MOOC team set to hire more staff, launch new courses

By MaryCate Most

Massive open online courses have unveiled a gold mine of data to University faculty and staff.

Typically, instructors evaluating the effectiveness of their teaching styles can only gather data from relatively small classes. But with the help of data from massive open online courses, or MOOCs, an instructor’s sample size expands from 50 to 50,000 participants.

“Nobody else has a data set like that to explore,” said Chuck Tucker, co-chair of the MOOC Strategy Advisory Committee. “There is data that you can get from a MOOC — from Coursera — that you can’t get from anywhere else. That is the power of the very large MOOC.”

But these free courses, which enroll tens of thousands of participants from around the world, require plenty of resources. Each class costs about $30,000 to $50,000 to produce, not including the faculty members’ time spent on its development. In addition to faculty members’ curricula, the MOOCs require a staff of instructional designers, who in turn design the MOOC presentation; audio and video producers to nail down technical details; and copywriters to ensure that the material is in the public domain.

On average, production takes place in five to six months; however, because of the extra pressure that a larger and more advanced audience adds, the courses should be produced carefully, said Wen-Mei Hwu, MOOC instructor and professor in Engineering.

“It really puts the material into a much deeper scrutiny,” Hwu said. “If something goes  slightly wrong, there are a lot of complaints. If you have 1 percent of students run into misunderstanding, that is 100 students right there.”

The MOOC Strategy Advisory Committee has already made a commitment to hire six more staff members in the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, which produces the MOOCs. The team estimated that it will need to make three or four more hires in the near future, all with salaries of about $50,000 a year.

The University joined Coursera in August 2012 and launched its first MOOC on Aug. 27, 2012, Tucker said. Since then, it has developed eight different MOOCs. Another two are set to be released within a grate MOOCs into for-credit online courses. Tucker said it is hard to know exactly how MOOCs will change in the next year.

“In the MOOC Strategy Advisory Committee, we coined the term MOOC-years,” Tucker said. “Things that take years to change in the normal academic world seem to be able to change in weeks in the MOOC world. It is a rapidly moving target and we are talking about new things every time we get together.”

Hwu said he considers the creation of his MOOC to be something like the creation of a “modern textbook” used both for MOOC and traditional students. Raineri also emphasized that as the number of MOOCs continues to increase, the center has kept its focus on one main idea.

“It is all with an emphasis on how can we use MOOCs to enrich what we do here (on-campus),” Raineri said. “It has allowed us to vet our instructional resources because there are so many eyes on us. It is also safe to say that we are getting better at it — now it is a far more streamlined process.”

MaryCate can be reached at [email protected]