UC goes global with its first massive online class

More than 1,000 sign up

CINCINNATI – There may be poetic justice to University of Cincinnati choosing to teach a course on innovation as the Tri-State's first-ever Massive Online Open Course.

Launching Oct. 7, “Innovation and Design Thinking” will be taught by professors from the Lindner College of Business and the College of Engineering and Applied Science. The course is free and open to anyone with an Internet connection, anywhere in the world. There are no prerequisites.

Those are typical traits of a MOOC – a way of teaching huge groups that’s been in practice elsewhere for several years.

But UC's is joining a select few universities that will attach college credit to the course. Anyone who passes the course and enrolls in a master’s program at either the business or engineering college earns two credit hours as an upfront discount on their degree.

More than 1,000 people had enrolled by the end of September, making its first MOOC also the largest class ever taught by UC, said B. J. Zirger, associate dean of online education and distance learning.

The course will be taught by Drew Boyd, an assistant professor of marketing in the business school, and James Tappel, an assistant professor in the engineering college.

'It's A Chance For Engagement'

To accommodate students in time zones all over the world, the pair decided against having any scheduled lectures or discussions. Instead, they will post a series of five-to-seven-minute video lectures that students can access 24 hours a day. Outside contractors, called facilitators, will create and monitor online discussions among the students and report back to the professors. 

Boyd and Tappel will weigh in as necessary with answers to common questions or insights into discussion threads. Anyone seeking a certificate of participation must complete a series of seven automated quizzes and score 75 percent or better on all but one of them. Those who want graduate credit toward a business or engineering degree must pass a final exam. The certificate will cost $30 to process.

“This is sort of a marketer’s dream,” Boyd said.“We put the content out there and draw attention to the university and, not only that, but engage the audience.”

Boyd has taught online courses before to small groups of students who pay tuition and typically earn credit, but he is excited to try out the MOOC model.

“I have to look at the varying needs for credit students and others who just want to hang out and listen to what I say,” he said. “It’s a chance for engagement.”

Professors Learning Too

The class is intended to teach students a methodology for innovation, regardless of the field in which they want to innovate. Anyone from sales people to science researchers can use the tools introduced in the course to go about generating and executing new ideas to advance their causes.

Boyd said the first MOOCs offered by other universities sometimes drew 50,000 participants, but those numbers quickly dwindled, with just 2 or 3 percent completing the courses. He expects UC’s course will be among a newer round of MOOCs to draw a more selective group with a higher percentage who complete the course.

Boyd said this initial offering is a great opportunity for UC to extend its reach and, he hopes, draw new students to the school’s regular coursework.

“'Professor Boyd, I want to learn more.' Those are are the words we wait for,” he said.

Tappel has never taught an online course, but as an engineer, he appreciates the need for change in higher education.

“I would say candidly there is innovation and change happening in all industries, and education is one of those industries,'' he said. "It’s not just a means to build better cars and planes and appliances.”

It’s unfamiliar territory for Tappel, but he looks forward to experimenting to see what works. “There are a lot of things I haven’t done before. Let’s learn by doing,” he said.

Just like old divisions within companies are breaking down, universities can sometimes accomplish more through inter-departmental cooperation, Tappel said.

“We’re borrowing things from different classes and putting them together, and this is the first time we’re collaborating this way. It stretches us a little bit as well as asking how our colleges can work together better,” he said.

Online Teaching Offers Challenges

Teaching to such a massive group begs the question of how to prevent cheating. Tappel said there is a certain amount of trust involved, especially with those not seeking college credit.

“In any system you can take advantage. But let’s not write the rules so that we punish everyone because of the few,” he said.

The course will be offered for seven weeks, but students can access lectures and other class material whenever they want, allowing for more people to enroll throughout the seven-week


“We expect to see additional people sign-up this week and over the next 7 weeks as information about the class spreads,” Zirger said.

Creating and conducting the class will cost between $45,000 to $65,000, she said. The return on that investment, UC hopes, is recruiting some students into graduate programs and raising the university’s profile in new corners of the country and the world.

This initial effort is probably the only MOOC UC will offer during the current academic year, but Zirger said that additional courses could be offered as early as next summer if they deem the first effort a success. Half the cost is in creating the MOOCs, so repeating the same classes is cheaper.

“First and foremost we’re trying to understand the complexities of this platform. Now that we’re dipping our toe in the market, it’s going to help us understand what kind of outreach we achieve, how many we touch and if it’s effective for students,” she said.

“Its ability to extend our reach not only regionally but nationwide and internationally made it time for us to give it a whirl,” Zirger said

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