Kennedy Institute to begin new MOOC next Tuesday

April 9, 2014

Shalina Chatlani

Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics will launch its first massive open online course on April 15. The course, “Introduction to Bioethics,” is a six week MOOC with more than 25,000 people already enrolled from over 155 countries.

Through the MOOC, which will be hosted on the EdX platform, users across the world will be able to view and engage in pre-recorded lectures developed by seven Georgetown faculty, who all volunteered to participate in the program.

“All of the faculty are senior research scholars at the KIE … and have extensive teaching experience in bioethics,” said KIE Design Coordinator Kelly Heuer. “We are showcasing that KIE has a really deep bench in bioethics with people who have a lot of different perspectives and different areas of research.”

Despite the expertise of the faculty, concerns have been raised on whether educators can still engage with students in the types of intimate conversations that occur in a bioethics class over a digital platform.

“One thing that we have done is structure the [MOOC] so that … we start out with the foundations. … The stuff that’s a little more politicized, we deal with later,” Heuer said in response.

Heuer added that the institute has considered issues of anonymity with online users and the large enrollment of students, which prevents faculty from assigning and grading in-depth papers.

“We have 25,000 people enrolled and growing … and the tools we have for grading essay-type things are rudimentary,” said Heuer, who also expressed concerns about the possibility that anonymous commenting may turn negative.

Although classroom teaching is important, according to Karen Stohr, one of the faculty members involved in the MOOC and a senior researcher for the KIE, teaching a MOOC also gives faculty valuable perspective on how to improve their teaching.

“Personal interaction with students is the most rewarding part of being a professor,” wrote Stohr in an email to the Voice. “But working on the MOOC has pushed me to think differently about my teaching strategies, to focus more on the student’s perspective on the classroom experience.  And that’s valuable for me in my traditional classes.”

The Institute worked with a range of groups, including students from the Communication, Culture, and Technology program and the Candles Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, on platform development.

When asked about the challenges the institute faced in the week before the launch of the program, KIE Director Maggie Little joked, “We haven’t slept much, but we’re having a blast.”

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I’m very glad to have the chance to study bioethics with you. I don’t have the money to be part of georgetown university, as a regular student; the MOOC is a very special opportunity for people like me from all over the world. I want to extend my greetings to all the staff and say thanks for all the hard work that you are doing, we are going to learn a lot because of you. Thanks again! See you in the MOOC.