Vanderbilt teases students, pleases faculty with MOOCs

Positioning its massive open online courses (MOOCs) as “educational outreach” rather than course replacements has helped Vanderbilt University sidestep faculty unrest, InformationWeek reports.

A year into its partnership with MOOC provider Coursera, Vanderbilt has already wrapped up three MOOCs and has another three in the pipeline.

“My role is to work with faculty to think through this project and help the campus have healthy conversation about online learning and what it means,” said Derek Bruff, director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching.

The three noncredit courses — in the schools of nursing, business and computer science — attracted 65,000, 47,000, and 32,000 students, respectively.

Underscoring the Nashville, Tenn., school’s commitment to online education was the creation in July of the Vanderbilt Institute for Digital Learning. One hope is that the institute will analyze the big data coming from the MOOC program — such as the survey results completed by many of the 30,000 students who made it to the end of one of the online courses — and use it to improve teaching concepts in its brick-and-mortar classrooms.

The students, many of them already in their chosen professions, bring a lot to the table, Bruff said. “They’ve vocal and self-motivated, and they bring resources, ideas and feedback about course design,” he said.

On the other hand, designing courses for such a diverse mix of students adds to the complexity of making effective MOOCs, he said. “Making a course run online isn’t easy. You have to rethink its structure and goals,” he says.

… Offering its MOOCs for no credit — although the nursing students could opt to pay for Coursera’s Signature Track to receive a PDF verifying they’d finished the course — goes to the larger point that that Vanderbilt does not see MOOCs as course replacements.

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