The social-news site Reddit has slowly grown a spin-off “university” where anyone can offer free courses, and two professors at University of South Florida’s Honors College are trying the system to turn courses they’re teaching this fall into Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOC’s.
The instructors, Philip S. Bishop, a visiting assistant professor, and K. Edward Renner, an adjunct professor, are offering courses simultaneously in-person, to registered students, and online, to anyone who wants to join in.
The two professors say they have been trying to encourage the University of South Florida to create MOOC’s for several years, but were frustrated by what they saw as the slow pace of academic administration that prevented them from moving forward.
When they finally received the go-ahead to put their courses online earlier this year, Mr. Bishop and Mr. Renner did not have the resources to establish a platform through the University of South Florida to deliver them. So they decided to try the site that has become known as the University of Reddit. That platform has no formal relationship with Reddit itself, but it uses the larger Reddit system informally. It was created two years ago by Anastas D. Stoyanovsky, and allows anyone to offer a course on any subject they choose.
The site offers Web space for instructors to post a syllabus and other course information. Students will also have access to a message board on Reddit, which will serve as a discussion board, allowing virtual and in-person students to interact for weekly assignments.
Both of the South Florida professors have written textbooks to accompany their courses, which will be available free from iTunes University.
Mr. Bishop is teaching a philosophy course called “Arts and Humanities: What Does It Mean to Live Well?” and Mr. Renner is leading “Forums for a Future,” which directly tackles some of challenges facing today’s students.
The platform has its drawbacks, the professors concede. “One of the downfalls of the University of Reddit is that I can’t track where the students are coming from, how much time they’re looking at the material,” Mr. Bishop said. The University of Reddit also lacks credibility. “The greatest difficulty is getting people to take it seriously,” Mr. Bishop said, noting that the site also offers a course on StarCraft, a popular video game.
Both professors feel, however, that running their courses on a freely available platform provides opportunities for their students on the campus as well as for those participating online. “What my students get is a global perspective on this material,” Mr. Bishop said. And the online students, he added, “are going to get the benefits of the honors students posting and creating content on the bulletin boards.”
Although the University of Reddit is the platform they’re using to get started, both professors envision creating their own platform through the University of South Florida. Stuart H. Silverman, dean of the Honor’s College, says that he expects this type of program to continue after this semester.