Thought Leader Interviews: Dr. Charles Severance
Dr. Charles Severance is a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information. To his 50,000 students, he is “Dr. Chuck.” And yes, we did say 50,000. But you won’t find them all in a lecture hall – Dr. Chuck maintains a very impressive virtual classroom.
In the summer of 2012, Dr. Chuck taught his first massive open online course (MOOC) to students across the world. The free, non-credit course was called Internet History, Technology and Security. Dr. Chuck’s goal was to make this technical material accessible to learners of all levels and students from all over the world.
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MOOCs are still relatively new to education. As online courses become more popular, institutions such as MIT and Harvard are opening up their classes to the public. The virtual classroom allows students from all over the world to take college-level courses, for free. The goal of MOOCs is to open up education to as many people as possible. Although the movement toward these online courses has been happening for over 10 years, MOOCs are only starting to capture global attention.
We sat down with Dr. Chuck to ask, for anyone interested in taking one, what makes a good MOOC? Here is what he had to say:
1) The course material should be produced specifically for the MOOC. Simply putting a camera in the back of a classroom and recording a lecture does not create a quality MOOC. In his MOOCs, Dr. Chuck speaks directly into his webcam, as though the student on the other side is the only person he is teaching.
2) The instructor should have experience teaching the course three or four times, to an in-class student audience. When the instructor is very familiar with the material, then it’s a good time to try turning your traditional courses into online courses and teaching a MOOC.
3) Don’t be afraid to add humor! Dr. Chuck thinks it’s difficult for some professors to add their personality into the mix, but he encourages them to bring their personal passion, inspiration, and motivational coaching into the virtual classroom.
“If we could turn it into something robots could teach, we would have already done that,” Dr. Chuck said. “A lot of times we try to automate education. We try to get to the point where we have factored out humans and it’s all done by computers.”
Those personal touches are key, Dr. Chuck says, because with online courses and MOOCs, you don’t get the same teacher-student connection as you do in a traditional classroom. However, the point is to create an environment with as much connection as possible. There are many opportunities in the virtual classroom to foster discussion and collaboration among students, by using things like chat forums, message boards, and Q&A sessions.
The MOOC movement marks an exciting time in education, both for students and teachers. As the demand for online courses grows and the virtual classroom gains even more popularity, the quality of MOOCs will increase, and everyone can reap the benefits.