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S. Brent Plate: Public Pedagogy: MOOCs and Their Revolutionary Discontents

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 My main interest in digital humanities has to do with the ways they open up scholarly research to a broader public in new ways. That’s not their only use, but that’s the form of the digital that has most interested me. I appreciate the ways museums are creating innovative audio guides to their exhibitions, the ways historians are working with GIS and web-based work to chart a past that people can see and interact with (see Quintman and Schaeffer, this volume), the ways online publications and podcasts (see Cotter and Robertson, this volume) are allowing research to be more open access, and the ways open webinars allow interested parties to sign up, listen, and comment.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 At the same time, I value experience in the undergraduate classroom, the face-to-face encounters, field trips, and collaborative projects that come from brick-and-mortar pedagogy. In my small liberal arts college, I have been experimenting with teaching about the fullness of “sensual religion.” I can pull off some pedagogical gymnastics because my students and I can jump in a van and head down the road to a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple to smell incense, a Bosnian mosque to share an iftar meal during Ramadan, and a Church of God in Christ to hear the sonic percussions of gospel music. I became convinced that there was no other way to teach about the spiritual senses than some variation of a brick-and-mortar classroom, supplemented by field trips.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 So, when the dean of my college contacted me and asked me to contribute a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to the Harvard-MIT non-profit venture called edX, I began with a dose of skepticism. Teaching a “regular” class about the senses was tricky enough. Doing it online seemed not only counter intuitive but perhaps even foolhardy. Reservations aside, I took on the challenge, seeing it as a novel way to contribute to the public understanding of religion, and do that through the material and sensual avenues that I’ve researched. The result was a course entitled “Spirituality and Sensuality” that launched on edX in Spring of 2015.[1]

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 My brief account here gives an overview of MOOCs in general, paying attention to the promises and perils of this form of public education, and then recounts my experiences teaching in this environment, before ending with a petition for scholars of religion to find ways to be involved in these productions of higher education that are open to the general public.

History and promises of the MOOC

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 MOOCs evolved from correspondence courses and distance education. The difference is that MOOCs take advantage of online digital platforms to provide text, video, and audio, and that they are, as the title implies, “open” to people not formally pursuing degrees. Many of them are free for anyone, anywhere. Fuller histories of the education system are readily available online, so I will just give a quick set up here.[2]

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The major push in the new generation of MOOCs began in 2011 when Stanford University put three computer science courses online. Three of today’s biggest providers, edX, Coursera, and Udacity, all started up in 2012. By 2013 there was already overhyped criticism that the moment for MOOCs was over, but enrollment numbers tell a different story. In 2018, over 101 million “students” (I want to use that term loosely) around the world signed up for at least one course, 20 million of them for the first time ever. In 2014, there had only been 17 million students registered worldwide. That’s an increased usage of nearly 600% over those four years. In 2018 there were over 900 universities offering a collective total of 11,400 courses.[3] And Udacity announced their revenue more than doubled from 2016 to 2017, earning $70-million in 2017, and making a billion-dollar company.[4] Within this massive growth, credential-sequence courses are a growing area, meaning that the courses actually count toward a certification, and sometimes degree, of one type or other. The world’s largest provider, Coursera, now offers an online MBA program and charges $22,000 for it. In 2019, Forbes reported that Coursera is now worth over $1 billion, particularly after signing a deal with the Abu Dhabi School of Government to train up to 60,000 employees in computer skills. The greatest growth in participants is coming from India, China, Mexico, and Brazil.[5]

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 But many MOOCs are free of charge and open to anyone, anywhere. Some providers are non-profit (e.g., edX, Khan Academy) and offer free materials, while others are for-profit (e.g., Coursera, Udacity) with varying pay structures. Many of the free courses have an optional “certificate” available, meaning that if you do passing work you receive an actual certificate, but no college credits. For a field like Religious Studies, such a certificate is fairly meaningless, and yet 180 people paid $60 to get a certificate for passing my course.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Many of promises of MOOCs are couched in socio-economic terms: that there are hundreds of thousands of people on waitlists for community colleges in California, that MOOCs break down the elitism of higher education systems, and that hundreds of millions of people in the global south can have access to quality learning, all repeating the “anyone, anywhere” mantra. There is a lot to this–the fact that Stanford, MIT, and Harvard are working together to offer free educational content to the world is significant in and of itself–though some of the rhetoric smacks of hyperbole. It’s difficult to see how the model can be sustainable without great amounts of private and public funding. Most of the courses remain cheap or free for the students enrolled, but they come with a large bill for those who create and maintain them, as I’ll outline below. The largest contributors to funding the courses have been groups such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, National Science Foundation, as well as top-tier universities such as Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Caltech, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Texas at Austin. But there’s no telling what happens if the fickle nature of philanthropy sees another shiny object to run after.[6]

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Yet it’s also hyperbole to criticize MOOCs by saying they can’t shape the education of a global public in positive ways. While the largest MOOC providers have been US-based, in the past two years FutureLearn in the UK (run through The Open University) and XuetangX (founded by Tsignhua University in China) have emerged in the top five service providers, further indicating the global reach and interest in MOOCs. The MOOC enrollments alone should make us pause and challenge many of us to get involved. Seen alongside the massive interest in TED talks,[7] informational podcasts,[8] DIY YouTube videos,[9] The Teaching Company’s Great Courses DVDs,[10] and even the tremendous number of annual museum visits,[11] there is clearly an ongoing public interest in continuing education outside traditional higher education. Among the subjects in which great swaths of the public have an interest is religious studies.

Teaching religion through a MOOC

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 For most MOOCs, on most platforms, content is king. Courses are set up to teach specific skills, or gain a knowledge about something, mostly about technology or business. The most massive of the MOOCs teach code, business tactics, or “how to” speak better/think better/write better. In 2016, around 20% of all offerings were in the social sciences or humanities (about equal numbers in each) which, considering the larger state of higher education, isn’t actually that low. Then again, these courses are not as enrolled as ones that teach code, foreign languages, or technology.[12]

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 According to one key clearinghouse of MOOC offerings, Class Central (www.class-central.com), there are 69 courses in “Religion” available at the time of writing the final draft of this chapter in late 2019. There were only 34 courses in religion when I first started writing this in late 2017. Seven of those are run by edX through Harvard’s Religious Literacy Project, which has a “World Religions Through Their Scriptures” program–Diane Moore has done much of the work there. A number of religion courses are now available in Arabic, Russian, French, Italian, and Hindi.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Nonetheless, several courses offered through Udemy, for instance, retain some very problematic approaches (a course on “Wicca and Witchcraft for Beginners” offers the chance to “cast spells” and “summon elementals, dragons, ancestors and deities”). There are a number of courses available with “religion” as a theme, though these are mainly from philosophical or psychological perspectives, with religion relegated to an intellectualist set of doctrines. Indeed, a vast majority of all MOOCs under a broad umbrella of “religious studies” approach religion through textual or philosophical methods. (Not listed in Class Central’s list is Anthony Pinn’s excellent “Religion and Hip Hop Culture” which was run in 2015, and is still available at edX.) In short, at present there are not a lot of MOOC offerings in religious studies, though that is changing, and FutureLearn has recently made available a number of courses in conjunction with European universities of Nottingham, Groningen, and Trinity College Dublin.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 With many MOOCs, there is often little interest in independent critical thinking, or connective cognitive operations that require reflection and seeing from new perspectives, or, and this is my interest, creating embodied pedagogical practices. Many of the available courses, even in humanities and social sciences, are still dominated by the “sage on the stage” model: just set up a video camera and let the professor do her/his lecture, complete with chalkboard scribblings. This works if content is the thing being disseminated. The differences here are often noted through the nomenclature “xMOOC” and “cMOOC” with x indicating the more traditional pedagogy centered around a professor, test-taking, and individual learning, while c is for connectivity and aims toward community learning and networking.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 With the new wave of MOOCs there has been a noticeable uptick in the cMOOC variety, and indeed all the religion courses I’ve visited (all created in the past 4-5 years) have worked on models that emphasize shorter videos (typically ranging from 2-15 minutes) sandwiched with readings and activities. In these newer models, professors of the courses are pictured in their offices, or around a table with students, or interviewing other “experts” on topics, but they also walk through museums or stand in front of a green screen as charts, images, and information are generated behind them. At other times, all that is heard is a voiceover while images of religious practices and spaces are shown on screen, or animated scenes play out visual representations of the things being described. The audio and visual components have been highly edited and the resulting videos look more like a documentary film than a class lecture. Videos are then layered along with readings, links to online charts, histories, and stories, and usually some type of quiz/evaluation based on multiple choice. Finally, and this is a key part that I’ll discuss further, there is a strong participation component.

My MOOC: from professor to director

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 In 2014, Hamilton College received a grant from the Andrew Mellon foundation in the amount of $250,000 to establish a set of MOOCs.[13] Much of the original grant was established to encourage liberal arts colleges to be part of online education movements, and to chart some possible new directions for MOOCs. In 2015, Hamilton and Colgate joined Davidson College and Wellesley College to form a consortium of liberal arts colleges teaching MOOCs, and share resources.[14] There was an interest on the part of edX, which had mainly been run through R1 institutions, along with a handful of top-tier liberal arts colleges, to think through what a liberal arts approach to education might offer the format of MOOCs. The dean of Hamilton at the time, Patrick Reynolds, stated the goals of Hamilton’s offerings to be “public scholarship, educational outreach, and better understanding of the applications of online educational technology.”[15]

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 When I finally agreed to take the time to create and run a MOOC, I wanted to be sure we were doing something different than the sage on the stage, and it took some research to find a good model. I finally came across Harvard’s “Tangible Things” course (through edX),[16] and began to see ways to create interactive projects, incorporate text and image onto webpages in ways that didn’t have to look like a textbook, embed links to related materials, and finally do some video work that was engaging, showed movement, and not simply a recorded lecture.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 While the structure and syllabus of a traditional college class is more or less up to the individual instructors themselves–as long as they fit departmental curricular needs, etc.–a MOOC can only be created through the effort of a large group of people, most of whom are not in any way “experts” on the content. I worked closely with 3-4 people in audio-visual and web design production, and another half dozen who helped with copyright, liaised with edX, and offered pedagogical insights. Further, six students who had taken previous college classes with me were asked to serve as “teaching assistants,” and they monitored activity during the course, responding to the discussion prompts, and thus giving a strong sense of interactivity to the course in spite of hundreds of people commenting. Adding to the list of those involved was the dean and other administrators who ran the grant and reported back to Mellon.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 As the work went on, I began to feel more like the writer and director (and occasional “star”) of a film, and less like a professor. I thought up most of the content, but when it got time to create the format to deliver the content we had to think collectively, and I had to work with a crew of people to provide material. Once I acknowledged that I was more of a director who needed to get along with a staff of others, and not the solo sage on a stage, things got a lot easier and allowed me to think in new ways about the content and format.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 With the help of an amazing team of ITS staff, we set out to construct one of Hamilton College’s first MOOCs, “Spirituality and Sensuality: Sacred Objects in Religious Life.”[17] Much of it was based on related topics I researched and wrote about in my book A History of Religion in 5 ½ Objects,[18] as it attempted to work through a material culture approach to religion. Working with a key videographer, we set up cameras and filmed in bakeries, cemeteries, churches, museums, forest trails, synagogues, labs, and even a classroom or two. From there we interviewed neuroscientists and pastors, bagel bakers and rabbis, American Indian cultural center directors and archeologists, and created artsy poetry readings. And then we borrowed from the treasure trove that is the internet: more interviews, musical performances, artworks, scientists on TED, cooks on NPR’s Science Friday, and maps to help keep our geo-bearings. With help from ITS staff members who ran the HTML in the background and tweaked and tweaked some more, we got up and running.[19]

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 By the beginning of the seven-week course in Spring of 2015, around 5000 people had registered, hailing from over 130 countries. This included over 400 people from India, over 100 from both Brazil and Mexico, nearly 100 from Turkey, and many more. Half came from the United States. About half were between 26-40. A little over half reported they were female, while 1/3 reported male, a small segment said “other,” and the rest did not report anything. Almost 75% had a college degree or higher.[20]

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 As we began the course the registered students introduced themselves in discussion sections: hundreds of people from all over the world uploaded photos, told stories, and offered their takes on ways objects have sensually triggered experiences and memories in their own lives. As we got going into the assignments and responses, there was some disagreement, and differences in language and tradition, but overall there was a strong sense of working together as a group, as reported by a good number of participants. I know not everyone who registered felt such a collective effervescence, but it was striking to me how many connections were made in spite of my initial skepticism of working online.[21]

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Similar points are echoed by Harvard’s Jennifer Aileen Quigley and Laura Salah Nasrallah in response to a MOOC they offered in 2014 on “The Letters of Paul” through edX. Through their class, they found a large majority of the students reported a strong connection to other students. In a reflection essay on teaching a MOOC, Quigley and Nasrallah conclude:

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 The MOOC in particular and online education in general need not be primarily a concession to the expense and challenge of bringing students into one place. It can be a way to accommodate a hunger for knowledge, the longing for continuing education and broad communication and community.[22]

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 A brick-and-mortar course may or may not create connection, and neither will a MOOC necessarily. But the challenge remains, and there are ways to create different kinds of connections and communities.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 The pedagogical challenge of connectivity is furthered in the challenge to make courses embodied. For all the promises of the interactivity of New Media, digital media remains sensually impoverished, relegated to the audio and visual registers. Responding to this, for our course we created discussion and writing prompts that aimed to get people up off their chairs and into their kitchens or out on the sidewalks to re-experience the world around them in fresh forms, and to reflect on how these basic experiences related to religious life and tradition. Some did, some didn’t. Enough did. And as we worked toward the halfway mark, I began to sense the shifts toward an embodied pedagogical practice, allowing students to see and feel how “religion” is not all about thoughts in the head or texts to be read.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 So, for instance, the third week’s topic was “smell and incense.” I gave a seven-minute introductory video to the week by making comments about an ancient Aztec censer that is housed in Hamilton College’s Wellin Museum. There were readings from Exodus (God’s recipe for incense in the temple), sections of Susan Harvey’s Scenting Salvation and Annick Le Guérer’s book Scent, as well as a segment from my book. Then we turned to interview a local Presbyterian pastor who uses incense in a moving ritual for remembering the dead (admittedly, not a very “Presbyterian” thing to do), followed by a poem evocative of scent, and then a short audio clip by a neuropsychologist on the olfactory system. Once the science, history, poetry, and devotional dimensions were worked through, we made a discussion prompt that aimed to stimulate students’ own experiences with scent. They were asked to respond to the following:

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Go to your kitchen and find three types of spices. If you had to describe the smells to someone with anosmia (“smell blindness”), how would you describe them? What emotions come to the fore as you smell these spices? Are they difficult to describe with words?

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Responses included creative lines like “Cinnamon is like anticipation” or “Vanilla – balloons, party hats, laughter, hugs.” A student in Buffalo lived by a General Mills factory and the air that evening smelled like Cheerios. Another talked about her field research in Ethiopia and wrote about her observations of a coffee ceremony there.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Then we worked toward a final assignment for that section which had them conducting, a brief interview with another person to discuss scent. Perhaps a local rabbi, imam, priest, or pastor, asking how they use smells in religious services. Or, interview a chef, a baker, a perfume store worker, or an incense shop. Or, talk with a grandparent about their cooking recipes and the spices and smells used. Provide a 2-3 paragraph report on the use of scents in important environments near you.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Again, the responses were broad ranging and creative, from talk with family members–which led to the place of smell and memories–to bakers–which led to comments about “happiness”–to clergy–which led to comment on the conditioned bodily responses by practitioners. Through both of these assignments, students had to reflect back on the medium of written language as a conveyor of information, even when it is notoriously difficult to describe smell in words.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Note that neither of these prompts, nor any of the others in the course, intended to get students to regurgitate readings, memorize a list of scents and olfactory structures, or to offer up some doctrinal comment on scent in religious traditions. There was little “content” that students could walk away with, which may have driven some students away from the course, as some likely had hoped for a list of “what religions believe” type of approach. Instead we aimed to nudge students to rethink the world around them, to realize how the senses operate in basic ways in our everyday life, and then over the course of the MOOC, conceptualize how religious traditions operate through the senses, above, beyond, and before there is any recourse to beliefs, texts, or doctrines. In this way, I saw the course as a critical intervention into public understandings of religion, to push beyond the Protestant-centrism of what religion is.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Once my course was finished, it was “archived,” meaning that all the content continues to be available, for free, to anyone who wants to use it. (Available at: https://www.edx.org/course/spirituality-sensuality-sacred-objects-hamiltonx-relst005-5x.) One only needs to register with edX. Two and a half years after my course ran, there are over 7000 people enrolled, and there are still about 20-30 people per week watching videos or engaging readings to this day. All of the discussion boards have been turned off, and so the collective engagement is missing, but the videos and readings can be accessed. One of my hopes was that these modules could be available for others teaching traditional classes, to have a range of resources to use.

MOOCs and the public understanding of religion

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 As a link between scholarship and the general public, MOOCs are best seen as situated along a line of educational enterprises in the United States, from lyceums to Chautauquas to Mortimer Adler’s Great Books. In a 2013 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jonathan Freedman saw MOOCs for their public value, while realizing that while the knowledge imparted is wholly “middlebrow,” they have a deep value in a history of public education:

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 MOOCs are just the latest incarnation of bringing watered-down versions of culture, knowledge, and learning to a mass audience. What we see as the courses’ flaws may well be their strengths, and they have the potential to carry those strengths to a broader audience than ever before. Problems arise only when we think of MOOCs as university courses rather than as learning for the masses.[23]

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Freedman goes on to suggest that MOOCs “can be thought of as part of the university’s contribution to society as a whole, serving as a form of adult education.”

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 I think this is a useful, pragmatic way to imagine such MOOCs: as a middle-brow “contribution to society” through continuing education. Indeed, most critiques of non-credit bearing MOOCs are that they aren’t as “rigorous” as real college classes. The obvious response is simply to say: they aren’t college courses. As noted, there is an uptick in credit-bearing courses for MOOCs in general, but we need to be able to distinguish the credit-bearing from the non-credit bearing and find the impact of each. There are MOOCs that are credit-bearing and cost-evoking, and these comprise one important manifestation of the digital medium. And there are other MOOCs, like mine, that are free and open to the public and should be compared not to a college class, but to Chautauquas and TED talks, and perhaps even museum visits.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 There is, for better and worse, a push across institutions of higher education to offer more online courses, for credit, for paying students. These need a different structure and set of standards than the kind of public course I taught. But I also think any online course, for credit or not, should use the technologies at hand to create something beyond the mere transmission of information. The task before us is to utilize digital technologies for a much more robust and thoughtful understanding of contemporary and historical religious life as embodied, as intersecting with other components of human life, and lived out through mundane existence.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 The non-credit MOOC, as I see it, can offer a critical intervention into the public understanding of religion. These courses offer an opportunity for some of us to push beyond academic insider-speak and create spaces for comprehension of this odd, contested realm we call religion. Within that, I have continued to see part of my own research and outreach evolve as I try to get beyond the beliefs-doctrines-texts approach that dominates much of the public understanding of religion, and toward body-based practices. Sensual engagement, I have continued to argue, is necessary to begin to understand the comings and goings of religion. MOOCs might yet rise to the challenge of getting us out of our heads and “bring us to our senses.”


39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 [1] Even the title of the course was different from anything I’d offer in a credit-bearing college course. The title was for publicity, for attracting a larger swath of people.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 [2] See Paul Stacey, “Pedagogy of MOOCs,” The International Journal for Innovation and Quality in Learning, 3 (2014): 111-115. The Wikipedia entry for “Massive open online course” is also useful for an overview and links.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 [3] Statistics about MOOCs in this paragraph come from https://www.classcentral.com/report/moocs-stats-and-trends-2018/.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 [4] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-udacity-revenue/udacity-with-eye-to-eventual-ipo-says-revenue-more-than-doubled-in-2017-idUSKCN1GB2E2

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 [5] Discussing such issues in the slow moving field of academic publishing means all these numbers will be changing rapidly. For now, see Susan Adams, “Online Education Provider is Now Worth More Than $1 billion” https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2019/04/25/online-education-provider-coursera-is-now-worth-more-than-1-billion/#469a618030e1

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 [6] See the important critique, “The Creeping Capitalist Takeover of Higher Education,” by Kevin Carey, vice president for education policy and knowledge management of the centrist think tank New America. Huffpost, 1 April 2019: https://www.huffpost.com/highline/article/capitalist-takeover-college/

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 [7] In 2015, TED talks were being watched 1 billion times a year.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 [8] Podcast listening has continued to rise, and estimates suggest that 21% of the U.S. population listened to a podcast in 2016. See: http://www.businessinsider.com/podcasts-are-becoming-more-popular-among-listeners-and-advertisers-2016-6.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 [9] The top DIY YouTube channels each have millions of followers and hundreds of millions of collective views.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 [10] The Teaching Company has produced over 500 courses since began in 1990, and reports total sales in twenty five years of 14 million copies, claiming $100 million per year. See Nevin Martell, “Before YouTube and online classes, there were the Great Courses,” Washington Post, 3 Sept 2015. http://wapo.st/1KXa4hs?tid=ss_mail&utm_term=.62f3e7fd2f3d.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 [11] The American Alliance of Museums reports that there are over 850 million museum visits per year in the United States. See http://www.aam-us.org/about-museums/museum-facts.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 [12] Statistics about MOOCs in this section come from https://www.class-central.com/report/mooc-stats-2016/.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 [13] The grant was instigated through the work of Hamilton’s then-President, Joan Stewart, and implemented chiefly by David Smallen, Hamilton’s Vice President for Libraries and Information Technology, with a lot of assistance from Lisa Forrest, Director of Research and Instructional Design in the library. I should note that my ability to create the course was largely made possible because I teach at a well-endowed college, and even with this, the course was only producible with the Mellon grant and the impetus of the college’s interest in combining technology and pedagogy.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 [14] See Jeffrey Young, “New Consortium’s Mission: Improve Liberal-Arts Teaching Online” in Chronicle of Higher Education, May 12, 2015:

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/new-consortiums-mission-improve-liberal-arts-teaching-online/56621?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 [15] See Hamilton news story: https://www.hamilton.edu/news/story/hamilton-joins-consortium-focused-on-online-pedagogy

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 [16] https://www.edx.org/course/tangible-things-discovering-history-harvardx-usw30x-0

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 [17] Online at: https://www.edx.org/course/spirituality-sensuality-sacred-objects-hamiltonx-relst005-5x.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 [18] S. Brent Plate, A History of Religion in 5 ½ Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to its Senses (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2014).

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 [19] The “team” included the hard work of a number of people, and I want to particularly mention the ITS staff of Ted Fondak, Forrest Warner, Bret Olsen, and Lisa Forrest, and my teaching assistants Molly April, Jasmin Thomas, Carrie Cabush, Sophia Henriquez, Molly Root, and Danielle Rodrigues.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 [20] One element of online courses is that there are endless amounts of data available about students and their use of the course materials. I can note that there have been 674,596 “clicks” in course content, that the mean time students spent in the course was 1.1 hours, and that out of the 7000 people who eventually registered over the last two and a half years a little over 900 have engaged at least half the class. That final number may be surprising, but engagement rates across MOOCs are very low in relation to the number of people registered, usually 10% or less.

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 [21] In spite of many metrics, questionnaires, and other responses, the analysis is difficult to assess. One could say that having only a 10% participation rate (see previous note) makes this a failure, but when we are talking about hundreds of people we might, in the “glass half full” mode, think it was quite successful.

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 [22] Jennifer Aileen Quigley and Laura Salah Nasrallah, “HarvardX’s Early Christianity: The Letters of Paul: A retrospective on online teaching and learning,” available at: https://www.academia.edu/34517001/HarvardXs_Early_Christianity_The_Letters_of_Paul_A_retrospective_on_online_teaching_and_learning.

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 [23] Jonathan Freedman, “MOOCs: Usefully Middlebrow,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov 25, 2013: http://www.chronicle.com/article/MOOCs-Are-Usefully-Middlebrow/143183/.

Source: https://opr.degruyter.com/digital-humanities-and-research-methods-in-religious-studies/s-brent-plate-public-pedagogy-moocs-and-their-revolutionary-discontents/