To MOOC or Not to MOOC?

17 Apr

By Venkat Viswanathan

That is the question. Except it wasn’t really a question for me. I decided to teach a MOOC even before I taught my first college course. My friend Frank Wang (then an undergraduate at Stanford) had helped Dan Boneh teach his cryptography course through Coursera. His stories made the intellectual challenge of teaching a MOOC sound exciting.

I was also inspired by a Clayton Christensen video about disruption in higher education. Christensen argued that when an innovation makes a complicated and expensive product simpler, it can quickly destabilize even large, well-established institutions. Higher education, he argued, is one such institution. Costs have spiraled to such an extent that the advent of any new, lower-cost delivery mode is likely to spark rapid, dramatic change. Some of my colleagues view these changes in a negative light, but I believe they will make universities more powerful and relevant.

Finally, I’m an engineer, so I’m fascinated by scale. How do you take a scarce resource, like high-quality education, and provide it to more people across a larger geographical area without diluting the quality? This seemed like an interesting and worthwhile problem to solve.

So I decided to make a MOOC. I’ve spent the past four months working to develop Statistical Thermodynamics: Molecules to Machines, which will launch on Coursera later this month. It’s been a wild ride: work-intensive, humbling, enlightening and — despite the exhaustion — fun. I wanted to share what I’ve learned with colleagues contemplating a similar undertaking. Consider it encouragement with a large dose of caution.

Choose the right course to offer. If you build it, will they come? With more and more courses available in the MOOC-osphere, the “massive” part is by no means a foregone conclusion. With that in mind, I thought hard about what course to develop. I decided that since many introductory-level MOOCs already exist, I should focus on an advanced course. I chose advanced thermodynamics, figuring it would be useful to all engineers and a logical course to follow the thermodynamics course Chris Cramer was running on Coursera.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on April 17, 2015 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed


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