UW-Madison Explores Open Online Learning Communities

Wisconsin Industries of Discovery atrium

The debate about Mas­sive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is ubiq­ui­tous. From Inside Higher Ed to the New York Times, broad procla­ma­tions have been made about the technology’s impact on edu­ca­tion. Yet, many edu­ca­tors are unsure about the new tech­nol­ogy and how it fits in within the tra­di­tions of learn­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Wisconsin-Madison.

On Fri­day, the Wis­con­sin Insti­tutes for Dis­cov­ery hosted a day of dis­cus­sion and pre­sen­ta­tions about the cre­ation of MOOCs and the result­ing online com­mu­ni­ties. The event was spon­sored by the Divi­sion of Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies, DoIT Aca­d­e­mic Tech­nol­ogy and Edu­ca­tional Innovation.

Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia Pro­fes­sor Al Fil­reis
U. of Penn­syl­va­nia Pro­fes­sor Al Fil­reis

Speak­ers at the MOOC event included Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia Pro­fes­sor Al Fil­reis, who shared his expe­ri­ence build­ing the mas­sively pop­u­lar MOOC Mod­ern & Con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can Poetry (ModPo), which is based on an Eng­lish course he has taught for thirty years.

In his keynote speech, Fil­reis empha­sized the power of an engaged com­mu­nity within an online course. But, he wasn’t always a believer. He admits to being skep­ti­cal of crowd sourc­ing content.

Then I taught ModPo,” said Fil­reis, who plans to incor­po­rate stu­dent videos next year. “The crowd is wise. They need struc­ture and open-ended mate­ri­als, but they can do great things.”

The event also fea­tured a panel of online edu­ca­tion experts who dis­cussed the oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges of cre­at­ing com­mu­nity within a MOOC.

The Direc­tor of Dig­i­tal Learn­ing Ini­tia­tives at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity Amy Col­lier< spoke hope­fully about the future of online courses.

MOOCs have also made salient the oppor­tu­ni­ties that online and dig­i­tal learn­ing afford to instruc­tors and learn­ers, par­tic­u­larly in aca­d­e­mic con­texts where dig­i­tal learn­ing has not been part of the con­ver­sa­tion until now,” Col­lier said. “This is an impor­tant moment to seize — to take advan­tage of the atten­tion on MOOCs to talk about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of trans­form­ing our classes and our universities.”

Sean Michael Mor­ris, the edi­tor of Hybrid Ped­a­gogy, shared his expe­ri­ence of cre­at­ing an online course about teach­ing online — yes, a MOOC about MOOCs — with UW-Madison Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor Jesse Stom­mel.

I had no idea where it was going, and this amaz­ing com­mu­nity grew out of it,” Mor­ris said. “We as teach­ers need to be okay with not know­ing where a MOOC is going or what it becomes. You have to allow the com­mu­nity to cre­ate itself.”

Other mem­bers of the panel included Bon­nie Stew­art, a lec­turer and doc­toral can­di­date from the Uni­ver­sity of Prince Edward Island; Geog­ra­phy Pro­fes­sor Kris Olds from UW-Madison; and Filreis.

On Jan­u­ary 26, 2015, UW-Madison launches its sec­ond set of MOOCs with “The Land Ethic Reclaimed: Per­cep­tive Hunt­ing, Aldo Leopold, and Con­ser­va­tion.”