By: Talia Kolodny, Partner Community Manager at Coursera
Instructors from across Coursera’s partner community recently gathered at Coursera’s sixth annual Partners Conference to discuss the tools, knowledge, and inspiration needed to create high-quality experiences for learners around the world. Below are 5 key takeaways from the Instructor Track sessions.
Lauren Atkins Budde (University of Michigan), Denise Hood (University of Illinois), and Richard Griffiths (Universiteit Leiden) in the first breakout session of Instructor Track
#1: It’s all about the learners.
The importance of putting learners at the center was reflected in many of the conference talks and events. Coursera’s CEO Jeff Maggioncalda addressed his vision of “Learners First”, focusing on meaningful credentials alongside high-quality content to put learners at the center of the learning experience. William Kuskin from University of Boulder, Colorado said, “From MOOCs I learned that it is not about me! It’s about the learner! You need to get out of the way and let the learning happen.” Truly, there is no better way to understand the learner’s mindset than to hear it from them directly. Instructors were privileged to experience a lively panel of degree students from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign (UIUC) iMBA and MCS-DS programs who shared their experiences on what they gained and what they’d improve for future cohorts.
#2: Learning online can be better than face-to-face
Online classrooms of the future will not only rival but surpass the physical classroom experience. We got a glimpse of that when Larry DeBrock from UIUC shared that when he taught an in-person class of 1,600 students, it was rare for students to speak up or ask questions. In contrast, in his online classes, students regularly share feedback through interactive chats and video conferencing. Teaching online offers a deeper sense of connectivity and community, said Fataneh Taghaboni-Dutta, also from UIUC, and community has a strong impact on learning. For the longest time, community was about geography, added Sherman Young from Macquarie University. But there are different ways an online community is defined: with belonging, responsiveness, or human understanding. These communities are so much more diverse and international than those on campus.
“I think the interactions online are better than on campus. I was amazed by how professors are responsive. It is so much more attainable than on campus.” – Kara, iMBA graduate
“Networking online is absolutely possible and so much better sometimes. You can have side conversations without interrupting the class, and get your peers perspectives through chats.” – Morgan, iMBA student
Marco Gillies, from the University of London, added that online dashboards enable instructors to actually see individual learner’s progress and where they are struggling. This is not possible with on-campus students, and it allows instructors to check on them and offer support. “We shouldn’t romanticise the on-campus experience, we should innovate!” he said.
To this point, Larry DeBrock added, “online learning is often referred to as distance learning. But that is a misnomer. Students are right there in front of you!” Outside of the degree experience, we also heard about innovations that could become game-changers for MOOC instructors. These include the much-awaited course progress funnel for data-driven course improvements.
#3: Online courses can transform the way you teach
It’s not always easy to embrace innovations. Sometimes it is so different from the familiar and the incentives are not clear right from the start. But when you are able to overcome initial barriers, it can transform the way you teach. Students on campus benefit from this change in mindset. Examples of this were provided by Mathew Constantine from IE Business School, who shared videos from Coursera MOOCs with faculty on campus to embed in their lessons. Jose Escamilla showed us how flexible hybrid learning models allowed Tecnologico de Monterrey to rise up from the ruins of a devastating earthquake in which they lost 5 students. Although their physical buildings were ruined, they were able to return to full capacity through hybrid learning. Many of the instructors indicated they changed the way they think about teaching on campus once they started to teach online.
#4: Collaboration is the future of education
Collaboration was a key theme throughout the conference. Sean Gallagher from Northeastern University spoke of credentialing innovations and finding the zone of growing convergence between traditional academic credentials and alternative credentials. Companies are eager to partner with universities to prepare the future workforce with the skills they need, and we even heard about a vision for collaboration between universities and states around computer science teacher training from Beth Simon at University of California, San Diego. Organizations like the United Nations Development Programme are achieving transformative change for their employees around the globe. In turn, they are able to work towards the 2030 Global Sustainable Development Goals that Mariam Kakkar described in her passionate keynote address.
#5 Our community is powerful
Finally, I found that there is a rich treasure of knowledge and expertise within Coursera’s educator community. From data wizards like Chris Impey from University of Arizona and social entrepreneurs like Lauren Atkins Budde from the University of Michigan, to veteran MOOC masters like McMaster’s Barbara Oakley and communication coaches like John Heijligers from Eindhoven. Through this community, we learned how to time travel through video lectures, feel more grounded in front of a camera, use strategic sprinkles of humor, and hold Teach-Outs to change the world. Coursera instructors are passionate about social impact and thirsty for community interaction. I look forward to building on this enthusiasm to foster a collaborative and dynamic professional community that benefits educators and learners worldwide.
We are so grateful for the thousands of instructors who make it possible for us to reach learners around the world with transformational learning experiences. We’re excited for what’s next in 2018 and beyond!