By Doug Sweet
McGill’s initial experiment with Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, has been a success and the first offering, Food for Thought, will be repeated next year.
“I think McGill’s first MOOC went extremely well,” said Chemistry professor David Harpp, who taught the online course with colleagues Joe Schwarz and Ariel Fenster. “Over all, the comments that people are making are really very good and we’re extremely pleased with the result.”
More than 32,000 people from 173 countries, with an average age of 35 (a bit younger than normal) signed up for the MOOC. Almost 1,800 people completed all elements of the course, and another 7,000 people completed at least one assignment or test. This level of participation is a little higher than average, and supports the idea that people are interested in learning for many different reasons. For more information on the success of McGill’s first MOOC, check out the following video.
Before Food for Thought returns in the fall of 2015, other courses are either up and running or soon will be. A MOOC on natural disasters, delivered by Earth and Planetary Science professor John Stix and John Gyakum, Chair of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, launched at the end of May (it’s not too late to register) and renowned Management professor Henry Mintzberg and colleagues will launch McGill’s first GROOC within the next several months. A sports medicine MOOC will begin in January led by Dr. Ian Shrier.
Delivered through an international non-profit consortium called edX, which includes the likes of MIT, Harvard, Cornell, McGill, the University of Toronto and several other leading schools in different countries, edX MOOCs offer the opportunity for literally hundreds of thousands of people to study “at” some of the best universities on the planet on subjects as diverse as computational neuroscience or Walt Whitman’s poetry. Through the Internet. For free.
EdX courses are not for credit. However, if a student completes the program of study with a “grade” of more than 60%, coming from various activities such as quizzes and participation in discussion boards and so on, a certificate of completion may be earned.
McGill’s experiment with MOOCs and GROOCs has been funded by philanthropy, not out of operational funds. One of the most valuable things about MOOCS is the way they teach teachers about more effective ways to teach.
“I think our teaching in the classroom is going to be affected very positively by this experience,” Harpp says in the video. In fact, CHEM 181, the campus course, will be replaced next winter with materials from CHEM 181X, the MOOC. The visual materials prepared for the MOOC are superior to what was available in the campus course, he said, noting there will be an enhanced student TEAM (Tomlinson Engagement Award for Mentoring) group to help the students.
“We’re gaining a lot of knowledge and experience in how to design and produce courses that are going to be delivered in an online environment,” said Laura Winer, Interim Director of Teaching and Learning Services at McGill. There’s more to designing a MOOC, she said, than simply recording lectures from a campus course and putting them up online.
So what’s a GROOC? A Group MOOC or GROOC involves people working and collaborating in groups in order to share their knowledge and experience with others. This results in a more integrated approach to learning and problem solving. According to the Mintzberg GROOC’s website, “this GROOC will expose participants to social learning for social impact, encompassing the following topics: Engaging, Strategizing & Organizing, Designing, Resourcing, Assessing and Scaling – across the stages of start-up, development and proliferation.
“The faculty will comprise top international practitioners and academics who combine the best thinking with the most effective doing. Participants will collaborate on a social initiative through a unique pedagogy that facilitates learning from one another. They will form groups using an online match-making platform that transcends geographic and issue boundaries.”
An offshoot of Mintzberg’s Rebalancing Society initiative, the GROOC is aimed at people who are already working within the social sector to address a social issue and/or advance a social cause, or those who are thinking about contributing to a social initiative. It may also attract people who are concerned about where the world is headed and seeking constructive ways of responding in collaboration with others.
More information about the exact starting date will be available shortly. Interested candidates can pre-register here.