Four new online courses at UBC are attracting a new breed of students and changing teaching methods on campus
“If you want to know why your Chinese business partners want to sit down and have a drink with you before they sign a contract, then take my course.”
That’s the pitch Professor Edward Slingerland uses to encourage a different type of student to register for his online course, Foundations of Chinese Thought, one of a new suite of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, offered by UBC.
And people from all over the world are signing up. These non-credit university-level courses are available to anyone with an Internet connection and are part of UBC’s commitment to more flexible approaches to learning. The courses consist of video lectures, written material, exercises, activities, and group discussion forums.
“One of the appeals of the MOOC platform is that you reach a completely new demographic,” says Slingerland.
The large number of students who enroll in MOOCs allows instructors to experiment with new ways of presenting and assessing material. They also get meaningful data to evaluate what works best and brings those elements back to their university classrooms.
Slingerland has taught Chinese history and philosophy for more than a decade and was looking for an opportunity to overhaul his course material. His new MOOC delves into Chinese philosophies such as Confucianism, Daoism, Mohism and Legalism. He says many of these ancient ideas are re-emerging in modern cognitive science. His course connects ancient Chinese thought to contemporary life and society. It will be offered online to a worldwide audience before it is introduced to UBC students.
Video: edX | Foundations of Chinese Thought
New courses on a new platform: edX
In addition to Slingerland’s early Chinese philosophy course, UBC professors are launching MOOCs this fall on water security, forests in developing countries, and reconciliation and indigenous education. The four courses will be offered on edX, a website that also hosts courses from Harvard, MIT, University of California, Berkeley, and more. Recently UBC became the first Canadian university to join edX as a contributing Charter Member.
Professors use edX to post course content and run forums for student discussion. It also serves as a place for universities to work together on improving learning technology, teaching methods, and learning research.
“Online learning is an inevitable part of future education,” says Professor Karen Bakker, who is teaching about the global water crisis. “I’m passionate about getting it right because I went through university at a transformative time. I grew up with no computer but Google became available midway through my undergrad. It completely transformed access to information.”
Computer scientist Gregor Kiczales was one of the first UBC professors to create a MOOC. More than 78,000 students registered for his Computer Science Problem Design course in 2013. He then took the video lectures from his MOOC and implemented them into his Computer Science 110 course for UBC undergraduate students. They watched the videos at home and used class time for problem solving and discussion.
“I feel like MOOCs remove many limitations of the traditional physical classroom,” says student Sazi Valair, who took Kiczales’ course. “Having lecture material in video format allowed me to speed through easier content, and if I ever got stuck or confused I could re-watch specific lessons or reach out for help on the online student forum.”
Professor as curator
In Bakker’s MOOC, Blue is the New Green, video lectures consist of short interviews with experts in the field of water security. The interviews feature both academics and non-academics who examine the social and cultural significance of water and discuss topics such as human rights, economics, food security, and resource extraction.
The videos also point to what Bakker sees as her role as a professor in the changing landscape of higher education.
“There is so much information out there. My role is to be a curator or a guide,” says the Canada Research Chair in Political Ecology. “What we’re doing can’t be automated. We’re explaining what students need to know and offering context.”
Video: edX | Blue is the New Green