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Monday, December 22, 2014

Online courses to reach, teach thousands

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By William Aranda / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Production staffer Manuel Machuca, left, and Director of New Media & Extended Learning Debby Knotts have a conversation in the NMEL studio at Woodward Hall on Tuesday morning.

assistant-news@dailylobo.com
@ChloeHenson5

Associate Provost Greg Heileman teaches about 40 students per semester at UNM, but in about two weeks, he’ll be instructing thousands.

Beginning on Mar. 17, Heileman will teach UNM’s first Massive Online Open Course.

As of press time, Heileman has 7,580 people enrolled in his class, with about 1,000 students signing up per day.

“I’d have to teach for 250 years to get this many students,” he said.

Heileman said the class, Web Applications Architecture, will be about how to build the infrastructure behind a web application. He said it is the same kind of technology that has been used to construct some UNM sites, such as degrees.unm.edu.

“Students were very interested and I thought it might make a good MOOC because I didn’t see one out there on this topic,” he said. “That’s why I decided to do it.”

MOOCs are online courses that are open to individuals from across the world. Heileman’s course will be offered through Coursera.org. The course is free with unlimited enrollment. It will last about six weeks and requires approximately 6 to 9 hours of work per week.

Coursera.org is an “educational platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free,” according to their website.

Heileman said he started working on the MOOC with New Media and Extended Learning in August. He said he put all of the educational material together for the MOOC, but NMEL did a lot of the production work.

NMEL Director Debby Knotts said the production team recorded most of Heileman’s MOOCs in a studio located below Woodward Hall. She said the crew used green screen technology to project images that reinforced the content behind Heileman as he presented his lesson.

“The way we recorded most of it was in the television studio. So he was standing up and speaking while these images were then superimposed behind him,” she said.

NMEL already had a lot of video production experience before started recording the MOOCs, Knotts said. She said the studio is used for various other productions such as online courses and Arts Talk, a local television show produced by UNM Professor Sherri Burr.

“The videographers, they know what they’re doing,” she said.

While students will not receive UNM credit for taking a MOOC, Heileman said the course offers a certification of completion. He said he is also considering making the MOOC a precursor to his class.

“The offer would be if you want University credit on this, if you can prove that you completed it, then we’ll let you enroll in class at UNM to let you complete this and actually gain University credit,” he said.

Heileman said while some people are using MOOCs to replace a traditional classroom setting, UNM is using it as a tool to reinforce learning in class.

“If we use (MOOCs) in our setting, in our University setting, this is no different than me asking you to read the textbook. I’m saying ‘Watch that MOOC instead,’” he said. “You’re still going to engage with me when you come to class.”

MOOCs can also be used to investigate other subjects so that students can be well rounded, Heileman said.

He said UNM will likely expand its offered MOOCs to include other areas of education, such as graphics and psychology. Heileman said he thinks it would be beneficial to offer courses that are special to New Mexico, such as the Navajo language, which is not offered on Coursera.

“Things that are unique to our part of world would be nice to offer,” he said.