As Massive Open Online Courses become an increasingly prevalent form of online learning in the realm of higher education, Boston University opened its first four MOOCs for registration on Tuesday.
Open to anyone across the globe and completely free of charge, MOOCs were developed at BU to stay current with the trend of technology through education, said Romy Ruukel, associate director of BU’s Digital Learning Initiative.
“MOOCs are a part of a larger campus-wide effort to encourage and support innovative projects in digital learning,” Ruukel said. “Now is the time to ask bold questions about the value of residential and online learning.”
All of the MOOCs are adapted forms of classes that have previously been taught in the conventional classroom setting, but adapted to an innovative online format, Ruukel said.
“We’ve already witnessed how MOOCs, even before their launch, have inspired conversations about pedagogy on campus,” she said. “More than a million learners access the edX platform around the globe. That diversity of a MOOC’s potential audience is a real opportunity for educators.”
Leonard Andres, a natural science senior lecturer in the College of General Studies, developed the MOOC Sabermetrics 101, an introduction to sabermetrics, baseball analytics and data science.
“The advantage of teaching in this format is that all kinds of people have access to BU faculty and teaching,” Andres said. “In the smaller class I just did writing assessments, but in a bigger class setting there’s no way to assess thousands of students.”
Although the experience of face-to-face learning is irreplaceable, Andres said the online format provides a different style of gaining knowledge.
“It’s a different model of learning,” he said. “You can’t discount the experience of face-to-face learning. You get some of that online, but you lose some of the important interactions that would happen in a classroom or lab setting.”
Andrew West, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences department of astronomy, adapted his course Alien Worlds to a digital format in order to help students explore the possibility of life on other planets.
MOOCs allow students to do work in a way in which they would be unable to in a typical classroom, West said.
“There are some real advantages,” he said. “Things that we are going to do in the MOOCs are things that you could never do in the traditional class setting. We are going to build equipment and film demos.”
CAS English professor Robert Pinksy said his MOOC, The Art of Poetry, is a course that adapts seamlessly to a digital teaching style.
“Generally, the audio made possible by the digital medium is well suited to poetry,” Pinksy said. “We will also include video of discussions — eight or nine people discussing with the teacher a topic like ‘Difficulty’ or ‘The Sonnet’ or ‘Poetry and Music’ or ‘Greatness.’”
The motivation for developing the MOOC was to try to accommodate the 80 percent of students enrolled in post secondary education who do not attend school full time, Pinksy said.
“I’ve read that of all the people in the USA registered for post-secondary education, only 20 percent are involved in the four-year, late-teens, full-time model,” he said. “Trying to understand the other 80 percent, to meet some of their needs, seems worth a try.”
Azer Bestavros, co-chair of BU’s Council on Educational Technology and Learning Innovation, said MOOCs are BU’s first attempt at utilizing modern digital learning tools.
“The BU MOOCs are open to anybody in the entire world,” Bestavros said. “As such, MOOCs allow BU to ‘experiment’ with a new way to reach a broader global audience … It is BU’s first step in many other innovative use of online educational technologies.”