Session of the Week: How Should Historians Respond to MOOCs?

In an effort to highlight the diverse range of scholarship at the upcoming annual meeting, we’re highlighting different sessions here on the blog each week.

MOOC2012, the media told us, was the year of the MOOC (or Massive Open Online Course).  This new educational phenomenon, which became popular in the Stanford Computer Science Department and through two companies started there (Coursera and Udacity), has spread throughout the world in just a few short months.  While other models for running MOOCs exist, the large, video-based MOOCs championed by these companies have captured the imagination of university administrators across the United States as a means to drive down the cost of college, improve access to education around the globe and extend the brands of elite schools everywhere.

Despite the attention that MOOCs have received, the American historical profession has done little to consider the implications of these courses on this discipline.  The first and greatest number of MOOCs cover subjects like computer science or math, but a few pioneering superprofessors (to use the common term for a MOOC course leader) have created history MOOCs and test-driven them in front of worldwide audiences in the tens of thousands.

What did these professors learn about teaching history from this experience?  How has this experience changed the way they teach on their home campuses?  What are the implications of the rise of MOOCs for those historians who currently teach the old fashioned way?  What are the implications of MOOCs for history students going forward?  How will these new gigantic courses affect historians at all levels of employment in academia now?  These are just a few of the questions we hope to begin to answer in this panel.

We propose a roundtable format for this discussion so as to encourage lots of participation from the audience.  Each panelist would talk for about ten minutes, followed by discussion.  Jeremy Adelman of Princeton University and Philip Zelikow of the University of Virginia would describe what it’s like to be a superprofessor and explain the pedagogical choices they made in carrying out their Coursera world history classes during the 2012-2013 academic year.  Jonathan Rees of Colorado State University – Pueblo would consider the implications of MOOCs on the academic labor market and how these courses could change every historian’s job daily routine.  Ann Little of Colorado State University in Fort Collins would discuss the aspects of face-to-face education that MOOCs can and cannot duplicate.  Elaine Carey of St. Johns University, head of the AHA’s Teaching Division in 2013, has agreed to serve as moderator for the panel and the Teaching Division has agreed to sponsor it.

Daphne Koller of the Stanford Computer Science Department and co-CEO of Coursera has also been invited to participate in this panel to discuss the technological aspects of history MOOCs.  She could not commit to a date over a year out at the time she was contacted.  However, she has agreed that if this panel is accepted to consider the offer again.

AHA Session 105

Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM

Virginia Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)

Chair: Elaine K. Carey, St. John’s University


Jeremy I. Adelman, Princeton University
Ann Little, Colorado State University–Fort Collins
Jonathan Rees, Colorado State University–Pueblo
Philip D. Zelikow, University of Virginia

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  1. Tamara Burke

    You’re missing a critical member of your panel: the amateur, or non-traditional, student.. the person like myself who could, just a few short years ago, never have imagined they could view and participate in such a learning experience. By larding your panel with academics you’re missing a the very voice which may ultimately drive the demand for History MOOCs, those of us who will never be “historians” but are passionate about history. Ask me what I am and I will tell you I am an amateur experimental archeologist with a concentration in 18th century textiles and fashion. Ask me what I write about and I’ll tell you I write about consumerism, and its roots in the 18th century. Ask me what I do for a living and I’ll tell you I’m a farmer with a part time job as a retail clerk. Ask me where I direct the resources I have and I’ll tell you it isn’t into decorating my home, new clothes, or even my fuel tank (which is likely going to be a problem this winter).. but instead my resources go into research, books, and online classes. People like me? We are your future, no matter what you may think your future is, our demand will shape the MOOCs.