College to announce MOOCs this month

by Marina Shkuratov | 5/14/14 6:49pm

The College will announce its first four massive open online courses, hosted in partnership with the edX online learning platform, later this month. Though the College originally hoped to launch its first MOOC this fall, followed by three additional courses during the 2014-15 academic year, director of digital learning initiatives Josh Kim said the College now plans to release its first course early in 2015.

A total of 14 professors from the College and graduate schools submitted proposals to teach MOOCs, and 20 more expressed interest in contributing to the program, interim vice provost Lindsay Whaley said.

Whaley, who works as a liaison between edX and Dartmouth, said the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning will begin developing the first MOOC this summer. A total of four classes will be produced in the coming year and at least one or two will be offered online in the next 12 to 18 months, he said.

Creating each course will involve faculty members, an instructional designer, a video production crew and a project manager, Whaley said. People currently working at the College have the expertise to fill these positions, Whaley said, but videography may be outsourced pending the needs and schedules of College employees.

“Part of our challenge is making sure we can use our existing infrastructure in a way that’s not competing with other needs that we have on campus,” he said.

Depending on the success of the first four offerings, Kim said the program will continue with approximately four new online courses each year.

The Center for the Advancement of Learning will measure the courses’ success based on faculty members’ experiences and evaluate whether the MOOCs were helpful in improving academics at the College, Whaley said.

Faculty interest in the program has varied, with some professors considering it a positive opportunity to experiment and others worrying that the time commitment would be too extensive, Whaley said, adding that some believe their classes would not benefit from participating in a MOOC.

Kim said the primary audience for Dartmouth’s online courses will be “lifelong learners” including alumni and those working full-time jobs. Dartmouth students will not be the primary users, Kim said, because they already have access to a high-quality education at the College.

One of the challenges with MOOCs is the hype they have garnered, Kim said, as some believe the courses will change education entirely.

Dartmouth’s MOOC program, in contrast, is geared toward improving the College’s already effective “intimate learning model,” he said.

The College decided to partner with edX and release MOOCs to promote experimentation with new technologies, Kim said. Online courses foster the use of new high-quality digital material, he said, which can be adapted to “active experiential learning” in classroom settings.

The edX consortium will also provide a large amount of anonymous data from its hundreds of thousands of users, Kim said, which can indicate what works and what does not.

Director of academic and campus technology services Alan Cattier said that in addition to improving educational opportunities, MOOCs have potential to make a global impact by bringing Dartmouth to people in places it has never before reached.

Whaley said that participating in edX also gives faculty the opportunity to gain additional exposure.

Academics at other institutions have questioned whether MOOCs may “undermine the academic mission” by potentially replacing people with technology, Whaley said, adding that Dartmouth professors understand the program’s underlying goals.

“We actually see this as a way to enrich what we’re already doing, not to replace it,” Whaley said.

The College has also been working on a separate initiative for “gateway courses,” or high-volume, introductory lecture-style classes, Whaley said.

The initiative would allow faculty members to meet with the Center for Advancement of Learning to discuss ways to meet their goals within the context of a gateway course. Some of these changes may involve technology, Whaley said, but the program will not focus exclusively on technological solutions.

“Nobody here believes technology can solve every problem,” Whaley said. “But in some cases, technology can be very helpful.”

Professors, Whaley said, are currently submitting proposals to participate in the initiative and will ideally teach three or four newly-designed gateway courses during the 2015-16 academic year.