Northwestern expands MOOCs program with new courses

Jeanne Kuang, Campus Editor

Northwestern is developing new, free massive open online courses (MOOCs) on the digital Coursera platform, after terminating its for-credit, tuition-charging Semester Online program this past spring.

The University is rolling out five new MOOCs on Coursera, bringing the total number of courses offered by NU to 11 by the end of the academic year, said Marianna Kepka, assistant provost for academic administration.

New courses include “Teaching the Violin and Viola: Creating a Healthy Foundation,” which is being offered this quarter, and “Game On: Mapping a Pathway to Your Career in Health Care,” which will be offered spring 2015.

Later this quarter, the Provost’s Office will also put out a call for proposals for new MOOCs to be developed next year. Each course takes three to six months to develop, Kepka said.

Kepka said the six MOOCs launched last year had “really high enrollment.”

“Instructors were very pleased with the results and what they learned from that experience and what they were able to bring back to their classrooms at Northwestern,” she said.

Between about 20,000 and 60,000 people were enrolled in each of the 2013-2014 academic year’s MOOCs, according to a University report of the program published in September.

One of the MOOCs, an engineering course taught by McCormick Prof. Todd Murphey, improved the learning of NU students who were enrolled in it while also taking Murphey’s engineering class on campus, according to the report.

“These Northwestern students were, as a result of having enrolled in this MOOC, grasping much more complex topics much earlier in the course than he had ever experienced before in teaching that course,” Kepka said.

Kepka said that looking forward, the University is considering how to develop MOOCs more sustainably. She said putting together the courses took time, a “good amount of funding” and support from various NU departments that have “other full-time responsibilities.”

“That’s not a long-term model,” she said. “We’ll have to look at, how do we really develop sustainable support model for them at Northwestern.”

Kepka said the future of MOOCs at NU is not certain, but the University will continue to work on online educational platforms.

“I don’t know if MOOCs are going to be around in five years but we believe that some kind of online learning that’s reaching a wide swath of learners is going to be around,” she said. “This investment in learning, the approach, is a valuable investment and will pay off in the future and will pay off on campus in terms of how our students are learning.”

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Previous stories on this topic:

    Northwestern to offer free online course for alumni
    After discontinuing Semester Online, Northwestern alters online education goals
    Northwestern winter MOOCs to begin Monday