Building Different MOOC's for Different Pedagogical Needs

Courtesy of Curtis J. Bonk

Curtis J. Bonk
June 11, 2012

The Chronicle asked four professors teaching free online courses to describe their experiences. See the rest here.

Curtis J. Bonk, professor of education, Indiana University at Bloomington

Course Provider: Blackboard

Course Title: "Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success"


Q. Why did you sign up to teach a Massive Open Online Course?

A. I can perhaps influence thousands of instructors who potentially teach tens of thousands of students each year. And I can do this without having to leave Bloomington, Ind. There are thousands of instructors using the free tools and course-management system in Blackboard's CourseSites, many of whom have never received training to teach online. In effect, it is a good cause.

Q. What's it like so far? Briefly describe what a typical "day" of online teaching is like.

A. Oh, my, where to begin? The MOOC we are doing is a professional-development course. It is more like a summer workshop experience for college instructors than an introductory course on computer science or engineering that you might hear about from Stanford or MITx. Hence, the course expectations as well as the forms of assessment, interaction, and communication may be different in our MOOC from the others you have heard about. Since I am conducting a synchronous Webinar session each Wednesday in May for a couple of hours, there is much to prepare. Building an interactive two-hour session for hundreds of people located remotely around Planet Earth is not particularly easy (truth be told, it is now 6 a.m., and I have yet to go to bed tonight, as I have been preparing for the final synchronous session of our MOOC later today).

Q. What needs to happen for you to consider the course a success?

A. We hope to see participant enthusiasm as well as interactivity, dialogue, and responsiveness. We want to see new groups form and make connections and share their respective innovative course plans. Each week a number of people from our MOOC have shared exciting and insightful ways of using some of the frameworks and activities mentioned in the MOOC.

Q. Has anything surprised you about the students who signed up for your course?

A. I helped Ray Schroeder at the University of Illinois at Springfield with his open course last summer. He had 2,700 people sign up from all corners of the earth. So the size of our MOOC is not that surprising. In our MOOC, participants are mainly coming from higher-education settings but also from K-12 schools, military bases, government agencies, corporate training centers, and consulting firms.

What perhaps surprises me the most is how quickly the MOOC participants have grasped and adapted some of the ideas presented and embedded them in their own online and blended courses.

Q. Do you have any concerns going into the course—about format, implications for universities, or any other aspect of this unusual venture?

A. My chief concern is that there have been MOOC's in the past, and some people seem to treat them as a type of religious experience both in terms of the content covered and the ways in which information is displayed, communicated, and reused. However, each MOOC is different. I think we need additional research on how to structure a MOOC, the types and forms of incentives to embed in such a course, the forms of learning assistance or scaffolding that are now possible, the range of resources that can bolster a MOOC-like experience, and so on. But a successful MOOC for an introductory or intermediate college course is much different in content and delivery format than what might prove effective in a professional-development MOOC.