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Coordination and Coherence: Behind the Scenes of a Multi-Institution MOOC

by Derek Bruff, CFT Director, cross-posted from Derek’s blog, Agile Learning

Derek Filming Module 1Back in November, I announced that the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching would be part of a $750,000, three-year, multi-institution National Science Foundation supporting the creation of two MOOCs (massive open online courses) on evidence-based teaching practices for future STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) faculty. I had hoped to share a few behind-the-scenes stories from the development of these MOOCs over the last few months, but, hey, surprise, putting together a MOOC across six different institutions keeps one busy! I’ll also admit that I was a little hesitant to share publicly some aspects of the MOOC-in-progress, particularly components of the course that I wasn’t sure would come together. Now that we’re getting closer to the launch of the first MOOC, I’m more comfortable going public with our plans — and it’s high time for an update.

Brainstorming for Module 1Our first course (which I would call an “OOC” until we see how many students sign up) will start on October 6, 2014, and run on Coursera. It’s titled “An Introduction to Evidence-Based Undergraduate STEM Teaching,” and it serves as something of a “college science teaching 101.” The course will run for seven weeks, with six weeks of videos, forum discussions, quizzes, and other interactions, followed by a seventh week to allow for peer-to-peer feedback on the final assignment. Here’s the big picture outline:

  • Week 1 – Introduction, Principles of Learning
  • Week 2 – Learning Objectives, Assessment of Learning
  • Week 3 – Cooperative Learning, Peer Instruction, Lecturing
  • Week 4 – Inquiry-Based Labs, Problem-Based Learning, Writing to Learn
  • Week 5 – Diversity in the Classroom, Student Motivation
  • Week 6 – Lesson Planning, Conclusion
  • Week 7 – Final Peer Assessment, Course Highlights

We’ve split the course into 12 modules, with one to three modules per week, that are currently under development at five institutions: Vanderbilt, Michigan State University, Boston University, the University of Colorado-Boulder, and the University of Pittsburgh. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is involved, too, but not in module production. More on that below.

Trey Mack Skyping with Alice Pawley for Module 12Each of these institutions is part of the CIRTL Network. CIRTL is the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning, and the CIRTL Network consists of 22 research universities working together to enhance excellence in undergraduate education through the development of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows as future STEM faculty members. This course is an effort to take what we’ve learned across the CIRTL Network about effective STEM teaching and about preparing future STEM faculty and to bring that to a much larger audience. Producing a MOOC that leverages expertise and resources across the CIRTL Network is not easy — the level of coordination required is rather significant — but I believe the course will be stronger for drawing on the faculty, staff, and students at so many institutions.

Given that the 12 course modules are being developed by eight module leads at five different institutions, we knew we would need some mechanism for bringing some coherence to the course. We decided the course needed co-hosts, two individuals who would appear in intro and “outro” videos each week to preview the week’s material and to make explicit the themes of the course. One of our co-hosts is Trina McMahon, professor of bacteriology and professor of civil and environmental engineering at UW-Madison. Trina is also faculty co-director of the Delta Program, UW’s version of CIRTL. Our other co-host is yours truly, which is why I flew up to Madison last week with our Vanderbilt videographer to shoot with Trina all 12 intro and outro videos, along with a 13th video introducing the entire course.

AV Set-Up for Intro and Outro VideosAll those videos made for a busy day and a half, particularly since most of them Trina and I scripted together while I was in Madison. We’re aiming for fairly high production values on this MOOC, and so, in addition to our Vanderbilt videographer, Jeff Shoup, we worked with a couple of UW videographers. It was a three-camera shoot, with more lighting rigs than I’d ever seen before firsthand. Jeff wisely had us shoot our videos for Weeks 3 and 4 first, so that we would be more at ease in front of the camera by the time we shot the videos for Weeks 1 and 2. This way the videos students see first aren’t the ones where we’re at our worst!

Having finished this significant piece of course production, I’m feeling much better about how the course is coming together, both in terms of meeting our October 6th launch date and in terms of the coherence of the course. The course will still have a Frankenstein quality to it, but I think our intros and outros will help pull things together. Our co-hosting duties aren’t finished, however. Once the course starts, Trina and I will be actively involved in the course forums, write weekly announcements and recaps, and host a few virtual office hour sessions. As I mentioned above, since each week of the MOOC will feature a different set of instructors and experts, I’m hoping our presence as co-hosts will make it easier for the MOOC participants to have a sense of instructor presence.

The CIRTl Network has a great logo.Another element of the course that’s taken a fair amount of effort is lining up everything we need to turn on the course sign-up page. It hasn’t been turned on yet; all we have right now is a short introduction to the course on the CIRTL Network site. (We also have a Twitter account, @CIRTLMOOC, you can follow for updates.) Since the course is running on Coursera, we need a two-to-three-minute course preview video, some text describing the course and its activities, and a lot of contracts and agreements signed by a lot of different people. The preview video includes footage of me, Trina, and the project PI, Rique Campa of Michigan State University, as well as some unique graphic elements and some “B-roll” footage of students and teachers in various classrooms and labs. Pulling all that footage together has taken some time, and that was after a few weeks drafting and editing the preview video script. We have about two minutes to interest potential students in the course, so we wordsmithed the heck out of that script. This week, we’re moving into final edits on the preview video, and I’m busy sending various instructor agreements and releases around to the team, trying to get all the proper signatures so we can run this Vanderbilt-facilitated course on the Coursera platform. We’re getting very close to having all this wrapped up — I’m hoping we can turn on the sign-up page sometime next week.

Michele DiPietro Filming for Module 1There’s more I could share — the network of local learning communities we’re attempting to organize through the MOOC, having my colleague and friend Michele DiPietro join us from Kennesaw State University for a day of filming, the crowdsourcing tool I’m trying to build to support some interesting learning activities, our plans to make all the course materials available as open educational resources — but I have a couple of modules that need my attention, not to mention those instructor agreements! More soon, I hope.

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