Georgetown’s first massive open online course, “Globalization’s Winners and Losers: Challenges for Developed and Developing Countries,” launched on the edX platform last Tuesday to an audience of nearly 20,000 students from 155 countries.
“The fact that so many thousands of students all over the world are taking a course from a Georgetown professor is amazing to me. It extends our reach and our presence in all kinds of places. It allows us to help educate people in all kinds of different places,” School of Foreign Service Dean Carol Lancaster said. “It really is a manifestation of global Georgetown and all the good things that Georgetown can offer.”
The free class is taught by Theodore Moran, SFS professor and director of the Landegger Program in International Business Diplomacy, with help from a faculty support team including course manager Rosaelena O’Neil, four teaching assistants and various guest lecturers.
“The launch felt like NASA waiting for the Mars rover to land, all the TAs and I were sitting in the office and waiting for the clock to tick until 9 o’clock,” O’Neil said. “The moment that was really striking for me was to see that at about minute eight or 10 after the course had opened, the discussion boards were already humming across the world. Within the first couple of hours, people were forming study groups, asking questions.”
Overall, the MOOC launch was smooth, despite some minor technical malfunctions. For example, some multiple choice questions presented a glitch in grading, which was quickly corrected. The technical response was conducted by a joint team of edX and Georgetown staff.
The course primarily relies on readings, lectures and “knowledge checks,” usually multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank questions, polls and self-assessed open responses. O’Neil characterized the course as very flexible and adaptable to each student’s schedule because a key factor in the course’s setup was keeping students engaged. Based on edX research, Georgetown found that the limit to student attention span was approximately six to eight minutes.
“Every video has been capped so that it doesn’t lose engagement,” O’Neil said. “If you have only 10 minutes to devote to the class, you can watch a video, do three knowledge checks and then stop and come back later.”
In addition, students can respond to a written prompt via an optional Wiki site, allowing them to apply the knowledge that they have learned.
“We’re going to see a whole new evolution of content,” O’Neil said. “We’re looking at it as a way to engage our alumni and other learners in the world and promote debate on topics that are really important for the world to discuss.”
For student support, Moran holds “office hours” each Friday by uploading answers to the top five questions asked on the discussion board each week.
“It’s been one of the primary generators of the discussion,” O’Neil said. “Their reflection on the lectures, it has a nice flow.”
Students will have a final deadline in November by which they must complete all required assessments, although it is suggested that they finish each week’s work by the Monday before the next lecture is uploaded on Tuesday. In order to obtain the certificate of completion, which will read GeorgetownX rather than Georgetown University, students must finish all videos and pass 75 percent of the knowledge checks accurately.
“The points system is really there because that’s what the platform demands that we use,” O’Neil said. “We decided to create a pass level.”
A week after the course’s launch, faculty members have received requests from teachers in developing nations to use the course as an online textbook for their own classes.
O’Neil added that the diversity of the program was one of its strongest points. Student ages are approximately evenly split, with about 20 percent in their 20s, 30s and 40s, respectively, and the final 40 percent evenly dispersed among other age groups. There is also an even split between genders.
This diversity is also reflected in students’ backgrounds. Although many students are based in the United States, Senior Program Coordinator Joselyn Lewis said that across the board there is also strong representation from developing countries. For example, she pointed to a Nigerian banker with four children who was registered for the online course.
According to O’Neil, the woman responded to the survey with: “I really want to learn more about these issues that my country is facing, and I can do this in the privacy of my own home.”
Georgetown is also working on other MOOCs, including ones focused on counterterrorism, human genetics, human dignity and human rights. Although the “Introduction to Bioethics” MOOC was supposed to launch Oct. 15, due to logistical difficulties, the opening has been postponed to April 15.