Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies opened its first Massive Open Online Course Wednesday, free and accessible to all students with Internet access around the world.
The MOOC, War for the Greater Middle East, is taught by Professor Emeritus Andrew Bacevich, who retired from BU on Aug. 31. The course, which Bacevich formerly taught to BU students in a classroom setting, is instructing students on U.S. military policy in the Islamic world since 1980, Bacevich said in an email.
“I want them [students] to see the relationship between a whole series of U.S. military actions that have occurred over the past 30-plus years in places ranging from Libya all the way to Pakistan,” he said.
More than 10,000 students have enrolled in the online course to date, Bacevich said. At the end of the fall 2014 semester, the university will evaluate War for the Greater Middle East to determine whether the class will continue to run.
Bacevich compared the teaching format of a MOOC to a “play usually performed in a theater before a live audience is made into a TV series,” and said constructing the course helped him gain a handle on material he will present to students across the globe.
“I’m in the early stages of writing a book on America’s war for the Greater Middle East,” he said. “Preparing the MOOC helped me clarify my thinking for the book.”
Adil Najam, dean of the Pardee School, said Bacevich was well suited to teach the MOOC given his expertise on war in the Middle East.
“It is a mega class with a mega topic,” he said. “And that is to look at what is happening in the Middle East, not through the lens of one war or one campaign or one person or one issue, but as this larger set of conflicts that we in the U.S. and really the whole world are now in the center of.”
In May 2013, BU joined Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to offer courses online through edX, a digital learning platform. BU President Robert Brown launched the Digital Learning Initiative in July 2013, tasked to develop MOOCs at BU.
“The university looked around for what would be the most appropriate course to follow that,” Najam said. “This course was one of those that stood out as something that would be of great importance to the world, of great interest to people everywhere, but also of great importance in the subject itself that would benefit this format, the format of the MOOC.”
Najam said the Pardee School, which opened at the start of the fall 2014 semester, is delighted to welcome its first MOOC and hopes to offer more online course in the future.
“My hope would be that as time goes by, this is an area that we in our faculty continue to be very active in,” he said.
The deadline has passed for students to sign up for Bacevich’s class for the semester, but those interested can still register under audit status and check the edX website later in the semester for spring 2015 MOOC classes.
Several BU students said the course offers a unique opportunity to students, and they are excited by the prospect of learning more about war in the Middle East.
“I can speak for a lot of young people and say that knowledge of the Middle East is something we could all use some more of. American schools tend to not give the Middle East justice in how it’s taught,” said Tom Laverriere, a sophomore in the College of Communication. “[The MOOC is] a class that really explores the history of the Middle East in a more authentic way through a lens that is Middle-Eastern.”
Brandon Best, a junior in the School of Management, said the new MOOC could prove to be a controversial course.
“For someone like me, who doesn’t know much about what’s going on, it might be a good class to get insight,” he said. “If you’re from the Middle East, and you’re in this class, it might make some tension in the class, depending on what the policies are, or the concepts behind the policies. I can see that being an area of tension.”
Jessica Depies, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, took War for the Greater Middle East with Bacevich during the first semester of her freshman year, when the class was offered in the Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College. The class covered events from the aftermath of World War I to the results of the revolutions going on now, she said.
“Going into the class, I didn’t really know about the Middle East. Considering how relevant the region is today, if everyone could take that class, I would recommend they do so,” she said. “It will definitely be different from the way our class was taught. Professor Bacevich has been at BU for a very long time, so the fact that he can continue to spread his knowledge is great.”
J.D. Capelouto contributed to the reporting of this article.