Last week marked the conclusion of Duke’s third Coursera MOOC, Introduction to Astronomy, or “IntroAstro” as it was nicknamed by Dr. Ronen Plesser. Over 60,000 students registered for this eight week “journey through the cosmos” intended for students with little or no prior knowledge of astronomy.

  • More than 36,000 unique students viewed at least one video during the course, with the number of unique students watching lectures in a single week peaking at over 22,000 students.  An average (median) of 6,700 unique students viewed lectures during each week after the first two weeks. About 5,000 students watched all of the lectures. Over 750,000 streaming and nearly 800,000 video downloads were recorded. 
  • Over 25,300 students attempted the in-video quizzes, and over 16,700 attempted the graded homework problem sets (about 28% of enrolled students).  Over 2,100 students (~13% of those attempting the problem sets) were awarded a Statement of Accomplishment; including ~1,100 who met the more rigorous Distinction level criteria (85% vs 70%).
  • Approximately 2,900 unique students posted the discussion forums, and over 90% of the discussion forum activity was among students. The instructor and the TA contributed nearly 2,000 posts and comments to the forums.
  • Student participation in the forums was correlated with student success. Those earning the Statement of Accomplishment represented approximately 2/3 of all student discussion forum posts and comments, and students earning a Distinction level certificate averaged 5 posts and 5 comments vs. students earning the Normal level who averaged 2 posts and 2 comments.


    Dr. Ronen Plesser hosts a Google Hangout with Coursera students in Introduction to Astronomy

  • In addition to video lectures, problem sets and lively discussion forums, IntroAstro also offered six Google Hangouts with Professor Ronen Plesser; four of these were broadcast to YouTube and have been viewed over 3,000 times, and a Facebook community for the course generated over 4,700 “Likes”. 

Students found the course to be extremely challenging; although some found completing the problem sets too difficult, many students enjoyed these challenges or participated by watching the videos. As Dr. Plesser noted in his final message to the class, the course was “fully as rigorous and extensive as the one I offer my students at Duke” and a “remarkable experience.”  Here are just a few sample final reflections from the students, who provided valuable feedback throughout the course.

“I took the course for enrichment and so that I could understand what some of my astronomer/astrophysicists friends were doing. I had expected a more qualitative course, but this course was wonderful, taking me back to my MIT undergraduate days.”

“The homeworks were brutal and humbling (albeit stimulating and educational)…”

“Unfortunately I did not have enough time to do the homeworks, so I am sure I missed a very important part of the course, but little by little I will study the solutions given. But I followed with great attention all the lectures.”

We’ll report back in a month or so with a more detailed assessment of the course outcomes and lessons learned. In the meantime, a hearty congratulation from all of us at Duke to the students as well as to Dr. Plesser and TA Justin Johnsen at the conclusion of their cosmic journey.

Yvonne Belanger

Prior to May of 2013, Yvonne led assessment and program evaluation for CIT and for university initiatives in which CIT takes a leading role. She also provided leadership to library assessment efforts.

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