Online courses allow for unprecedented interaction

Some of the most vibrant discussions and interaction in one of Kelly Goodson’s courses this semester have taken place outside the classroom.

Professors lauded the interaction in OU’s online classes.

Goodson, a junior at the University of Oklahoma, is taking a course that features a new online learning platform developed at OU.

Now, the university plans to use the system to offer free courses to anyone with an internet connection.

Goodson, 20, is enrolled in “Law and Justice,” one of six courses the university offered this semester using the platform called Janux.

The courses were the beginning of the testing phase for the program, developed in partnership with the Norman-based education technology firm NextThought.

On Oct. 21, the university opened the site to the public. Beginning in January, OU will offer 20 courses on the site, including “History of Science,” “Science of Hydraulic Fracturing” and “Chemistry of Beer.”

Goodson goes to the classroom twice a week. When students aren’t in class, they use the system to access everything they need for the course.

Rather than using textbooks, students read the required passages on Janux. They can also use it to access videos, discuss the reading with classmates or take quizzes.

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The system also allows students to write notes in reading passages, in the same way they might scribble their thoughts in the margins of a textbook. Goodson said that’s especially helpful when the class is reading dense material, such as Plato or Cicero.

“It allows for student interaction in a way that we’ve never seen before,” Goodson said. “It’s been great.”

Kyle Harper, OU’s senior vice provost, said the system draws on the best aspects of social networking sites and brings them into education.

“Our students are social network natives,” he said. “That’s the way they grew up. They love that technology.”

Harper, who also teaches “Law and Justice,” said he’s been surprised by the aspects of the platform the students use most. Analytics data show students tend to watch videos on difficult subjects several times, he said.

Now that the site is open to the public, students can continue taking the courses for credit, while anyone can enroll in a free, noncredit version of any of the courses, Harper said.

Those who enroll in the open, noncredit version will have access to the same materials as students in the for-credit course, Harper said.

OU students who take the courses for credit will have more direct access to the professor.

Harper said the new platform is the signature piece of a larger effort at OU to define how the university uses technology. It provides a way for the university to reach its students more effectively and allow faculty members to share their knowledge with the public at large, he said.

“The ethos of the Web is to share, and to share content in particular,” he said.

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