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Duke expands Coursera offerings

10 faculty to develop next round of online courses

Susan Lozier, chair of the Academic Council, discusses the impact of online course models in higher education at the CIT Showcase.

Duke will continue its experimentation with online learning with the addition of 10 faculty offering new courses through the Coursera platform in the coming year.

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The new courses will cover topics ranging from global health, human rights law and neuroscience to American foreign policy, marine science, and the history and future of higher education. The first of the new courses will begin this fall.

"One of our primary goals in the selection of these courses was to showcase Duke's interdisciplinarity," Susan Lozier, chair of the Advisory Committee for Online Education and the Academic Council, told about 250 attendees at Duke's annual Center for Instructional Technology Showcase.

Duke announced plans last summer to begin offering courses free on the Internet through a partnership with Coursera, a California-based education company that provides a platform for universities to deliver online courses. The first course -- "Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach" taught by Roger Barr -- was launched in September, and the last will conclude in mid-June.

Enrollment in Duke's first 10 Coursera courses topped 725,000, with students from 200 countries.

At the showcase, faculty who taught the first round of Duke's "massively open online courses" (commonly called MOOCs) shared their experiences. Many offered strategies for engaging thousands of students from around the globe in a new learning environment, while using technology to enhance the classroom experience for their students on campus.Students receive no credit for the courses, which include rigorous quizzes and interactive assignments.

Faculty attributed the success of their MOOCs to the community interaction in online discussion forums and in ad-hoc groups that sprang up in countries around the world.

"A MOOC is a social and emotional as well as intellectual learning experience," said Ronen Plesser, who taught introductory astronomy through Coursera. "Nobody has 20 hours a week to spend on something they’re not emotionally invested in."

"Flipping the classroom" -- moving information transfer outside class so students can focus on solving bigger problems during their face-to-face time -- opens up new possibilities for faculty and students, said Guillermo Sapiro, who taught image and video processing through Coursera and used the Coursera materials to "flip" his Duke course this spring.

"I will never go back and teach image processing the way I did before," Sapiro said. "It has completely changed the way I teach this class."

The diversity of the faculty experience illustrates how much is still to be learned about online education, said Lynne O'Brien, director of academic technology and instructional services for Perkins Library.

"Duke decided to try a bunch of different things, quickly, and give faculty a lot of freedom," O'Brien said. "Some universities wanted to make sure their courses were perfect. We said, 'People have different ideas. We'll support all of them and find out what works.' That will be our process going forward: We will let people have a lot of choices and see what works best."

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