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Post-MOOC, Youngman talks success, future improvements

Professor Owen Youngman wrapped up Northwestern’s first Massive Open Online Course back in November. But with thousands of students participating at different levels, he’s still working to analyze the massive amount of data he accumulated from the experience.

The course, called “Understanding Media by Understanding Google” and offered through Coursera, an educational technology company, lasted six weeks and started out with over 50,000 enrollments. Almost 1,200 people completed the MOOC with a passing grade.

“Signing up for a MOOC is sort of like looking at a course catalog. When it finally comes time to enroll, there can be time conflicts,” Youngman, who is also Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy, said about the reason many people sign up for MOOCs and do not complete them.

Youngman’s MOOC was modeled on “American Media through the Lens of Google,” an undergraduate class he usually teaches at Medill, but condensed to a shorter time frame and fit to the MOOC teaching model.

“I thought it went well,”  Youngman said. “It was very interesting to interact with people around the world.”

Youngman took a different approach to grading in the class. Each student was required to grade work submitted by others, and some participants in the class became very involved with giving their peers feedback, sometimes grading up to 20 assignments. Feedback from students showed that they felt the grades were fair.

Contributing to class discussion was a requirement for the course and the discussion forum received more than 20,000 posts. In order to handle so many comments and questions, Youngman had a group of students who had done well in his Google course at Northwestern to act as teaching assistants.

Dawnthea Price (BSJ14) was one of the teaching assistants, though she differentiates her role as a TA for the class from a traditional Northwestern TA by calling her position a “facilitator for discussion.” Her experience helping with the class gave her “an appreciation for where online education is going.”

She was surprised to learn that most of the people who took the class, almost 70 percent, and that she interacted with online were not from the United States.

“I think Professor Youngman made a very forward and innovative choice to offer his course on Coursera,” Price said. She also said this course is one great way to learn about innovation in technology and media.

Youngman says part of the allure of the free online course is the opportunity to supplement and continue education.

“The biggest takeaway is that there is no limit to the number of people who want to improve themselves by reading and writing about different topics,” Youngman said.

Even though the course is finished, thousands have continued to watch course videos online.

Molly Shaheen (BSJ14) worked with Youngman to develop the online course content, proofreading, editing and testing the text, multimedia and quizzes.

“MOOCs are such an emerging way of higher education and I was so excited to get to be a part of this part of educational development,” she said.

Medill’s first MOOC also served as a good promotion for the University.

“Professor Youngman really tried to keep the course Northwestern-centric, putting a lot of footage from the Evanston campus into the video lectures,” Shaheen said. “It was an exciting way to help make the MOOC students still feel like they were receiving a Medill, Northwestern education on this topic.”