawbacks. This has implications for how faculty teach and students learn. [See M.H. Feldman, Rethinking the Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Art in the Internet Age, Published Online: 2017-06-22, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/janeh-2016-0002.]

Finally, Mike Reese, Associate Dean of University Libraries, Director of the CER, and lecturer in Sociology, offered another alternative to the textbook that is free to students. In the courses he teaches he is committed to students not having to pay for textbooks. Instead he assigns materials such as e-books and research articles that are available to students through the library. This Lunch and Learn session demonstrated that there is more than one way to lower the cost of textbook materials for your students.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Sources: Web page screenshots

Consider the OER (Open Educational Resource)

I should first disclose that I am not a longstanding, seasoned user of online strategies in my pedagogy. In fact, aside from very basic use such as posting images online for my students to review, my first real foray into systematic, thought-through online pedagogical strategies began in the summer of 2015.

A stitched image showing the Ishtar gate of Babylon in full view. Pergamon Museum, Berlin.In my discipline, specifically the study of Mesopotamian art but more broadly art history, I see two somewhat different audiences for online resources: 1) students (or student-like users) looking for content about art history; and 2) educators looking for pedagogical support/sharing related to the teaching of art history.

With respect to online resources for student-like users, two main trends in online pedagogy are apparent: 1) how to recreate and/or enhance the kind of activities that take place in face-to-face teaching; 2) how to add to, that is do something different, from the kind of activities that take place in face-to-face teaching.

My own foray into online pedagogy was primarily aimed at student-like users, although a secondary audience of other educators is also relevant because of the open-access nature of my project.

The arts of Mesopotamia – the “land between the rivers” in what is today Iraq and Syria – represent some of the earliest complex artworks dating back to 3500. Works from intricately carved seals to sculpture offer a wealth of arts that inform on the social, political, economic, and religious spheres of multiple ancient cultures, including Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria. The cultural heritage of Mesopotamia is particularly threatened at the moment due to the current political situation in Iraq and Syria.

Teaching this material at the undergraduate level, however, is a challenge as there is no reliable, up-to-date textbook available; the most recent usable textbook dates to 1954 (H. Frankfort, Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient). Publication of a traditional, hard-copy textbook now is considered financially impractical.

In the spring of 2015, pursuing a Technology Fellows grant from the CER, I proposed a solution: to create on-line modules to be used in teaching my course Palaces, Temples and Tombs in Mesopotamia in fall 2015. These modules are designed as Open Education Resources (OER) using a pre-existing Internet platform, OpenStax CNX, hosted through Rice University, which promotes the production of small “knowledge chunks” in an open license venue. Materials for the modules consist of freely available content and content created by me and my graduate student fellows, Megan Lewis and Avary Taylor.

What is an OER? From the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation “Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.”

OER modules of instruction permit multi-media and non-traditional formats for conveying information, including virtual reconstructions and walk-throughs, videos, and hyperlinking in addition to providing up-to-date informational entries for the ancient artworks. For my course, I envisioned these modules as a means of engaging students before actual face time in the classroom in order to concentrate on discussion and exploration of the complex conceptual aspects of Mesopotamian art and culture during class time.

Over the 6-month period of the fellowship, five different modules were created and posted to the website at OpenStax CNX. They were an enormous asset to the class, because they provided background information and discussion points that were up-to-date in their content and specifically formulated to align with my class lectures and discussion. The modules also included helpful videos and virtual reconstructions of the ancient art that provided a fuller understanding for the students.

The online modules were evaluated through an online survey, developed with the aid of CER, and available to the students through JHU’s Blackboard (learning management system). All 12 students completed the anonymous survey, which consisted of 5 questions. 83.3% of the respondents said the modules were “very successful” in providing information related to the course content, while the remaining 16.7% said they were “somewhat successful.” The responses to the other questions were also generally quite positive, with appreciation for the multimedia components and for the fact that the modules aligned well with the lectures. Respondents found least useful about the modules some formatting issues inherent in the platform we used, and a few noted that they were slow to download.

Beyond the student reactions, I have had positive responses from colleagues in the field who expressed gratitude for making freely accessible materials on Mesopotamian art available.

The one downside for me was that the OERs did not necessarily promote a higher level of discussion as I had hoped; the modules were still too close to a textbook in terms of how students interacted with the materials

There were a few issues that we faced in developing the content, one of which was copyright.  We had to rely on what was freely available online and that sometimes meant using videos that contained inaccurate material. We also had to work with the OpenStax CNX version of an html coding program that made certain things difficult to manipulate and constrained format in terms of relationship of image to text.

These drawbacks did not discourage me from using OERs. In spring 2016, I received an additional grant through the CER’s Technology Fellows program to produce more modules for my teaching with the assistance of graduate student fellows Megan Lewis and Avary Taylor.

The modules can be accessed through various search mechanisms on the OpenStax CNX website, including through the authors’ names: Marian Feldman, Megan Lewis, and Avary Taylor. They are:

  1. Cylinder Seals and the Development of Writing in Early Mesopotamia http://cnx.org/contents/863d1f28-bad9-42ab-a74c-c602256f9908@1/Cylinder-Seals-and-the-Develop
  2. Ur III: Continuity and Erasure http://cnx.org/contents/30f1bbbc-6341-4e2a-8d2a-53600a36a30d@1/Ur-III-Continuity-and-Erasure
  3. Late Bronze Age Internationalism and the International Artistic Style http://cnx.org/contents/98680d11-2374-4a98-aa91-d2708e2beff1@3/Late-Bronze-Age-Internationali
  4. Neo-Assyrian Palace Reliefs of Kings Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon II http://cnx.org/contents/299a9d11-5c05-49c8-9844-6f042208b15c@1/Neo-Assyrian-Palace-Reliefs-of
  5. The Ancient City of Babylon http://cnx.org/contents/d49e45c8-931e-4dfd-a3e3-1d0dc0008d55@1/The-Ancient-City-of-Babylon
  6. Mesopotamian Votive Statuary from the Early Dynastic Period https://cnx.org/contents/k64PgmY0@1/Mesopotamian-Votive-Statuary-f
  7. Mesopotamian Cosmology and Mythology https://cnx.org/contents/OCYI18Df@1/Mesopotamian-Cosmology-and-Myt
  8. The Development of Sumerian Temple Architecture in Early Mesopotamia https://cnx.org/contents/Yip68Fa2@7/The-Development-of-Sumerian-Te
  9. Sargon the Great and the Charismatic Rulers of Ancient Akkad of Mesopotamia https://cnx.org/contents/4LSqiUv0@2/Sargon-the-Great-and-the-Chari
  10. The Babylonian Map of the World: A Portrayal of Mytho-Historic Reality https://cnx.org/contents/yM0T6acv@2/The-Babylonian-Map-of-the-Worl
  11. The ‘Victory Stele’ of Naram-Sin of Akkad and the Development of the Public Monument in Ancient Mesopotamia https://cnx.org/contents/YUbLWN2X@1/The-Victory-Stele-of-Naram-Sin

Marian Feldman, Professor, Departments of the History of Art and Near Eastern Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Image Source: A stitched image showing the Ishtar gate of Babylon in full view. Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Photo CC Radomir Vrbovsky, Wikimedia Commons.

 

A New Face in the MOOC World – An Online Art School Called Kadenze

New in the Higher Ed world was the announcement this week of Kadenze, a new company offering MOOCs in the arts disciplines. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Art Schools Go MOOC, With a New Online Platform (June 16, 2015 – Meg Bernhard), and Inside Higher Ed, Taking the Arts Online (June 16, 2015 – Carl Straumsheim), both ran articles on Kadenze.

Screen shot of Kadenze websiteThe Innovative Instructor has run a number of posts on MOOCs with a range of viewpoints – you can use the search box (above right) and enter MOOC to see them all. The three biggest players in terms of MOOC offerings are Udacity, Coursera, and edX. Udacity specializes in courses on tech and related skills, such as programming, app development, and how to build a startup. Coursera has a broad range of offerings, including courses in data science, public health, education, science, business, and more. edX also offers an extensive list of courses from many disciplines. All three offer their courses for free, but for added fees, certificates are available in many of the courses.

None of the big three however, offer much in the way of art, beyond a history of art course here and there. Kadenze was founded to fill that gap. From The Chronicle article: “The new virtual art school, called Kadenze, has already teamed up with programs at 18 institutions, including Stanford and Princeton Universities, to create a digital platform designed for arts courses. According to a company co-founder, Perry R. Cook, an emeritus professor at Princeton, the platform will be “multimedia rich” and allow students to create online portfolios, upload music files and scanned art, watch videos, and participate in discussion forums.”

Kadenze is offering courses for free, but has a fee basis for those who wish to receive grades and credit. Again, from The Chronicle, “Kadenze will initially offer about 20 courses on subjects including music, art history, and technology and art. Students will be able to enroll in courses and watch videos free, but they will have to pay $7 a month if they want to submit assignments and receive grades and feedback. Fees of $300, $600, or $900 will be charged for courses that are offered for credit.”

The initial set of offerings includes titles such as Careers in Media Technology, Introduction to Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists, Major Mind-Blowing Moments in the History of Western Art, Culture and Art Making, and The Nature of Code. Teaching art to large numbers of students in an online environment will certainly present challenges, so it will be interesting to keep an eye on this experiment. Personally, I am thinking about signing up (for the free version, of course) for the course titled, Comics: Art in Relationship. Maybe Kadenze will have an offering that fits your summer personal development goals as well.

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Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Screen shot of Kadenze website: https://www.kadenze.com/

From MOOCs to MOCs?

In January 2013, The Innovative Instructor wrote a post titled The ABCs of MOOCs, which attempted to provide an overview to the emerging and rapidly evolving phenomenon of Massive Open Online Courses familiarly known as MOOCs. We have come a long way in a short time in regards to MOOCs. This post examines the evolution of the MOOC trend.

In an article by Laura Pappano dated November 2, 2012, the New York Times declared that 2012 was The Year of the MOOC. Within a few months during that year several companies had been formed by university partnerships (Coursera, edX, Udacity); University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan had been fired (and reinstated) in part due to her reluctance to rush onto the MOOC train (see: the New York Times, Anatomy of a Campus Coup by Andrew Rice); and Thomas Friedman, among others, had written about MOOCs “disrupting” the future of university education. Some pundits declared that brick and mortar universities were seeing their end of days.

But a year later, Clayton M. Christensen, a professor of business administration at Harvard, and coiner of the phrase “disruptive innovation”, presented a more nuanced view in an article co-written with Michael Horn – Innovation Imperative: Change Everything Online Education as an Agent of Transformation (New York Times, November 1, 2013).  “But for MOOCs to really fulfill their disruptive potential, they must be built into low-cost programs with certification of skills of value to employers. So far, only a few traditional universities have incorporated MOOCs into their curriculum, and only to supplement what they are already doing — like ‘flipping the classroom,’ with lectures watched from home.” And “As concepts and skills are taught more effectively online, it’s unlikely that face-to-face interaction will cease to matter.”

Certainly the promise of MOOCs – free education for the masses – seemed to herald an exciting new wave. Yet many of us in support roles in higher education questioned whether the reality would live up to the hype. Articles lauding the new revolution were short on economic analysis. MOOCs are being offered without cost to students, but are not without cost to develop. Getting a handle on the financial side can be difficult as production costs are often hidden. These include: faculty time for course preparation and delivery, videotaping and editing costs, time spent to “scrub” content for copyright issues, and faculty and/or staff monitoring time when the course is running. How many institutions can support large scale production of free courses with no monetary return on investment? For that matter, if Harvard or Stanford is already offering an introduction to computer science MOOC, does it make sense for Anystate University to do the same?

Moreover, the MOOC environment does not necessarily bring out the best in pedagogical practices. A lecture watched online may loosely equate with a face-to-face lecture in a large course, but neither experience is likely to top a small, active-learning-centered classroom experience.

It is not surprising that two recent articles took on a different tone. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Steve Kolowich wrote (April 14, 2014) an article titled 2014: The Year the Media Stopped Caring About MOOCs?. Kolowich identifies 2013 as the year of the MOOC backlash, and noted that “Coursera’s new chief executive, the former Yale University president Richard C. Levin, last month reiterated that the company’s MOOCs should be thought of as ‘additive to what universities are doing, not disruptive.’”

Meanwhile, Inside Higher Ed reported on April 17, 2014 that Udacity plans to begin charging students for MOOC course completion certificates, cutting MOOCs to MOCs (Massive Online Courses).

Diagram showing Gartner Hype Cycles

Gartner Hype Cycles. Jeremy Kemp: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gartner_Hype_Cycle.svg

Gartner, Inc., a leading information technology research and advisory company uses a method called Hype Cycles to analyze emerging technologies. [See illustration above] Five phases in a technology life cycle are identified: 1) the technology trigger 2) the peak of inflated expectations 3) the trough of disillusionment 4) the slope of enlightenment 5) the plateau of productivity. It would appear from the recent press that MOOCs are experiencing the crash into the trough of disillusionment. It will be interesting to see a year from now if there is an upward trend towards enlightenment.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Jeremykemp at en.wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gartner_Hype_Cycle.svg

Two Keynotes – Part 2

In the last post, I wrote about a keynote presentation by Philip Yenawine, the co-founder of Visual Thinking Strategies. A second remarkable keynote address came during a half-day symposium, Peer to Peer: Engaging Students in Learning and Assessment, sponsored by colleagues in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (JHSPH).

Screenshot taken from Howard Rheingold's websiteHoward Rheingold delivered his presentation From Pedagogy to Peeragogy: Social Media as Scaffold for Co-learning remotely as seems appropriate for the person Wikipedia  describes as “… a critic, writer, and teacher; his specialties are on the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony and virtual communities (a term he is credited with inventing).”

Rheingold is a visiting lecturer at Stanford University in the Department of Communication where he teaches two courses, Virtual Communities, and Social Media Literacies. He is also a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley in the School of Information where he teaches Virtual Communities and Social Media. He is the author of numerous books including Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, [2002, Perseus Books], and Net Smart: How to Thrive Online [2012, The MIT Press]. He has given a TED Talk titled The New Power of Collaboration.

On the bleeding edge in terms of technology and thinking about the power of the human mind, Rheingold has long been an advocate and advancer of the collaborative nature of networked communities and communication. Rheingold spoke to the audience at JHSPH on the evolution of learning from lecture-based to learning-centered, self-directed, social, peer-to-peer, inquiry-based, cooperative, and networked models.

He started in the mid-2000s with the Social Media Classroom, a wiki-based site that acted as a place for communication and served as an asynchronous element to a face-to-face class he was teaching. In the process students, working in teams, became co-teachers. He promoted the use of blogs, and mind maps that provided students with a non-linear way of looking at materials and making connections between things. In an effort to reach out to different learning styles, Rheingold presented the course syllabus as a concept map, a Prezi, and on the wiki.

Since then we have seen a proliferation of peer-to-peer learning platforms such as YouTube and Khan Academy, as well as self-directed, peer-supported courses such as ds[digital storytelling]106. Since January 2011 ds106 has been taught at University of Mary Washington (UMW) and other institutions as a course for credit but also has at the same time been open (non-credit) to participants from the web (learn more about ds106).

Howard Rheingold’s Rheingold U. is a natural extension of this phenomenon.  “Rheingold U. is a totally online learning community, offering courses that usually run for five weeks, with five live sessions and ongoing asynchronous discussions through forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, and social bookmarks. In my thirty years of experience online and my eight years teaching students face to face and online at University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University, I’ve learned that magic can happen when a skilled facilitator works collaboratively with a group of motivated students. Live sessions include streaming audio and video from me and from students, shared text chat and whiteboard, and my ability to push slides and lead tours of websites.”

Rheingold asked, “What do self-learners need to know in order to effectively teach and learn from each other?” This question led him to the development of the concept of peeragogy (a collection of techniques for collaborative learning and collaborative work) and The Peeragogy Handbook: a peer-to-peer learning guide in the form of a wiki-based “textbook” created cooperatively. Of this Rheingold says, “I was invited to lecture at UC Berkeley in January, 2012, and to involve their faculty and their graduate students in some kind of seminar, so I told the story of how I’ve used social media in teaching and learning – and invited them to help me create a handbook for self-learners.”

Rheingold inspires us to rethink traditional teaching models, reminding us that not only do we learn best by doing, but also that teaching someone what we have learned reinforces our own knowledge.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources
Johns Hopkins University


Image Source: Screen shot from http://rheingold.com/

2013 GSI Symposium Breakout Session 5: Challenges and Rewards of Teaching in a MOOC

A Report from the Trenches

We’re continuing with our reports from the JHU Gateway Sciences Initiative (GSI) 2nd Annual Symposium on Excellence in Teaching and Learning in the Sciences.  Our final report is on the session “Challenges and Rewards of Teaching in a MOOC” presented by Brian Caffo, PhD Associate Professor of Biostatistics, Bloomberg School of Public Health; Kevin Frick, PhD, Professor of Health Policy and Management, Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Ira Gooding, OpenCourseWare Coordinator, Bloomberg School of Public Health.

This breakout session followed Daphne Koller’s (PhD, Co-founder of Coursera and Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University) keynote address: The Online Revolution: Education for Everyone. [Click on the link to see a video-cast of her talk.]

Sample Menu of JHSPH Coursera CoursesSince JHU began working with Coursera in July 2012, The Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) has developed and offered eight massive open online courses (MOOCs) on the Coursera platform. During this session, Ira Gooding, Educational Resource Coordinator in the JHSPH Center for Teaching and Learning, presented an overview of the School’s work so far, including enrollment information, completion rates, and practical insights about the development of MOOCs.

Gooding was joined by two MOOC instructors: Kevin Frick, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Brian Caffo, Professor of Biostatistics. Drs. Frick and Caffo both shared details of their experiences teaching thousands of students via the MOOC model. During the question and answer portion, the panel was joined by two other MOOC instructors: Karen Charron of the Department of International Health and Roger Peng of the Department of Biostatistics. All agreed that MOOCs are a powerful tool for broadening access to high-quality educational experiences that can serve as a supplement or a gateway to more formal and traditional academic pursuits.

Many thanks to Ira Gooding for providing The Innovative Instructor with the notes from this session.

For more information on massive open online courses, see The Innovative Instructor post from January 8, 2013: The ABCs of MOOCS.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: Ira Gooding

The ABCs of MOOCs

If you haven’t heard about MOOCs, you’ve probably been trapped in your office and the classroom for the past six months. Even if you have been hearing talk about MOOCs, you may be wondering what one is and why they are suddenly so much in the press.The Innovative Instructor offers this post on MOOC basics.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. The two fundamental components are open access and the ability to support large scale enrollments. These courses are typically pitched to college level learning without offering credit. In some cases, certification is available (usually at a small cost); several universities are exploring credit options through fee-based MOOC offerings.

MOOCs are new and the landscape is rapidly changing. Although the companies offering these courses point to enrollments in the millions, the average course completion rate is under 10%. An article in The New York Times this week examines the current status of MOOCs and suggests what the future might hold. It is accompanied by a short video that summarizes the start-up period and features clips of faculty teaching MOOCs.

The concept behind MOOCs – offering greater and affordable access to higher education – isn’t new.  Previous models for open access to course materials include the OpenCourseWare initiative started at MIT.  The OCW movement has international participation of hundreds of institutions including the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The Khan Academy, created by MIT and Harvard graduate Salman Kahn in 2005, was another inspiration for MOOCs. The first MOOC was launched at Stanford in 2011 when Sebastian Thrun, a computer science professor, offered an online open-access course on artificial intelligence. 160,000 students from 190 countries enrolled. In early 2012 he founded Udacity to offer MOOCs on a larger scale. Currently the three biggest players in the MOOC field are Udacity, Coursera, and edX.

Course design varies from MOOC to MOOC, and learner experience may differ considerably. In some instances participants watch professors who have video-recorded their face-to-face class lectures and posted them online, accompanied by tests to confirm student comprehension. Other courses may provide short explanatory modules interspersed with quizzes. Some MOOCs make use of discussion boards and other collaborative activities. The faculty member who teaches the course is not likely to grade assigned papers and projects. With the large enrollment in these courses, assignments that can’t be computer-scored tend to be evaluated by peer review.  In those cases, participants serve as both reviewers and submitters, an exercise that can be viewed as a skill acquisition for students.

The appeal of MOOCs is obvious. Want to learn the basics of computer programming? Didn’t have time to take a course on American poetry as an undergraduate? Looking to boost specific knowledge or skills for college, graduate school, or a job? MOOCs offer a low-stakes opportunity to do so. If the teaching method in one course doesn’t match your learning style, it’s easy to move on to another offering. In fact, the best way to learn more about MOOCs is to sign up for a course.

Coursera has 211 course offerings starting in January 2013, with courses running from 4 to 16 weeks. Topics range from Genes and the Human Condition (University of Maryland) to Introduction to Improvisation (Berklee College of Music), including 8 offerings from JHU’s School of Public Health.

edX is showing 23 course offerings as of this posting, with titles such as The Ancient Greek Hero (Harvard), The Challenges of Global Poverty (MIT), and Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Computation (Berkeley).

Udacity is now offering 19 courses in computer science and math from Introduction to Physics to an advanced Applied Cryptography.  All of the courses are open, which means you can sign up any time and complete the course at your own pace without problem set or exam deadlines.

How will MOOCs impact higher education and how will they affect student learning opportunities? These questions were examined in a recent Educause Review article, Online Educational Delivery Models: A Descriptive View.  Here you will find a comprehensive overview of online educational delivery models (including MOOCs) characterized by modality and by method of course design.

Looking for more on MOOCs? Following are links to articles that will provide general information, discussions of the advantages and disadvantages of MOOCs, and examinations of the economics and politics of this so-called “disruptive technology.”

University Affairs/Affaires universitaires, July 31, 2012, Following the herd, or joining the merry MOOCscapades of higher-ed bloggers, Melonie Fullick.  An examination of disruptive innovation, the politics of higher education reform, and the economics of MOOCs.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 13, 2012, Why Online Education Won’t Replace College – Yet, David Youngberg. MOOCs may have some fundamental problems, but we still need to pay attention.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 13, 2012, Don’t Confuse Technology with College Teaching, Pamela Hieronymi.  An opinion piece discussing what educators do and why MOOCs are not a panacea.

Inside Higher Ed, August 31, 2012, Elitism, Equality and MOOCs, Ryan Craig. Accessibility versus elitism: are MOOCs being used to address the real problem in higher education?

The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 3, 2012, Teaching to the World from Central New Jersey, Mitchell Duneier. A thought provoking commentary from a Princeton sociology professor who taught a course in a MOOC platform in spring 2012.

Inside Higher Ed, September 7, 2012, MOOCing on Site, Steve Kolowich. New site-based testing will strengthen credentialing for MOOCs.

Time, October 18, 2012, College is Dead. Long Live College! Amanda Ripley. The author examines the question of whether MOOCs can offer greater accessibility to a college education. Who will benefit and what does this mean for elite (and other) institutions of higher learning?

Inside Higher Ed, January 9, 2013. Paying for Proof, Paul Fain. Lengthy article on monetizing MOOCs, with considerable attention to the new Coursera “pay for proof” verification initiative.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources


Image Source: MOOC Wordle created by Macie Hall