MOOCs Lead Duke To Reinvent On-Campus Courses

Massive open online courses shake up the way professors teach traditional classes.
Duke, meanwhile, marked its first anniversary in the MOOC world in July, and has found it a very different place than traditional online programs.

Duke has offered online degree programs for 14 years, but MOOCs "change the nature of the class activities on campus," O'Brien said. The success of its MOOCs are spurring more blended classes that mix online elements into traditional classes. Some professors are bringing in speakers via videoconferencing. One astronomy professor has opted to start a course in November, because the night sky will coincide with course material.

That spurt of creativity means more work for O'Brien and for the university's supporting arms, including IT. Duke is experimenting with new kinds of technology platforms, and adding new features to its main platform, Sakai. For instance, it liked the feature in Coursera that lets students vote on discussion posts, and went out and found a similar tool for Sakai.

Creating the MOOCs brought together different groups within Duke. The university tapped its Center for Instructional Technology to get advice on teaching techniques. Video production is the big challenge for any MOOC creator, and Duke's IT office was heavily engaged in planning out the video-production schedule. IT tapped Duke Media Services, which traditionally has filmed special events, to do the high-end video production needed for the MOOCs.

Duke also created a new position, online course associate, a hybrid of technology support person and teaching assistant. That new position reflected the need to respond both to technical problems and academic issues.

O'Brien said she also had to manage expectations around support. "There is no way one organization can support (MOOCs), no matter how good it is," she said. But she's also been surprised that some professors are willing to use technologies that aren't rock-solid.

She said creating MOOCs required a faster pace than traditional online courses, and brought with them unknowns, like the technology platform. The Think Again MOOC spanned two rival campuses, creating questions about how to support it, and also about intellectual property.

"It was a pretty wild year, but it was exciting," she said.

MOOCs may be shaking things up, but she, Armstrong-Sinnott and Neta do not think the MOOC will not kill the university as we know it. "The answer is no," O'Brien said. "We'll see a lot of change in the way courses are taught, but in good ways."