MOOC Instructors Share Lessons Learned


A panel of instructors who have taught some of Georgia Tech’s first massive open online courses (MOOCs) shared their experiences during last Thursday’s MOOC town hall.

October 27, 2013

Two young Iranian women expressing how happy they were to find a strong female figure to look up to. A quadriplegic in Scotland sharing how, for the first time in his life, he felt equal to his classmates. 

These are just a few of the stories that Karen Head, assistant professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, shared about her experience teaching a massive open online course (MOOC) during last Thursday’s MOOC-focused town hall.

“[In the case of the Iranian women] I feel like the anonymity of the MOOC allows students to speak up in a way that they can’t always do under other circumstances,” Head replied to a question regarding whether it was more challenging to get students to participate and provide feedback with a MOOC format.  

Head was one of five MOOC instructors who joined Provost Rafael Bras to discuss the progress of MOOCs at Georgia Tech and lessons learned.

The other panelists included Bonnie Ferri, professor and associate chair for undergraduate affairs in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Mike Schatz, professor in the School of Physics; Charles Isbell, senior associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Computing; and Alex Duncan, a master’s student in Human-Computer Interaction, who served as a teaching assistant for the Introduction to Psychology as a Science MOOC.

To kick off the discussion, each panelist was invited to share a bit about their MOOC experiences.

“I was impressed with the [discussion] forums, because I loved how students would jump in and answer each other’s questions,” Ferri said.

Schatz shared that he doesn’t usually have a chance to get to know students in his introductory physics courses. But, in teaching a MOOC version, with an on-campus contingent of students, he was able to use class for interactive activities that supplemented the online lectures, providing him a chance to develop relationships with his students.  

Isbell, who is preparing to teach his first MOOC, commented on how he always thought he did a good job of evaluating how he teaches his courses on a regular basis.

“I’ve realized that I wasn’t doing as good of a job as I thought,” Isbell said. “This has forced me to really think about my learning objectives and assessments.”  

There was also an opportunity for members of the audience to ask questions. One person asked if MOOCs were going to completely replace on-campus classes.

“I don’t think this is the situation,” Bras said. “I certainly believe that undergraduate education, especially in an environment like Georgia Tech, will only benefit.”

Duncan added that people often think that MOOCs are in competition with face-to-face courses. Actually, the two formats can complement one another by providing opportunities for those off campus to learn and on-campus contingents to make more out of class time because lectures are done online, he said.

To view a recording of the town hall, click here.