Teaching a massive open online course was “the most interesting pedagogical experience in the quarter-century,” history professor Jeremy Adelman said in a lecture Saturday. Adelman is the director of the Council for International Teaching and Research and has taught HIS 201: A History of the World Since 1300 on the online educational platform Coursera for the past two years.
Adelman said that though he had little background with using technology in the classroom, he was drawn to the idea of offering his course online as a way to engage his students at the University with a larger global community.
“I’m a complete techno-peasant,” he said. “I know nothing about this sort of thing.”
Adelman agreed to teach the course for three years after which the University will conduct a thorough review of its performance. He said that he will offer the course next fall on a new startup platform NovoEd that allows for greater student engagement.
Adelman said that he considered the first year’s course a failure.
“Version 1.0 failed. I hadn’t realized how much the rituals of two physical lectures a week were like the spinal cord of the course,” he said. “It was like this blah course.”
Adelman said he also found that students were not engaging in the online discussion forums with non-University students, and many were not watching lectures regularly, waiting until right before the exams.
However, he said that he made adjustments to the course that resulted in very interactive projects and high participation, creating online blogs and project assignments that would be posted online.
Adelman walked the audience through the structure of his course, noting the convenience and accessibility of online lectures and forums.
“Students could watch the lecture in the shower, on the StairMaster,” he noted. “Together, in the library, anywhere they want. In fact, anywhere they want in the world.”
He also said that using Coursera allowed him to obtain data and metrics to see if students were understanding the material, an assessment of how effective his teaching was.
“I now have clear benchmarks I have to reach to make sure that I am delivering on my own working objectives. That’s one of the real revolutions of MOOCs,” Adelman said.
Despite all these new benefits of online teaching, Adelman said a major drawback is its emphasis on the professor rather than students as the focus of a course. He noted a trend of decreasing participation in discussions over time and Coursera students choosing to survey several courses rather than commit to and engage with one course.