A panel lead by faculty discussed their experiences in teaching courses online Friday morning.
The forum was a response to an April meeting of the Arts and Sciences Council that voted against a motion to adopt online courses for credit. Subsequently, the University’s contract with 2U—an online education company—was broken.
“The April resolution of the Arts and Sciences Council encouraged the faculty and council to encourage and support faculty that are experimenting with online teaching and learning,” said Thomas Robisheaux, chair of the council.
All of the professors that spoke had developed and taught a Massive Open Online Course.
“The faculty really want to and need to know what we are currently doing with online learning,” Robisheaux said.
Orin Starn, professor and chair of the cultural anthropology department, said he was eager to try teaching an online class.
Before he began developing his MOOC, however, Starn said that he had not considered the ethical implications of working in an online forum, nor had he realized how much work would go into producing the course.
“It is a nightmare just how hard it is to teach these classes,” Starn said.
He estimated that it took 20 times more effort to complete the lessons for his MOOC than for his in-person course.
MOOCs are an exciting learning option, Starn said, noting, however, that it cannot compare to the value of a face-to-face lesson.
“The whole experience was really time consuming, and really too much for me,” Starn said.
Open online classes offer a more democratic learning process where students have access to Duke-quality education, regardless of socioeconomic standing or high school grades, Starn said.
“Online education is this big word that encompasses so many things going on that it is a mistake to jump from MOOCs to for-credit courses to everything else that is going on,” Starn said.
Although his experience with MOOCs was mixed, Starn is choosing to teach the course again and is looking forward to it.
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chauncey Stillman professor of practical ethics, said that in his experience, the second time a professor runs a MOOC is much easier than the first.
“I don’t think the advent of online education represents this thing that we need to be ultra-suspicious about,” Starn said.
Ronen Plesser, associate professor of physics, said that teaching his MOOC was a “very exciting” experience.
“It took me 600 hours because—since there is no audience response—I felt like I had to sharpen all of my arguments to the strength of a textbook,” Plesser said.
He added that this allows professors the ability to “crowd-source” information in a similar fashion to the way they can on campus.
“Every discussion becomes an open discussion, and these discussions were amazing,” Plesser said.
Despite receiving negative feedback from her colleagues at other schools about teaching writing online, Denise Comer, assistant professor of the practice in writing, is choosing to teach her introductory writing MOOC for a second time.
Last year more than 80,000 students enrolled, around 12,000 completed the class.
Comer utilized extensive peer grading sheets and Google Hangout sessions to engage her students in the course.
To test her own product, Comer enrolled as a student under a pseudonym. She said that the peer feedback she received was fantastic, though she knew that not all students had the same experience.
Several faculty members expressed concern that the panel did not speak about aspects of online education aside from MOOCs.
“MOOCs are synonymous with online, but online is not synonymous with MOOCs,” said Margaret Riley, director of the Global Education Office for Undergraduates.
Robisheaux noted that there will be several more faculty panels that focus on online education throughout the year.
Alexander Glass, an instructor in the Nicholas School, said that as a non-tenured professor, he felt that he has been pressured by the University and society to refocus his teaching to online forums.
“No one has been pressured to do MOOCs,” Provost Peter Lange said.
He added that course compensation for teaching online courses is much lower than comparable in-person classes.
“It is a crazy world out there in MOOC-land,” Starn said.