Last fall Oregon State launched its first-ever massive open online course, or MOOC, that was available for free to learners everywhere. The eight-week course – Supporting English Language Learners under New Standards – attracted more than 5,000 participants.
A MOOC is just as its name suggests – a large online class offered freely to anyone with Internet access.
“People can participate from anywhere,” said Karen Thompson, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Education who served as one of three instructors in the course.
Offered in partnership with Stanford University and funded by the Oregon Department of Education, the course provided professional learning opportunities for educators who teach English as a second language or work with bilingual students. Oregon State Ecampus helped make the MOOC a reality, lending its expertise in online learning to the course by providing multimedia and support services.
Although OSU’s inaugural MOOC was conceived with Oregon educators in mind, it ultimately had an international reach. About one-third of the participants studied from outside of the United States, with students hailing from Brazil, Syria, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Romania among other nations.
“Even though our course wasn’t targeted toward teachers teaching English in another country, people outside the U.S. are hungry for opportunities and ideas, and they are interested in seeing how they can improve their students’ language development,” Thompson said.
The opportunity to engage learners on a global scale is an endeavor Oregon State plans to explore further, according to university provost and executive vice president Sabah Randhawa.
“It is important to be open to new possibilities and to be flexible and adaptable to new learning paradigms, including the MOOC learning format,” he said.
For Thompson, teaching the massive course made her even more aware of the desire for information – and the leadership role Oregon State can play in delivering it.
“I had a student who emailed me saying, ‘I’m sorry, I haven’t been able to complete my assignment – we haven’t had electricity for the last three days,’ ” she said. “Think about the opportunities that person had in the past to engage with materials from excellent universities in the U.S. – they were probably very limited.”
“There is this big group of participants from around the world, but we don’t really know much about them, what they need or how what we’re already doing can meet their needs,” Thompson said. “Potentially there might be other OSU offerings in the future that might be of interest to them.”