More than 210,000 people signed up when the University of Pittsburgh offered its first five massive open online courses (MOOC) last year.

mooc-university-pittsburgh Though that was more than 11 times the number of students enrolled at the Oakland campus, there is little chance the broad-based, distance learning courses will soon replace traditional learning, school officials said.

There is a good chance, though, that these online courses can teach schools better ways to connect technology and education.

“I think for us at Pitt, we are really focused on using technology to enhance learning,” said Cynthia Golden, director of the Center for Instructional Development & Distance Education. “MOOCs are just one of the tools we have.”

The free, mass classes are designed to offer education online to anyone, anywhere without limits on class size.

Without educator support, ‘there is no hope’ for MOOCs

On Jan. 27, Pitt started its second round of MOOCs by relaunching the disaster preparedness course offered in 2013. Two other courses from the first round are scheduled to be revisited this year: “A Look at Nuclear Science and Technology” in March and “Nutrition and Physical Activity for Health” in June.

“I learned a lot, and it was lots of work. But I loved doing it,” said Michael Beach, an assistant professor in Pitt’s nursing school who teaches the disaster preparedness MOOC. “Students can do this any time. If they miss a week, they can jump back in.”

Beach’s six-week course includes weekly videos and Power Point presentations, panel discussions, demonstrations and lively message board discussions. Much of the material was pulled from a for-credit, graduate-level course he teaches at Pitt.

MOOCs, however, are not for credit. Some — including his — offer a certificate to those who complete all of the work.


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