Category Archives: News

News from Duke about Online Education Initiative

Thank you from Iran

With their Duke Coursera MOOC, “Think Again: How to Reason and Argue,” wrapping up, professors Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Ram Neta received a thank you note from one of their students, Dan, based in Iran. Below is a copy of the thank you note as well as a picture of Dan and some of his fellow classmates from the Think Again course.

Dear Walter and Ram,

I am writing on behalf of a study group for your Think Again course in Mashad, Iran. You guys probably get this kind of reaction a lot, but I can barely begin to communicate all the excitement your course caused among us. Not only did it inspire us to study the material you provided on Coursera, but we also got hold of a copy of Walter’s book (Understanding Arguments) and read the corresponding chapters every week. So, in the spirit of thanking you for all the time and effort you put into preparing the material, we decided to email you guys to thank you personally. Also, apparently, you are planning to offer the course again shortly, but we were wondering if any of you were planning to offer any new courses with a similar theme?

We learned a lot, and hope we can put it to some good use in our lives, and we are forever grateful.


Photo used with permission.


Lessons Learned: Revising Course Design Recommendations for Faculty Teaching MOOCs

Duke University’s Center for Instructional Technology has updated its faculty guide for building a MOOC.

When Duke agreed to begin offering MOOCs through Coursera in July of 2012, we joined just a handful of universities that had chosen to extend their educational offerings to the world via this emerging medium.  As a result, we quickly found that there was not a lot of information available within the educational community that addressed how to go about creating MOOCs.

In order to provide the best possible support to the intrepid group of instructors who agreed to join us in plunging head-first into this new educational arena, all of the Duke stakeholders involved in this great experiment worked together to develop a set of processes to guide the huge undertaking of building an effective, high-quality course.  Randy Riddle detailed the resulting large and collaborative process in his excellent and thorough post, “What does it take to prepare a Duke Coursera course?”

To streamline our part of the process here in the Center for Instructional Technology, we formed three working groups: a Programmatic group, a Technical group, and a Pedagogical group.  The Programmatic group dealt with administrative matters such as developing a policy for course completion certificates and handling media and PR, while the Technical group examined tasks such as working out procedural details for video creation and using the Coursera platform.

The Pedagogical group focused primarily on course design and planning.  Broadly speaking, the question that this group aimed to answer was: How, exactly, does one design a pedagogically effective course for, say, a hundred thousand students?  The group recognized that, just as there was no canonical set of rules and processes for schools to follow in order to build a MOOC, there were not really any course design resources available within the academic community to support faculty who wished to teach a MOOC.  So, the group resolved to create one.  We decided that the document should:

  • serve as an “instruction manual” for faculty designing a MOOC.
  • provide procedures and recommendations for general course design, assessment techniques, and matters related to faculty/student and student/student communication.
  • be useful for instructors who teach a variety of subjects and employ a wide range of teaching styles in the “traditional” classroom.
  • include guidelines and best practices that help instructors meet the unique challenges, and harness the unique opportunities, presented by the large number and wide geographic and cultural diversity of students taking the class.

To help us develop this document, we turned to a number of existing course design resources that focused on “traditional” face-to-face or online classes, and tried to determine how to apply time-tested principles to a MOOC.

The resulting document, which attempted to cover all of the aforementioned bases in just two short pages (you’ll see that we needed a little extra), can be found in its first form here.

While we’ve been working with instructors on the first 11 Duke MOOCs, we have recognized that it is time to upgrade the guide to “version 2.”  While our original document was indeed a helpful tool for faculty members teaching these courses, it could now be revised to reflect experience gained directly from creating and teaching MOOCs.

A few of the bigger “lessons learned” that led to changes in the document are detailed below, and the second version of the guide can be found at

Additionally, our changes acknowledged recent enhancements to the Coursera platform, such as the inclusion of the Peer Assessment tool.  We also tweaked the formatting and wording in order to clarify the intent of the document.  Overall, we feel that the guide has been successful in providing a starting point for faculty teaching MOOCs.  We consider the document to be a “living” one, and we will continue to update its content as we learn from our current and future experiences.

Lessons Learned

High Impact of Forums

We may not have underemphasized instructor involvement in the forums as much as OVERemphasized the concept that instructors in this type of massive online course have the greatest influence on student learning through pre-created materials and course organization.  We knew that instructors would want to keep track of what was happening in the forums, and perhaps offer “just-in-time” type videos on occasion to address issues that came up in forum discussions or to offer new ideas.  But, we also assumed that it would be a huge challenge for instructors to actively participate on a regular basis because of the sheer scale of the class.  This goes back to our initial goal of letting professors know how important it is to set expectations for students in the class. We thought:  Well, if an instructor begins to interact with some students via a forum post, then all of the students in the class will expect personal replies and individual attention.

The truth is that students, for the most part, appear to understand that the course is large, and are willing to accept and respect guidelines and expectations that the instructor provides.

For example, we have some instructors who have recruited individuals, sometimes former students from their actual Duke classes, to be their eyes and ears in the class.  These delegates read through the forums and let the instructor know what’s happening.  More frequently, though, our instructors have chosen to spend a lot of time in the forums reading what their students are saying and replying quite often.  In fact, one instructor told us that he is spending four times as much time as he expected each day inside the class reading and posting.  He referred to the practice of actively participating with his students in forum discussions as “addictive.”  This has worked for him because he told his students up front: “I will be in in the forums, and I will sometimes post in the forums…but please understand that not every post will get a reply from me.”  Students understood that.

Also, instructors are using the forums in ways that we didn’t foresee, including using them to drive assignments.  Walter Sinott-Armstrong and Ram Neta used the forum to deliver an assignment in their class Think Again: How to Reason and Argue.  They had students post short arguments that they had constructed to a forum, then asked the class to rate each others’ arguments (using the Coursera forums’ built-in ability to rate posts “up or down”).  After a set period of time, the instructors took the top ten arguments that rose to the top through that voting process and recorded short videos where they personally deconstructed and reacted to those arguments.  So, in this particular case, the forum actually played a direct role in driving instruction.

Possibilities for Face-to-Face Contact with Students

The idea of creating any sort of live interaction between students and the instructor in a class of this size didn’t seem practical when we started putting the guide together.  But, over time, we saw several of our instructors begin to use Google Hangouts to offer a limited face-to-face experience to their students.  Some of our courses began to set up Hangouts that included the instructor, the TA, and several students.  Instructors chose which students would participate in a number of ways, including first-come-first-served and rewarding students who participated heavily in forum discussions.  The hangout was broadcast live to allow non-participating students to watch, and, in many cases, recorded and posted inside the course site for those students who couldn’t watch it live to view at a later time.  Here is a YouTube video of one of Mohamed Noor‘s Hangouts from the Genetics and Evolution class.

Some Hangouts also attempted to engage a larger number of students by accepting questions and comments sent in via chat or e-mail while the Hangout was underway.  Instructors found that this was difficult to manage while maintaining direct involvement in the live discussion.  One way to manage this might be to employ an unseen “moderator,” or a person in a similar role.

Range of Roles for Teaching Assistants

Most of the courses to date have had TAs, and the role that they play is pretty important.  We initially assumed that the TA would be highly involved in running the class, but would play a quiet supporting role, serving as a delegate who was the “eyes and ears” of the instructor.  In those courses where the instructors are unable to engage in a lot of direct interaction with students in the forums, the TAs have ended up filling that role, and students are quite happy to accept that.

In fact, we’ve had one TA who has assisted in two courses (to date), and the students in his first course loved him so much that a number of them “followed” him and enrolled in the second course, which, incidentally, was in a completely different subject area.


MOOCs in the news

As Duke experiments with online learning, including several MOOCs in the Coursera platform, Massive Online Open Courses continue to be highlighted in the news. The CIT staff post articles of interest on our website on MOOCs and other topics related to instructional technology trends in the “What We’re Reading” section on our home page.

In case you missed some of the articles there, here are highlights of what people have been saying about MOOCs in recent weeks.

MOOCs at universities and faculty views

The making of a MOOC at the University of Amsterdam (GlobalHigherEd blog, 2/5/2013)
A faculty member discusses work on the University of Amsterdam’s first MOOC.

U Va using MOOC to connect students with entrepreneurs, non-profits (Campus Technology, 2/7/2013)
The course, offered by the Darden School of Business, allows opportunities for students to analyze data from real entrepreneurial and non-profit ventures.

MOOCs, MOCCs, and Harvard X (Inside Higher Ed, 2/14/2013)
Blog post on a HarvardX Town Hall meeting for Harvard faculty.

The Most Thoroguh description (to date) of university experience with a MOOC (e-Literate, 2/12/2013)
Blog post praising Duke’s report on Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach.

Expanding pathways to MOOC credit (Inside Higher Ed, 2/7/2013)
ACE deems five MOOC courses worthy of credit, including two offered by Duke.

MOOC trends and news

Online courses put college-level learning just a click away (Bergen County Record, 3/2/2013)
Overview of trends in MOOCs and questions being asked about them by faculty and universities.

Twice as many MOOCs (Inside HigherEd, 2/21/2013)
Article on Coursera and edX adding universities and courses to expand their global reach.

MOOC Completion rates: The Data
An online data visualization based on information from Coursera, EdX, Udacity and MITx.

Opinion pieces

Three higher education trends to watch for in 2013 (University World News, 1/19/2013)
MOOCs are among the three major trends discussed by the author.

Beyond the buzz, where are MOOCs really going?  (Wired, 2/20/2013)
Wired opinion piece by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn

Your massively open offline college is broken (The Awl, 2/7/2013)
Clay Shirky on alternatives to a traditional higher education degree.

Revolution hits the universities (NY Times, 1/26/2013)
Op-ed by Thomas L. Friedman on MOOCs.

Learning from MOOCs (Inside Higher Ed, 1/24/2013)
Andrew Ng on what faculty can learn from MOOCs.


Participation and completion of MOOCs

At least a dozen people this week sent me a link to a new web site which attempts to synthesize data about the “completion rate” of massive open online courses (MOOCs) across platforms and institutions, and to correlate these data points with characteristics of the courses. Given the large amount of higher ed press highlighting this type of MOOC data, it’s hardly surprising to see this kind of effort.  Since I assume I am the source of some of the data points in the chart (at least indirectly through previous blog posts), I wanted to weigh in on the limits of this approach to defining best practices for MOOCs or measuring quality (which seem to be the two implied goals of the analysis).

Why is it not reasonable to infer that if a student enrolls in a MOOC and doesn’t finish, that something is wrong with either (a) the student or (b) the course (which is basically what we would usually assume in the analogous situation in a campus course)?  There are lots of reasons, but here are my top 5.

  1. They never started the course in the first place. Based on data about Duke’s Coursera courses, anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of students who enroll in our MOOCs never come back and log in after the course begins. To quote Sophocles Antigone, “When I have tried and failed, I shall have failed.”
  2. They never intended to finish. MOOCs are a new phenomenon, so it’s not surprising that they attract a lot of people who are interested in learning (or in Duke, or in the faculty member, or in the topic) but aren’t very concerned about completing the course. General curiosity about online courses is an important reason for enrolling for about 1/3 of our MOOC students. In one of our courses, Earning the Statement of Accomplishment was rated as very or slightly unimportant by at least half of the students, and in that same course, was very important to only about 10% of them.
  3. Anyone can sign up. Of course this is the point of MOOCs, but I think we all agree that there are a lot of things that narrow the pool of students before a campus course begins including (but not limited to) a secondary school education,  the admissions office, the bursar’s office, whether or not they’ve passed the prerequisites as defined on our campus, and the number of seats in the classroom.
  4. The incentives for finishing are unclear…  The jury is definitely out on what kind of value a certificate or Statement of Accomplishment per se from most MOOCs has for a student in the short and long term. I still like having mine posted on my office wall, but I don’t list the fact of having completed any MOOC on my CV (yet). By contrast, students taking a campus course have quite a few incentives to finish (and definitely some consequences for not finishing, both financial and academic).
  5. …And a lot of the students are really busy with more important things. In our largest course, about 2/3 say they work either full or part time, with full time  outnumbering part time 2:1. About 1/3 are currently students (including pre-college, undergrad and grad). And quite a few are students who work.

None of this means that it doesn’t matter how many students finish, or that we shouldn’t investigate whether there are MOOCs that are more effective than others in retaining students who want to complete them. It’s exciting to see data from across platforms and institutions about the MOOC phenomenon. And I love the creative crowdsourced approach to getting it, since many of these courses haven’t made data readily available about their outcomes. But if we’re going to gather metrics, let’s find some that seem to have more meaning behind them. Here are a couple of suggestions for how we can talk about the outcomes of a MOOC. If you have others, please add your comments.

  1. What proportion of students are satisfied with the learning achieved relative to the effort/time invested?
  2. What is the completion rate for the course as a proportion of those who signal that they intend to complete AND begin doing the graded work?
  3. What is the sustained participation rate in the course – how many students log in every week and participate in the course by watching videos, taking quizzes, and/or participating in the online community forums?
  4. Last, but by no means least, what kind of learning outcomes are achieved?


Intro to Human Physiology, Duke’s newest MOOC

intro_physioThis week marks the launch of Duke University’s latest Coursera MOOC, “Introductory Human Physiology.” Over 64,000 students have enrolled in this foundational course to build an understanding of the normal function of the human body. This 11 week course was developed by Emma (Mimi) Jakoi, PhD and Jennifer Cabrey, PhD both from the Department of Cell Biology at Duke University. This course is also one of a relatively small number of Coursera offerings currently eligible for a Verified Certificate under the Coursera Signature Track program that links course participation to a student’s verified identity.

Since the course site was opened, more than 22,000 students have logged in to begin studying the materials, completing problem sets and participating in the online discussions.  More than 70,000 streaming views and 27,000 downloads have been recorded so far. Although the course is but a few days old, over 16,000 students have viewed the Course Introduction and more than 3000 have completed the first week’s course videos.

Almost 1,000 students have joined the discussion forums in the course web site, but there are a range of options for making connections with other students. Study Groups forming range from an International Facebook study group with ~290 members to many smaller affinity groups by language, region, time zone or nationality such as Greece, Malaysia,”Global China,” Portuguese speakers and students in the Eastern US time zone. Participants hail from more than 130 countries and of course include many aspiring doctors, a Canadian farmer and an industrial engineer in Haiti. It’s not too late to join them!

Saying goodbye to IntroAstro


Last week marked the conclusion of Duke’s third Coursera MOOC, Introduction to Astronomy, or “IntroAstro” as it was nicknamed by Dr. Ronen Plesser. Over 60,000 students registered for this eight week “journey through the cosmos” intended for students with little or no prior knowledge of astronomy.

  • More than 36,000 unique students viewed at least one video during the course, with the number of unique students watching lectures in a single week peaking at over 22,000 students.  An average (median) of 6,700 unique students viewed lectures during each week after the first two weeks. About 5,000 students watched all of the lectures. Over 750,000 streaming and nearly 800,000 video downloads were recorded. 
  • Over 25,300 students attempted the in-video quizzes, and over 16,700 attempted the graded homework problem sets (about 28% of enrolled students).  Over 2,100 students (~13% of those attempting the problem sets) were awarded a Statement of Accomplishment; including ~1,100 who met the more rigorous Distinction level criteria (85% vs 70%).
  • Approximately 2,900 unique students posted the discussion forums, and over 90% of the discussion forum activity was among students. The instructor and the TA contributed nearly 2,000 posts and comments to the forums.
  • Student participation in the forums was correlated with student success. Those earning the Statement of Accomplishment represented approximately 2/3 of all student discussion forum posts and comments, and students earning a Distinction level certificate averaged 5 posts and 5 comments vs. students earning the Normal level who averaged 2 posts and 2 comments.


    Dr. Ronen Plesser hosts a Google Hangout with Coursera students in Introduction to Astronomy

  • In addition to video lectures, problem sets and lively discussion forums, IntroAstro also offered six Google Hangouts with Professor Ronen Plesser; four of these were broadcast to YouTube and have been viewed over 3,000 times, and a Facebook community for the course generated over 4,700 “Likes”. 

Students found the course to be extremely challenging; although some found completing the problem sets too difficult, many students enjoyed these challenges or participated by watching the videos. As Dr. Plesser noted in his final message to the class, the course was “fully as rigorous and extensive as the one I offer my students at Duke” and a “remarkable experience.”  Here are just a few sample final reflections from the students, who provided valuable feedback throughout the course.

“I took the course for enrichment and so that I could understand what some of my astronomer/astrophysicists friends were doing. I had expected a more qualitative course, but this course was wonderful, taking me back to my MIT undergraduate days.”

“The homeworks were brutal and humbling (albeit stimulating and educational)…”

“Unfortunately I did not have enough time to do the homeworks, so I am sure I missed a very important part of the course, but little by little I will study the solutions given. But I followed with great attention all the lectures.”

We’ll report back in a month or so with a more detailed assessment of the course outcomes and lessons learned. In the meantime, a hearty congratulation from all of us at Duke to the students as well as to Dr. Plesser and TA Justin Johnsen at the conclusion of their cosmic journey.

Duke MOOCs earn ACE credit recommendations

The American Council on Education has announced that five Coursera MOOC courses have earned credit recommendations.  Two of the courses – Mohamed Noor’s “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution” and Roger Barr’s “Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach” – are part of Duke’s Coursera effort.

The ACE’s  process includes faculty reviewers who consider creditworthiness,  content, pedagogical approaches, technical issues, student-faculty interaction and security of assessments.  Duke’s two courses have earned credit recommendations from ACE.

Inside Higher Ed has more information on the announcement, including remarks from Duke Provost Peter Lange, and the Chronicle of Higher Education has an article online about the recommendations.

Bioelectricity MOOC Report and Relaunch

It seems like only yesterday that Duke launched its first Coursera MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) in September 2012, “Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach.” We invite you to read our newly released report about the initial offering of this course and to share your questions and comments below.

In fact, it was just yesterday (February 4) that “Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach“ Spring 2013 was made available to its second cohort of students. Just over 4,000 users so far have registered for Duke’s second offering of this course, and since then, nearly 1,400 have logged in, and about half of those students have begun watching course videos.

As we saw in the fall offering, these students represent diverse array of backgrounds.

  • Students represent over 80 countries; only 1/3 currently reside in the United States
  • A majority are students (25% undergrads, 25% grad students and 5% pre-college)
  • About 60% are over 25 years of age
  • Over 1/3 are currently working full time or part time, and about 1/4 are scientists or other professionals

Interested? It’s not too late to enroll. We invite you to join these students on what Dr. Barr promises will be an intriguing, productive adventure.

For more information on Duke’s online courses, click here:

Image and Video Processing, Day One

This week marks the launch of Duke University’s sixth Coursera course, “Image and Video Processing: From Mars to Hollywood with a Stop at the Hospital.” Led by Guillermo Sapiro, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, this nine week course aims to enable its participants to unlock the extraordinary potential of digital visualizations through science of image and video processing. As Professor Sapiro explains in his introductory video,

 “Images today more than ever are part of our lives, from the thousands of images we take with our cell phones to the beautiful images we get to see from Mars. And we shouldn’t forget that medical imaging is a very important component of modern medicine. In this class we’re going to learn the magic that makes all of this possible.”

Professor Sapiro opened the course site last week to allow students a brief preview, and over 3000 additional students enrolled during the preview week to a current total of over 22,000 students. On January 14, all Week 1 materials were published and the course officially began. Over 10,400 students (just under 50% of registrants) logged into the course site in the first day and more than 7200 watched videos. Over 1000 attempted a quiz in those first few hours of class (with still two weeks to the deadline) and more than 450 had already joined the discussion forums.  The most up ‘upvoted’ discussion thread was started by Professor Sapiro himself, where he thanks students for their enthusiasm for the course during its pre-launch week. Study groups are forming in Facebook, on Skype, by time zone, and in several languages including Italian, Chinese, Russian and Spanish.

Congratulations to our newest Duke faculty member on Coursera and his new students!

For more information on Duke’s online courses, click here:

Upcoming Duke Coursera Offerings

Looking to learn something new in 2013? Duke is offering online courses through Coursera that are free for anybody to join.

Mohamed Noor began the second offering of Genetics and Evolution on January 4, and it is not too late to get started. Sign up here.

Guillermo Sapiro starts teaching Image and video processing: From Mars to Hollywood with a stop at the hospital on January 14. He has released some lecture videos as a preview before the class starts. Sign up here.

Roger Barr will be teaching Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach for the second time starting February 4. Sign up here.

More upcoming Duke classes to be offered on Coursera:

February 25
Mimi Jakoi for Introductory Human Physiology

March 18
Denise Comer for English Composition I: Achieving Expertise

March 25
Dan Ariely for A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior
Len White for Medical Neuroscience

April 30
Orin Starn for Sports and Society

For more information on Duke’s online courses, click here:

Duke’s Gates Foundation funded English Composition course opens for enrollment

As previously reported in Duke Today, Duke’s Denise Comer (Assistant Professor of the Practice in Writing and Director of First-Year Writing in the Thompson Writing Program) was awarded a grant by the Gates Foundation to develop a massive open online course (MOOC) in English Composition.

Comer’s course – English Composition I: Achieving Expertise – opened for enrollment in late December 2012, and has already seen over 8000 students sign up. Visit the course’s information page on Coursera’s website for more information.  In addition to Comer’s introductory video (see below), the info page on Coursera’s site also includes a link to an open survey where enrolling students can share why they want to improve their writing. The course is currently being developed and won’t officially open until March 18.


For more information on Duke’s online courses, click here:

Mohamed Noor shares his experience teaching in a MOOC

Dr. Noor taught Introduction to Genetics and Evolution in the Coursera platform from October 10 through December 17, and has written a thoughtful and enthusiastic reflection of his experience in his blog.  He discusses the surprises, including how much he loved teaching the class, the enthusiasm of the students and the sense of community.  He says it best, so go read it. He says:

I often felt like I was the owner of an ice cream store giving away free ice cream.   The constant expressions of appreciation for the opportunity to learn this material and of excitement about the material itself in the discussion forums was so stimulating and personally rewarding to me.

How active and interested are his students?  They are commenting on his blog post about teaching the course, some fewer than two hours after it was published.

More on Dr. Noor’s Introduction to Genetics and Evolution course:

It’s best to read Dr. Noor’s impressions in his own words: Teaching a MASSIVE online class

Or take the course yourself. It’s starting again on January 4th, 2013.



For more information on Duke’s online courses, click here:

Massive Open Online Courses as Drivers for Change

At the December 2012 Coalition for Networked Information meeting, I described some of the ways Duke’s experiments with Massive Open Online Courses are shaping conversations at Duke and in other areas of higher education.  Duke’s goals in experimenting with MOOCs are to drive teaching innovation in both campus-based and online courses, to share Duke’s knowledge in service to society and to expand Duke’s reach and reputation in a global environment. This presentation provides an overview of Duke’s activities with Coursera, the impact of MOOCs on library planning and academic technology support, the rapidly evolving format of MOOC courses and implications for campus-based courses in the near future. The talk is now available on CNI’s two video channels.



For more information on Duke’s online courses, click here:

Introduction to Genetics and Evolution, a preliminary report

On Monday December 17, Duke University’s second MOOC, “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution” came to a successful conclusion as 1705 students were issued a Statement of Accomplishment signed by Professor Mohamed Noor, Earl D. McLean Professor and associate chair of biology.

With a peak enrollment near 33,000, this course is Duke’s largest completed MOOC to date. About half of the enrolled students logged in after the course was opened, and over 6400 students submitted the problem set for the first week. Ultimately, 2164 students took both the midterm and final and 1705 of those students (nearly 80%) completed the course requirements. Based on the Facebook course page and forums in Coursera, a number of participants plan to repeat the 10 week course when it is offered again beginning in January 2013. In a pattern typical of MOOCs, activity peaked during the first two weeks of the course.

With an average 74 minutes of video per week plus problem sets, most successful students spent more than 4 hours per week on course activities. The course’s forums were particularly educational, lively and heart-warming. In addition to many hundreds of threads discussing the concepts in the videos and problem sets, students encouraged and supported each other within the course that they frequently found to be very challenging, and praised of Dr. Noor for his personable style and consistent engagement.  Justin Johnsen, the course TA, was also a popular participant in the forums, responding to students and keeping a blog to share course statistics with the participants. For a more human perspective on the course experience, see CIT’s recent post, Meet some Coursera students studying Genetics & Evolution.

Students in the forums said they would miss their ‘Sir Noor’ (as the class dubbed him via the forums) and his cheery “Hello” which opened each video. As one student noted, “Every time Professor Noor ends a video by saying, ‘I hope you enjoyed this,’ I say out loud, ‘ABSOLUTELY I enjoyed it!’”

In his final message to the students, Professor Noor commented,

“I’ve truly loved teaching this class (it’s my first experience with a MOOC) – I feel like I’ve made thousands of new friends and learned a lot from your discussion forum posts. You’ve also helped me refine my understanding of the material with your questions… I hope to apply that refinement to future iterations of the class.”

Over 700 responses have already been received to the end of course survey distributed this morning; 95% of respondents rated the course 5 or higher on a 7 point scale (7=excellent).

A more complete analysis of this course will be available in January.

For more information on Duke’s online courses, click here:

Duke Courserians meet up in Tokyo

Tokyo was the meeting spot for a group of Duke Coursera students on Dec. 5, 2012, but the attendees came from many countries – Hong Kong, Singapore, Mexico, the US and, of course, Japan.  Some have jobs in banking, business, engineering or health care. Others work for non-profit agencies or think tanks. They are teachers and translators, university students and retirees. What they have in common is a love for learning and experience taking online courses through Coursera and other online course providers.

Some of those taking Think Again: How to Reason and Argue say it will be useful as they teach English to Japanese students, or teach logic and critical thinking in business courses. Others taking the course hope it will help them explain ideas more persuasively when they work with people from other countries or generally enhance their everyday interactions.  People taking the Introduction to Astronomy and Introduction to Genetics and Evolution courses have already taken other Coursera courses and are adding these for personal enrichment. Duke’s Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach course was tough, said one student  – but it’s good that Duke is offering a mix of introductory and higher level courses.

I was struck by how much time and effort these individuals were putting into their courses, especially considering other demands in their busy lives.  They are often watching videos or checking a forum while they wait in line or ride the subway or are in between meetings. No wonder, then, that they would like course materials to be better adapted for mobile devices.  “I need to be able to do all the course activities – watch videos, answer quizzes, all of it – on my phone,” said one person. “Keep the videos short!”  Those for whom English is a second language appreciate the transcripts that accompany the videos.  By watching lectures more than once, and slowing them down at times, they are improving their English while learning the course content.

As we wrapped up our discussion, people exchanged business cards and said they would like to meet again. When asked if they had any final messages for the Duke faculty teaching Coursera courses, their answer was unanimous, “Tell them we said thank you!”

Duke’s first MOOC: a very preliminary report

Duke’s first Coursera MOOC, Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach which launched on September 24 wrapped up last week. Congratulations to Dr. Barr and his students from all of us at Duke University! We won’t have a complete analysis of this MOOC available until January – we’re still collecting feedback and reviewing data. In the meantime, in response to popular demand, here are a few quick details about the course from a preliminary review.

The numbers of students who participated in various ways in Bioelectricity:

  • Expressed an interest by registering: 12,461
  • Watched at least one video: 7593
  • Answered at least one question correctly on both Week 1 quizzes: 1267
  • Earned at least one point on the final exam: 358
  • Earned any certificate (basic + with distinction):  313
  • Earned a distinction certificate: 260

Ultimately, 25% of students who earned at least one point on the quizzes during Week 1 successfully completed the course requirements.

A few other fun facts about this MOOC:

  • Dr. Roger Barr in his Introductory course video, wearing a tie that became a favorite among his Coursera students

    The number of students who completed the course is over ten times the campus enrollment.

  • Students were assessed with over 85 concept and application problems, including multiple choice as well as numeric  questions scored correct if the answer was within a range defined by the instructor.
  • 96 video segments containing over 660 minutes of instruction were posted and watched more than 288,000 times.
  • 295 students participated in a peer-graded writing assignment exercise in Week 7 of the course.
  • The discussion forum contained over 3500 posts with nearly 2000 comments organized into over 700 threads. Over 110,000 views of the discussion forum were recorded during the course.
  • Students represented 110 countries.
  • Beyond the Coursera site, students interacted in many ways including a Facebook study group managed by a student from Chile with 93 members, and a live Google+ Hangout organized by a student from California.

From the course site itself it’s clear that many students who completed the course had an excellent experience; typical accolades for the instructor from the students included:

“Thank you very much Professor Barr. This course has been a fascinating experience. It’s amazing that I can understand these concepts from a mathematical point of view (I’m a physician).”

“This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time – the subject matter is fascinating and the pedagogy is careful and effective. I’m having a ball of a time despite being seriously mathematically deficient/averse to math.”

“I’ve always wanted to learn more about the bioelectricity part of neurons and in the past eight weeks I’ve learned more than I have in thirty years of on again off again self study.”

“Professor Barr and his staff put together a wonderfully insightful course on a subject few in the world have any clue of, with charm, wit, and a unique and genuine avuncular style that is seldom seen. For 8 weeks, I’ve looked forward to his refreshing and engaging, “Hello again,” the clear even-paced and stimulating lectures, as well as the challenging problem sets. Three cheers for Professor Coke Barr and his staff, a wholly worthwhile task done incredibly well!”

Dr. Barr recently summed up his approach to delivering this course in an interview with IEEE Spectrum,

“…to do this, you just have to have a sense of adventure and hope that it’s all going to work out in the end.” – Roger Barr, “Techwise Conversations,” 10/9/2012

We’ll be back with a fuller report on the outcomes of this MOOC in January. Stay tuned!

For more information on Duke’s online courses, click here:

Astronomy, Day One

On Tuesday November 27 we were pleased to see the launch of Duke’s fourth MOOC on Coursera, “Introduction to Astronomy” where students will study “quite literally, everything in the universe,” according to Dr. Ronen Plesser, Associate Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Duke.

“Astronomy is an exciting frontier of knowledge as our understanding of the cosmos is changed by new observations and theoretical advances. To me, as a physicist, the most thrilling aspect of the field is the extent to which humans have been able to understand our Universe.” – Ronen Plesser, Course introduction, ‘Introduction to Astronomy’

Nearly 11,000 unique students have already watched videos in the course site since it went live yesterday, but already these students have been watching more than just their computer screens. As Dr. Plesser noted in his opening announcement, this occasion was also marked by an astrological event – students in Europe and Eastern Asia were encouraged to observe a dimming of the Moon due to a deep penumbral lunar eclipse ar 14:33 GMT on November 28 as well as a conjunction of the full Moon and Jupiter (which all students could potentially observe).

Appropriately, the interest in this course is also global – over 57,000 students in more than 125 countries have registered their interest in the course, and over 18,000 have logged in since it went live on Tuesday.  Over 3200 students have already submitted the homework for the first week and more than 1000 students have posted or commented in the discussion forums on topics including the recent conjunction of Jupiter and the full moon, their motivations for taking the course, what planetarium software to use, math help with LaTeX, and the most interesting concepts in the Week 1 videos.

Study groups for the course began forming before the course site went live -as one example, over 250 have already joined an international Facebook study group. Over 3600 have ‘liked’ a more general Facebook community for the course, and students from every continent (except Antarctica) have pinned themselves on a Google class map.

For more information on Duke’s online courses, click here:

Think Again, Day One

Monday November 26 marked the launch of Duke’s third MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), “Think Again: How to Reason and Argue.” Students in this course will learn how to understand and assess arguments by other people and how to construct good arguments of their own. In creating this course, Dr. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong from Duke’s Philosophy department and his UNC Chapel Hill colleague Dr. Ram Neta are eager to offer “scalable, high-quality, exercise-intensive instruction in critical thinking and reasoning,” says Neta.

With over 164,000 students, “Think Again” is the largest of Duke’s Coursera offerings as well as the largest Coursera course to date from any institution!

As expected, the course discussion boards lit up almost immediately with students eager to begin. In the past 24 hours, over 3300 students have made over 5600 posts and 2900 comments. Virtual and in-person study groups formed right away (both within the course site and outside of it). Groups range from Russia to Singapore, Twitter to Facebook, and there is even a “wee Scottish group.”

With the most diverse geographic representation in a Duke course to date, over 160 countries are represented. About 2/3 of the students are outside the United States. More students from India are enrolled in the course (5%) than from Canada (4%) or the UK (4%).

Beginning next week, this course will also pilot Google Hangouts via Coursera to enable students to interact via video chat.

During the first 24 hours of “Think Again”:

  • Over 50,000 students logged in (just under 1/3 of registered users)
  • Nearly 37,000 students watched a course video
  • Over 3,000 posted in the forums
  • “We need a class map” (one was created within an hour) and various student musings on the thread “Why did this become most popular course on Coursera” were the ‘upvoted’ discussion threads

These numbers are of course just a blurred snapshot – while I was writing this post on Tuesday, the number of students active in the course increased by over 800.  And as of today (Wednesday), the total number of registered users has increased by 2000 to 166,542 of whom over 61,000 have logged into the course site since it launched.


Another great article about MOOCs

The Guardian, the British national daily newspaper, asks:
Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university?

Carole Cadwalladr toured through a brief history of MOOCs, including Udacity, Khan Academy, Open University, iTunesU, Coursera and edX.
She jumped in as a student to Mohamed Noor’s Introduction to Genetics and Evolution Coursera course, joining about 36,000 other students, and described her “being-blown-away moment.” Cadwalladr interviewed students and course creators, and discussed the students’ various motivations for taking these online courses. Students’ enthusiasm about learning is enough to give you hope for the future of education. So far, 330 people have commented on the article. Join them!

Meet some Coursera students studying Genetics & Evolution

Mohamed Noor and his course assistant, Justin Johnsen met some of the students in their Introduction to Genetics and Evolution Coursera course in a Google Hangout. Find out from students, in their own words, why they are taking a Coursera course and what they think of the course in the recorded video embedded below. Students from the USA, El Salvador, UK, Italy and India discussed their motivations for taking the course.  They commented that they really liked the discussion forums and the in-video quizzes, and often stopped the video many times while watching to make sure they understand. The students in this video Hangout make the point that this course is not simply recorded lectures, but is an interactive learning experience, and were curious about how their experience compares to a Duke course.

4 Massive Open Online Courses and How They Work

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Sit down at your computer for the opening lecture in Gad Allon’s “Operations Management” course, and the first thing you notice is that the professor is looking off at an angle. You want to snap him back around so that he makes eye contact.

Gautam Kaul’s “Introduction to Finance” course goes for a different feel. He looks right at you and speaks in a conversational, almost conspiratorial voice. It’s as if he’s tutoring you one-on-one, letting you in on life-changing secrets like the time value of money.

(Full Article)

Even Web Classrooms Find Cheating Problematic

The Wall Street Journal

Even on the Internet, cheaters still try to take over the classroom.

Coursera, a website that hosts online courses for university-level topics like computer science and engineering, has discovered instances of cheating — such as solutions to assignments being posted online — and is now taking steps to mitigate it, co-founder Andrew Ng said.

(Full Article)

MOOCs and the Rest of ‘Online’

Inside Higher Ed

ORLANDO — The men and women who attend the Sloan Consortium’s annual meeting have been toiling in the fields of online learning for many years, so they could be forgiven for having a wee bit of skepticism (if not resentment) about “MOOC mania,” the hubbub of hyper-attention that has been paid in recent months to the massive open online courses developed by Harvard, MIT, Stanford and other elite universities.

Read more:

Coursera’s Global Education Ambition

Online learning co-founder says the company’s mission is about access

DURHAM, NC – The question to Daphne Koller, co-founder of the new online education platform Coursera, was this: Are you providing free college courses to lift people from poverty or to provide a comprehensive, far-reaching education to the masses?

(Full Article)

Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg Named Finalists for 2012 World Technology Award

Recognized for Visionary Contribution to Science and Technology in Education

NEW YORK, N.Y. (October 11, 2012) – The World Technology Networkannounced today that Cathy N. Davidson (Duke University) and David Theo Goldberg (University of California Humanities Research Institute) have been named in the top five Finalists for the prestigious World Technology Award in Education.

(Full Article)