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MOOCs Lead Duke To Reinvent On-Campus Courses

Massive open online courses shake up the way professors teach traditional classes.

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Massive open online courses (MOOCs) may not yet be driving down tuition, but they're starting to kill the traditional lecture class.

At Duke University, professors who teach MOOCs tend to go back and do a radical revision of their on-campus classes.

"That's true for at least half the faculty who developed MOOC classes," said Lynne M. O'Brien, Duke's associate vice provost for digital and online education initiatives. She said this was no surprise: MOOCs free professors from constraints required by for-credit classes, like length and format. "People are free to innovate in ways you can't do with a typical course," she said.

A case in point is the class on logic and critical reasoning taught by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. Last fall, he co-taught one of the most popular classes ever, Think Again: How to Reason and Argue. The Coursera course was a sensation, drawing more than 170,000 students, more than 100,000 of whom participated and viewed the course lectures a total of 4 million times.

[ MOOCs are trying to reach the 99%. See Udacity CEO Says MOOC 'Magic Formula' Emerging. ]

Sinnott-Armstrong and his co-teacher, Ram Neta of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have spent their summers making radical changes not to their Coursera class, but to the similar courses they teach on their respective campuses.

The big shift: far fewer in-class lectures. Students will watch the lectures on Coursera beginning Monday. "Class will become a time for activities and also teamwork," said Sinnott-Armstrong. He's devised exercises to help on-campus students engage with the concepts in the class, including a college bowl-like competition, a murder mystery night and a scavenger hunt, all to help students develop a deeper understanding of the material presented in the lectures.

"You can have these fun activities in the classroom when you're not wasting the classroom time with the lectures," he said. Neta is also moving away from in-class lectures.

There are some changes coming to the Coursera version of their class, as well:

-- Neta is re-recording all his video lectures. For the first Coursera session, he taught them as he would in a live class, walking around and writing on a whiteboard. That created video quality issues. He's now using ScreenFlow, a video creation and distribution package, and recording them while seated, using animations to replace his whiteboard scribbling.

-- Sinnott-Armstrong has re-written the exercises to emphasize mastery learning, where students learn by repeating exercises until they've mastered the material.

-- The course will now use Coursera's keystroke "signature" technology, introduced in January, to verify student identities.

-- Students now have free access to Sinnott-Armstrong's textbook, Understanding Arguments. His publisher is one of several allowing Coursera to integrate digital versions of textbooks into its courses.

What it won't have is Google Hangouts. Think Again was part of a pilot project Google did with Coursera. But "Hangouts was not built for this purpose [student discussions in MOOCs]," said Ryan George, a course operations specialist at Coursera. "Technical changes need to be made to make it a viable tool." He said Google is working on those changes, but an updated version isn't ready yet.

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David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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8/26/2013 | 7:24:10 PM
re: MOOCs Lead Duke To Reinvent On-Campus Courses
The flipped class concept is supposed to be that you view the lecture in what used to be homework time and more of what used to be homework in class discussion or collaborative activity. In theory, it should balance out. In practice, you're right, instructors need to think through the time demands and try to really get the mix right.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
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8/26/2013 | 6:51:14 PM
re: MOOCs Lead Duke To Reinvent On-Campus Courses
What strikes me is the time commitment for students. Where once class time covered the lecture, now the lecture must be done outside, plus the class time is not reduced. If all professors go this route, will students need to reduce their course loads?
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
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8/26/2013 | 6:42:02 PM
re: MOOCs Lead Duke To Reinvent On-Campus Courses
A great example that MOOCs don't have to replace the traditional college classroom to be disruptive. If they can at least spur educators to bring some fresh thinking and approaches to those classrooms, they'll have been hugely influential. But MOOCs eventually will shake up the status quo even more, pressuring the higher education business model.
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