Environmental science, opera among MOOC topics selected for 2015

by Amelia Rosch | 5/27/14 6:39pm

The College will offer four massive open online courses through a partnership with edX beginning in early 2015, focusing on introductory environmental science, 19th-century American literature, introductory opera and engineering structural forms. Dartmouth is the final Ivy League institution to offer free courses accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

Fourteen professors submitted proposals to teach a MOOC, and five were selected to teach the four classes.

“The idea is not to have tons of courses,” director of digital learning initiatives Josh Kim said. “It’s a new initiative for us. We have to figure out how to develop courses as we go forward.”

Next winter or spring term, environmental studies professor Andrew Friedland will teach a MOOC modeled after his annual introductory environmental science class.

Kim said the discussion about whether the College should offer MOOCs began a year ago in a committee led by interim vice provost Lindsay Whaley. Kim said the biggest consideration was whether offering open online education would enhance the undergraduate experience at the College.

Noting that the College emphasizes “small, intimate learning,” they questioned whether it made sense for Dartmouth to take its courses to the Internet, Kim said.

Kim said the College decided to offer MOOCs to experiment with new types of learning and apply what works in online courses to the traditional classroom setting. Materials from the online courses will be available through Canvas, he said, and certain aspects of the MOOCs will enter the College versions of the classes.

English lecturer James Dobson, who will teach a MOOC on 19th-century American literature with English professor Donald Pease, said he hopes the class will alter the way he teaches in a classroom setting.

“We have a great feeling about the potential of technology in our intimate learning model,” he said. “We want the chance to experiment and take risks and bring that back to the undergraduate level.”

Pease said he decided to teach a MOOC after students expressed high levels of interest in his undergraduate courses at the College. This spring, 250 students are enrolled in Pease’s “American Drama” course, set at an 160-person limit.

Kim said he expects alumni and other “lifelong learners” to be the primary audience for the online courses.

“These students represent a different population,” Dobson said. “Some have already gone to college, some have advanced degrees, others have never set foot in a university classroom.”

Friedland said he expects to be challenged by larger class sizes and the remote location of the students he teaches.

“One of the things I really cherish is being able to walk around a room and look at people’s faces as I’m teaching to gain an understanding of what’s being understood and what’s not being understood,” he said.

For those courses online, Dobson said he and Pease will not assign the amount of reading they typically would in a College undergraduate English course. Their course will feature shorter fiction works instead of longer novels, Dobson said.

Engineering professor Vicki May and music professor Steven Swayne will teach the other MOOCs.

Swayne was not available for comment by press time.

The article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended: May 28, 2014

Engineering professor Vicki May was not contacted for comment on this story, as the article previously indicated. The story has been corrected.