Registration open for free fall MOOCs: Online learning with top Yale experts

Following the successful January launch of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) at Yale, three of the university’s most distinguished scholars are returning to teach MOOCs this semester. Students from around the world will once again have free access to the Yale courses, which include lectures, assignments, exams, online discussion groups, and office hours with faculty and teaching assistants.

Moralities of Everyday Life” with Paul Bloom, the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, begins Oct. 7. “Financial Markets” with Robert Shiller, 2013 Nobel laureate and Sterling Professor of Economics, and “Constitutional Law” with Akhil Amar, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, will begin on Oct. 20.  Registration is now open for all courses.

“These courses give people access to a university education that they might not otherwise get due to geography, age, or opportunity,” said Bloom, who added that he jumped at the chance to teach one of Yale’s first MOOCs. “Anyone with access to the Internet can do this, and they make a difference in people’s lives.”

Classes are made available through Coursera, which partners with more than 100 universities worldwide, including Princeton, Columbia, and Stanford in the United States, and Peking University, Universidade São Paulo, and the École Centrale Paris abroad. 

According to Lucas Swineford, executive director of the Office of Digital Dissemination and Online Education, Yale’s free MOOCs attracted tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world in what he described as “an incredible global reach.” Swineford noted that there were differing levels of engagement, from people who watched lectures to those who submitted some of the exercises to students who completed the course in full.

“More than 10,000 people completed Robert Shiller’s course,” said Swineford, adding that each course attracted students from nearly 200 countries.

Bloom said that he was both surprised and delighted by the response to the four initial MOOCs, which had a combined enrollment of 405,980 people.

“In all my time as an academic or popular writer, these online classes have had the most impact,” he said. “I receive emails from people all around the world, thanking me for teaching the class and thanking Yale for making them available.”

Of those who enrolled in January, 233,980 visited a course after enrollment; 175,575 watched a lecture; 47,156 submitted an exercise; and 20,385 people completed a course.

Craig Wright, the Henry L. & Lucy G. Moses Professor of Music and director of online education at Yale, added that completion of a course is not always an accurate measure of the individual student’s engagement.

“My wife and I followed Professor Shiller's course on financial institutions faithfully, but didn't complete the quizzes and final owing to our inability to do the math. We still gained much from the experience,” he said.  

Yale’s foray into MOOCs builds on the pioneering effort of the Open Yale Courses (OYC) program, which launched in 2007. Bloom, who has also taught through OYC, noted that his MOOC differs in format and interaction.

“I design the MOOC from scratch. It’s crafted to be entirely self contained, rather than a recording of a classroom lecture,” he said.  “Although there are tens of thousands of students, there is still interaction. I can engage with them on discussion boards and answer questions. During office hours, we read questions posed by the students and film the answers.”

Video lectures for MOOCs are presented in shorter units of approximately 10 minutes. The platform allows instructors to insert quiz questions at any point in the video segment. Another feature of MOOCs is that students have weekly homework and assignments that must be posted by certain deadlines.

While participants do not earn Yale credit for MOOCs, sponsoring faculty members offer their courses through the Verified Certificate track (for a $49 fee). Students choosing that option can — if they successfully complete the course — have their participation and completion verified for prospective employers and others.

Bloom said he looks forward to seeing how a new class of students will take the discussion in new directions. “There will be thousands of people contributing,” he said.

Bloom recalled a survey of participants for “Moralities of Everyday Life,” which included the ages of the oldest and youngest participants.

“The youngest were five 12-year-olds from Singapore, India, & the U.S., and the oldest was a 95-year-old American woman,” he said. “In general there is an atmosphere of respect, enthusiasm, and intellectual interest among the participants. And it’s a huge amount of fun.”