Faculty Stories

Hear from Duke faculty about the value of developing and teaching online projects.

Daniel Egger, Pratt School of Engineering

“I have come to appreciate how making each step in a process explicit…makes for less wasted time and effort by students and a much more efficient and focused learning experience.”

Daniel Egger

Daniel Egger, an executive-in-residence in Duke’s Master’s of Engineering Management program, came to Duke after a long career as a software entrepreneur and venture capitalist. In 2016, he started co-teaching a series of online courses on data analytics on Coursera. Egger and co-instructor Jana Schaich Borg quickly realized the high demand for the information they were teaching: in the year after the suite of courses launched, over 300,000 individuals around the world had enrolled, and nearly 19,000 had completed a course.

Now, Egger is using the online course materials to flip his Duke course for students enrolled in Pratt’s on-campus and distance Master of Engineering Management programs. Students watch his video lecture before class, and Egger is able to have students do hands-on work on practical problems related to the material during class time. “This is more interesting for students and for me, and has been very popular so far,” he said.

In addition, Egger says developing courses that are effective in an online environment changed the way he approaches teaching in person. “I have come to appreciate how making each step in a process explicit, and explaining along the way what the specific skills learned will be, makes for less wasted time and effort by students and a much more efficient and focused learning experience.”

Based on “New Models for Teaching Using Coursera Groups” (Duke CIT Blog) and “Online Analytics Course Tackles a Fast-Moving Field” (Duke Today)


Leonard White, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences

“MOOCs redefine what it means for a university to have impact.”

Leonard E. WhiteLeonard, White. Ph.D. says it’s the personal stories from students taking his massive open online course on medical neuroscience that are really important. A student with ALS took the course using a computer and an eye-tracking system to learn more about the physiology of his disease. Another, a medical student in Egypt, took the course to supplement his degree coursework. “MOOCs redefine what it means for a university to have impact,” he says.

On campus, White uses the videos filmed for his online course to “flip” his classroom, and encourages Duke students to enroll in the open, online version as well. Now, White is working to use the videos as an online resource for students at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore. He’s also exploring ways content from his online course can be used to help start new medical schools in under-resourced parts of the world where faculty with specific subject-area expertise are in short supply.


Denise Comer, Thompson Writing Program

“It was a natural fit to do research on the course.”

Denise ComerDenise Comer, Director of Duke’s First-Year Writing Program, has long been interested in how writing can be of value across contexts. When Duke first started participating in massive online courses in 2012, it offered an opportunity to teach writing to a large and diverse group of individuals at once, and to explore two key questions: How do people in different cultures learn writing, and how do people generally learn writing online?

“It was a natural fit to do research on the course,” said Comer. She received two grants from the Gates Foundation, one to explore teaching composition online and a second with Chemistry professor Dorian Canelas to examine peer-to-peer interaction on the Coursera platform.

Beyond the research data, Comer says teaching a massive group of students has given her a more expansive view of how writing works in the world. It also gave her a better sense of the challenges facing English language learners. In response, she developed an online resource to help Duke international students better understand U.S. academic writing.


Stephen Craig, Chemistry

“I get to do more teaching this way.”

Stephen L. CraigIn 2011, Stephen Craig decided he wanted to teach Chemistry 43 without two stalwarts of the college course: the lecture and the textbook. Craig worked with other faculty in the Chemistry department to create problem sets and activities for students to work through in small teams in class. Instead of a textbook, they curated a collection of open-source educational materials, including existing websites like The Orbitron, from the University of Sheffield, videos from MIT’s OpenCourseWare, and whiteboard animations produced by Craig himself.

Students review the materials before class; in class, they solve problems, sometimes brought in from his own research lab. He says this method lets him explore material with students in a deeper way than would be possible otherwise. He can observe how students work through the material and help when they get stuck. “I get to do more teaching this way,” he says. Several years after implementing the new course design, Craig’s work has led to discussions in the department about how to create more online Chemistry resources and share the knowledge with students around the world.