Remember when you learned about this stuff in APUSH?
While we continue to hunch over crappy used textbooks and scribbled notes for most classes at Columbia, the world of education (even for Columbia) has been expanding with the help of the Internet. Education Enthusiast Courtney Couillard met up with Ted Limpert, the Communications and Outreach Manager at the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL), to talk about Professor Eric Foner’s new MOOC.
Bwog: What exactly is a MOOC? What sets it apart from the rest of the online classrooms available?
TL: A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course or, basically, a (mostly) free way to learn on the Internet. The main difference between MOOCs and traditional online courses is that MOOCs are open to anyone anywhere (with the Internet) and can have tens of thousands of students taking a course at any given time. Columbia has “officially” worked with two different MOOC platforms, with about 14 courses on Coursera and 3 courses on edX. What’s cool about edX is that it’s a nonprofit. What’s even cooler about Eric Foner’s MOOCs (a series of 3 different courses) on edX is that all of the content has a Creative Commons license, meaning that anyone can take any piece of the course (video, images, activities, etc.) and reuse/remix it.
Bwog: How did the process go about in terms of getting Professor Eric Foner to sign on to do a MOOC? What aspects of the course did he want to keep or change from his original lecture course to better adapt to the format of a MOOC?
TL: The Chronicle of Higher Ed knocked it out of the park when they called Eric Foner a rockstar. I’m not sure who was the first to approach who, but Professor Foner has always been an advocate of improving access to/understanding of history. He’s been excited at the prospect of reaching more history “students” than he ever has been able to at Columbia.
In terms of the actual MOOCs, we didn’t have to change much. His incredible accolades in the historian-world rival his power and presence in the classroom. Because he’s such a compelling lecturer, we really didn’t have to tweak too much of his material. We did add images, and cut back and forth from various angles, throughout his filmed lectures. Probably the biggest change was that we split his one-semester course into three MOOCs (27 weeks). Professor Foner worked closely with Michael Cennamo, an Educational Technologist at CCNMTL, and Tim Shenk, his lead TA, to develop the courses’ content, which includes discussion questions, short quizzes, longer tests, and other interactive activities. Our video team also filmed Professor Foner at the New York Historical Society and in TA (all Columbia graduate students) discussions. We were also able to connect with Thai Jones, a Columbia Librarian in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, to add images from their rare digital collections of Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War.
Bwog: How has the MOOC been doing so far? Are there many Columbia students signed up, or has it been attracting more off-campus students?
TL: The first MOOC (of three) is doing great! It is in its 5th week, and we have 6,511 people registered. The number grows larger each day. The interesting thing about MOOCs though is that generally less than 10% of people registered actually finish them. We’re not sure entirely why, but we are staying strong with nearly 2,500 people staying active in the course so far. I don’t believe we know if we have any Columbia students currently enrolled/active, but we do know some other things: We have about 50 alumni (and hope to increase that number). We also have students from 136 different countries. Of course, we would love to have more Columbia students.
Honestly, I think Columbia students could really benefit from taking the course, even just parts of it. If anything else, it’s a great way to supplement other material from a class, almost like an interactive virtual textbook. And, in my opinion, Professor Foner is great at incorporating humor into his lectures, making them even more fun and engaging. He has also been on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (unfortunately, not included in the course).
Learn more about why you should take this MOOC after the jump.