Panelists Discuss Online Education at Tech

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Making education more accessible — that’s what motivated Tucker Balch, an associate professor in the School of Interactive Computing, to teach a course through Coursera.  “In designing this course, I recognize that I’m not teaching an accredited Georgia Tech course,” said Balch, who will be teaching a six-week course titled “Computational Investing, Part I” that begins in late October. “Instead, I’m trying to take a portion of what I usually teach and make it accessible to a broad group.”During last Thursday’s Town Hall on Online Education, Balch’s sentiments were echoed by each of four faculty panelists who shared their experience in developing a course for Coursera, which recently partnered with Tech and other prestigious universities to offer free courses for the general public. Since the partnership was announced in July, about 70,000 people have enrolled in Tech’s Coursera courses.The event, hosted by the Office of the Provost, offered a forum for members of the campus community to discuss the future of online education at the Institute.   “We’re pursuing opportunities such as Coursera because we want to ensure that Tech has input into the online learning revolution that is occurring,” said Rafael L. Bras, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “I don’t think we have anything to fear — we’re not going to compromise quality — but we need to anticipate student needs.”Bras was joined by Nelson Baker, dean of Professional Education; Donna Llewellyn, associate vice provost of learning excellence; and Rich DeMillo, director of the Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U).“We’ve been doing this [offering distance learning options] for more than 30 years, so this isn’t brand new to us,” Baker said. “Our enrollment is close to 28,000 students annually.”One of the advantages of using online teaching methods is that faculty members are able to reach more people with their ideas, which translates into greater exposure for their research and for Georgia Tech, he added.Baker, Llewellyn and DeMillo emphasized each of their units are available to help faculty members craft and teach courses for online audiences.“I’m hoping that everyone has an opinion that they will share,” DeMillo added. “Bring us your ideas, questions and criticisms.”The town hall also provided an opportunity for the audience to ask questions of the speakers and Balch and his fellow panelists: Irfan Essa, a professor in the School of Interactive Computing; Sam Shelton, a principal research engineer in the Strategic Energy Institute and Fatimah Wirth, an instructional designer in Georgia Tech Professional Education.One of the first questions focused on how students might have more opportunities to cheat when taking courses online. Baker explained that his unit is experimenting with technology, such as eye retina scanners, that can hold students accountable.“And if we’re teaching people who want to learn, they’re not going to cheat — they’re going to do what we ask,” Balch added.Another question related to the quality of the courses. DeMillo responded by saying that it’s important to look at platforms such as Coursera and Udacity and understand that they have nothing to gain by offering courses that are low quality. For example, Udacity recently removed a course for this reason, he added.   Regents’ Professor Emeritus Ray Vito shared that the School of Mechanical Engineering is planning to offer students credit to take some of these noncredit courses. The plan is to get feedback directly from online learners regarding the pros and cons of these courses. “It will provide us with information we can use to make some better decisions about how this might affect mechanical engineering education,” he added.  To watch the town hall in its entirety, click here.  Coursera FAQsHave questions about Coursera? The Center for 21st Century Universities is ready to answer them. The center has created an FAQ site devoted to the topic. Here are a few of the featured Q&As:
  • What kinds of courses are best for Coursera?The actual selection of courses is determined by faculty members. Our objective is to showcase Georgia Tech’s unique and innovative courses. That doesn’t mean that a course in biostatistics is not a good course to offer, but in general, standard courses or general education courses are low on the priority list.   
  • Who owns Coursera course content?The Coursera agreement does nothing to modify employment agreements with Tech, so the exact answer depends on how and for what purpose the course was created. There’s more information related to this in the intellectual property (IP) definition of the faculty handbook.  
  • How much communication is there among instructors and Coursera students?Direct communication will be on a limited basis due to the number of enrollees in these courses. The individual faculty member will determine the degree of interaction. Some faculty members plan on having end of the week chats or using summary questions as a means of reaching out to students.



  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Amelia Pavlik
  • Created: 09/18/2012
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016

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