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Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Engineering Professor Vicki May One of the First to Teach a MOOC at Dartmouth

By Anna Fiorentino
December 2014 • CoolStuff

Vicki May
Professor Vicki May

Dartmouth is breaking into the latest form of online teaching by top-tier universities—massive open online courses (MOOCs)—with engineering professor Vicki May second in line to conduct this new type of class that promises to democratize education. In Spring of 2015, May will debut with a course based on the existing class, Integrated Design: Engineering, Architecture and Building Technology, which she co-teaches with Senior Lecturer Jack Wilson.

Dartmouth's first MOOC, scheduled for February, will be Introduction to Environmental Science taught by environmental studies professor Andrew Friedland. This will be the first of four Dartmouth MOOCs being taught to the 2,500 participants who have enrolled so far, with many more expected to sign up.

A MOOC isn’t your typical online distance learning experience, but a free, creditless class with an unlimited enrollment that typically rounds out at 40,000. Anyone can sign up—not just students—to watch and learn from their home. May spoke in October at Thayer School’s Jones Seminars on Science, Technology, and Society series about MOOCs and Dartmouth’s decision to offer these massive classes:

“This is open source learning and I believe in open classrooms. We’re teaching behind closed doors most of the time, so just opening up a classroom will change the conversation,” said May at the seminar. “I am excited about the different things you can do with MOOCs.”

MOOCs may not allow for traditional class participation, but in addition to providing course material such as videos, readings, and problem sets, they are paving the way for interactive learning including online class surveys and animation.

Dartmouth English Professor Don Pease and English Lecturer James Dobson will also teach a course on the American Renaissance starting in October 2015 and Dartmouth Music Department Chair Steve Swayne will instruct an opera course at a later date, yet to be announced.

“Along with engineering professor Solomon Diamond, I was on the committee that looked at whether Dartmouth should jump on board with MOOCs,” said May. “Ultimately we believe in access to education for everyone.”

While many don’t complete all the sessions within a MOOC—even May admitted she didn’t finish the MOOC she attended—millions have been drawn to this new way of learning. 

“If people come in and get what they wanted out of a course, personally I’m OK if they don’t finish,” added May.

Of the three main organizations that offer MOOCs, Dartmouth chose last January to work with the only nonprofit of the digital platforms, edX, founded in 2012 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. The consortium of edX charter members includes more than 30 universities worldwide, including the University of California at Berkeley, Georgetown University, and Cornell University, as well as universities in Japan, Australia, and India.

The concept of a MOOC was formed in Canada by Sebastian Thrun, David Stavens, and Mike Sokolsky. In early 2012, a company they created called Udacity spearheaded some of first-ever courses, in computer science, at the University of Virginia. Shortly after, Stanford University created a spinoff called Coursera that has attracted top universities such as Princeton, Columbia, Duke, and University of Pennsylvania. And just a few years later thousands of these online classes are offered in every discipline all around the world.

“I’m excited about teaching the course and curious about how it’s going to change teaching and learning,” said May.

Tags: curriculum, faculty

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