New MOOC Provider Says It Fosters Peer Interaction

Students in Ghana using NovoEd at an internet cafe.

Students in Ghana using NovoEd at an internet cafe.

The field of massive-open-online-course providers is becoming crowded. That’s even more so at Stanford University, where Udacity and Coursera, two of the largest providers, got their start.

Now there’s a new platform to add to the list. NovoEd, which officially opened on Monday, will begin offering seven courses to the public next week, as well as 10 private courses for Stanford students.

Amin Saberi, a Stanford professor and the start-up company’s founder and chief executive, said there’s a key difference between NovoEd and existing MOOC options: peer interaction.

“With this transition from brick-and-mortar classes to online learning, you shouldn’t lose the social, collaborative aspects of learning,” Mr. Saberi said. “It should be able to enable it.”

NovoEd was created by Mr. Saberi and a Ph.D. student, Farnaz Ronaghi, for use in an entrepreneurship course in March 2012. More than 80,000 students in 150 countries participated in the course by using the platform, working in teams on projects and business models.

“We had students from Silicon Valley to Russia to third-world countries in Africa,” Mr. Saberi said.

Some MOOCs have struggled to foster teamwork because of their size. In February a course at the Georgia Institute of Technology was suspended due to technical difficulties after the instructor attempted to use Google Docs to help the course’s 40,000 enrolled students to organize themselves into groups.

NovoEd is designed specifically with teamwork in mind, Mr. Saberi said. Students form groups at the beginning of each course, conduct class discussions by messaging one another or in discussion boards under an assignment, and evaluate their peers’ performance, much like team projects in face-to-face lecture courses.

NovoEd’s offerings for the public currently include courses on finance, product management, and mobile health.

One offering, “A Crash Course in Creativity,” explores how to increase your own creativity among teams and organizations. One assignment asks the teams to “look at bread in a new way” and to create presentations and video exploring the value of a loaf of bread. The videos are then viewable, and can be commented on, by everyone else in the course.

“It’s important to think about that learning is not just the mastery of skill sets or content,” Mr. Saberi said. “We want all the students to become critical thinkers. We want them to be better team leaders, better team players, and these are things you attain by working in teams and learning from your peers.”

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