Vanderbilt University creates institute devoted to digital learning, MOOCs


Vanderbilt University has created a new institute that will study MOOCs and other forms of online learning.

As the conversation surrounding massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other means of online learning gets louder, many universities are still trying to sort through the noise and find the most effective ways to implement the evolving MOOC technology.

Now Vanderbilt University has created a new institute that it hopes will begin to cut through the MOOC hype.

The Vanderbilt Institute for Digital Learning will focus on creating a strategy for how to best use the online courses offered through the university and through MOOCs, according to an announcement. It will manage Vanderbilt’s partnership with MOOC provider Coursera and the content it creates for the MOOC platform.

The new MOOC initiative, which will be housed in the university’s Alumni Hall, will also study online learning and MOOCs in a broader sense, encouraging faculty and students to research digital resources.

The institute will be led by Douglas Fisher, an associate professor of computer science and computer engineering at the university’s School of Engineering.

“As a research institution of incredible distinction and breadth, Vanderbilt is uniquely positioned to have an impact in digital learning,” Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos stated. “With this new institute and Doug’s leadership, we will explore how to best leverage and shape these tools to increase our own students’ engagement and exposure into research and discovery, and also to bring the knowledge generated by our faculty to traditional and non-traditional students around the globe.”

See Page 2 for more details on the man leading the new institute. 

The institute was created following a recommendation by a committee organized by Zeppos early last year. The Committee on Social Media and the Internet explored how digital communication affected the way students learn and faculty teach, examining social media as well as online learning. The new institute will continue this exploration.

Fisher, a well-known speaker on the idea of “flipping the classroom” and a former program director at the National Science Foundation, stated he was thrilled to lead the new institute.

“The institute represents a commitment by Vanderbilt to understand the changes that are coming, to anticipate them as best we can, and to design for change,” Fisher said, “most notably for the benefit of our students, as well as opening new areas of research, in education, in ‘big data’ and other areas that we still aren’t sure about.”

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