Georgetown expanded its massive open online courses this year with two new offerings: “Terrorism and Counter-terrorism,” taught by professor Daniel Byman, and “The Divine Comedy: Dante’s Journey to Freedom,” taught by professor Frank Ambrosio.
The program, conceived last year, also includes an Advanced Placement physics course and a course on globalization, “Globalization’s Winners and Losers: Challenges for Developed and Developing Countries,” which has been revamped from last year. According to Ambrosio, there are currently 10,000 students registered in the MOOC program, across courses. Georgetown presented its first online course last fall to an audience of 14,000 students from across the globe through the website edX and released two other courses in the spring.
This move to incorporate more online offerings follows in line with Georgetown’s wider scheme to include more technology in the classroom, after the university invested $8 million in the Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning in fall 2012.
Free and available to all, the courses are not graded and do not grant college credit, but students will be presented with an “Honor Code Certificate” to verify that they have each completed the course requirements.
“The only incentive for participating in one of these is learning,” Ambrosio said.
Faculty interested in teaching an online course are chosen through an application process, based in part on course proposals they submit to the Office of the Provost. Professors who are granted an online course are not paid extra, but the MOOC qualifies as a regular course for professors’ teaching obligations.
Ambrosio’s course offering is split into three courses, with the first section debuting Oct.15, to align with the three books of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” The course, composed of videos, small assignments and readings, also required the construction of a separate website as a teaching tool.
“It’s kind of an experiment,” Ambrosio said. “We think that the website we designed at Georgetown is something that other teachers at other schools could use to teach not only Dante, and not only Dante with my material, but any other literary work you might want … because it’s not about a specific work of literature but a way of reading literature.”
Ambrosio said that the videos are not recordings of full classes.
“These aren’t lectures though, they’re like five-to-10 minute clips that simply highlight and help emphasize main points in the material,” he added. Byman, who teaches an eight-week course that started on Oct. 1, found the different method of teaching engaging, though was unsure that he would recommend the experience to anyone interested.
“Well it’s exciting to reach so many people — even a big course at Georgetown isn’t close to that, and it’s interesting to try and do it by video. So it’s a different way of learning than a more traditional Socratic method that I take in the classroom,” he said. “It’s not for everyone.”
EdX, the website that hosts Georgetown’s MOOCs, provides part of the work and some of the money for the courses. The rest of the effort comes from the professors and the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship.
“EdX is a big outfit, and they have a platform of their own that provides the framework. … CNDLS has a support team of about eight to 12 people to work with the [Georgetown] professors involved, to figure out the best way to structure the material, produce video that supports the written material, and then get all of that translated into the edX context,” Ambrosio said.
Anna Kruse (COL ’09), the program manager of CNDLS, said that she appreciated the ability of the online courses to reach disparate parts of the world.
“I love seeing the excitement students around the world have as they go through the MOOCs. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and it’s nice to be able share some of the knowledge we have here at Georgetown in the signature areas with students around the world,” she said.
Kruse noted that the courses were constantly in a state of revision, using feedback from students to improve the courses. The globalization course was revamped this year in response to student feedback.
“We’ve included more content on the developing world and were also experimenting with smaller groups for conversation this time around,” she said.
Despite the reach of the online courses, Ambrosio noted that the MOOCs did not provide the same experience as a regular course at the university.
“They are not designed to replace classroom courses. They’re not designed to provide college credit, they’re designed to share knowledge, learning, with as many people as possible, to try to figure out the most effective way to do that,” he said.
Byman agreed that the courses were not as rigorous as classes taught on campus.
“In terms of how demanding it is, its level of evaluation is nowhere close to a regular Georgetown class,” he said.