Yale delves deeper into digital education

For anyone who has ever dreamed of taking a class with a Nobel Prize winner, the wait is almost over. “Financial Markets,” a course taught by Robert J. Shiller, the Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale and recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, will be one of the university’s first Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) launched in 2014 through Coursera.

The potential of Yale's expanded online education initiatives was the subject of an open house on Dec. 2, hosted by the University Committee on Online Education. MOOCs were among several approaches discussed.

“Education is on the cusp of a significant transformation,” says Diane E.E. Kleiner, the Dunham Professor of History of Art and Classics and founding director of Open Yale Courses. Kleiner views online education and classroom teaching as essentially two sides of the same coin. In order to create global synergy between the Yale classroom and students worldwide, this spring she will offer her “Roman Architecture” course on campus, while simultaneously teaching the course online.

“I have been involved in online education at Yale for 13 years,” says Kleiner. “Teaching a MOOC is the logical next step to enhance my pedagogical approach.”

For the past two years, Paul Bloom, the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, has taught “Moralities of Everyday Life” to about 20 students through Yale’s Summer Session online learning program.

This spring, Bloom will present the course as a MOOC via Coursera to broaden the university’s dissemination of knowledge to motivated learners around the world. To date, more than 46,000 students have enrolled in the course.

In addition to online lectures, the MOOC will feature online exams, virtual office hours, and a social media component.

While Bloom admits that he prefers in-person interaction, he acknowledges that there are advantages to online teaching, such as its convenience and ability to let him accelerate the pace of the class, and streamline how he monitors students’ performance.

“I’ve heard critics describe MOOCs as books on tape,” says Bloom. “However, I think it is an exciting challenge, and I look forward to seeing how it works out.”

Jim Rolf, the Shizuo Kakutani Lecturer in Math, is not targeting a global audience, but rather exploring how to take greater advantage of online tools to improve learning in his Calculus 115 this semester. Students enrolled in Rolf’s course this semester view short lectures and complete online quizzes before coming to class. Rolf is then able to review the results of the quizzes so he knows which specific topics his students are having difficulty digesting – allowing him to focus class time on those topics. Although known for its ability to present MOOCs, Coursera is the technology platform powering the Calculus 115 online experience.

While MOOCs are popular, the standard structure they present is not appropriate for all open, online education projects, noted Wai Chee Dimock, the William Lampson Professor of English and American Studies. Dimock would like to build an online presence that shares teaching materials from her “American Literature in the World” course – but would not require the learner to experience the course on a weekly schedule. Rather, the teaching resources would be organized by asset type. In addition, Dimock hopes that all content on the would be made available through a Creative Commons license in order to allow other educators a pathway for re-using the content in their own classrooms.

Zack Reneau-Wedeen ‘14 discussed HackYale, an initiative that offers introductory programming and web design courses taught by students. Reneau-Weeden directs the program, which was established in fall 2011, and has been an instructor for four semesters. HackYale also features weekly lectures, office hours, events listings, and job postings.

Sara Ronis, a graduate student in the Judaic Studies Program, emphasized the importance of training graduate students for teaching positions — many of which she notes, prefer that applicants have some online education experience.

Last year, Ronis served as co-facilitator for the Yale Teaching Center’s first workshop on how to teach an online class. She is currently working with the Office of Digital Dissemination and Online Education to help graduate students create 10-minute demo reels they can include with their job applications.

The Yale School of Medicine is implementing a new curriculum in 2014 that will utilize online technology, while still maintaining lectures and small group discussions.

“Using the online component as the backbone for what students accomplish on their own permits more time for creative work in the classroom,” notes Michael Schwartz, associate professor of neurobiology and associate dean for curriculum at Yale School of Medicine.

While approaches to online teaching vary across campus and disciplines, the university’s online initiatives are aligned with President Peter Salovey’s mission to make Yale accessible by sharing the University’s rich resources with the wider community, notes Lucas Swineford, executive director of the Office of Digital Dissemination and Online Education.

Watch the Online Education Open Forum here.