On Monday, March 18th Duke launched its seventh MOOC, English Composition I: Achieving Expertise on the Coursera platform. This twelve week course, taught by Denise Comer (Assistant Professor of the Practice in Writing and Director of First-Year Writing in the Thompson Writing Program), is one of a small cohort of courses chosen for funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help the instructors develop introductory courses in a MOOC platform that reach a broad range of learners. Coursera’s peer assessment tool and discussion forums will be used to leverage the student community to help each other learn how to write academic essays, a cornerstone of the college experience.
A sense of community, inclusion, and support is apparent in the course already. The thread with the most ‘up’ votes is a message to all the non-native English speakers taking the course (77% of enrolled students). The poster, who is a native speaker married to a Chilean, encouraged non-natives to stick with the course even if they are struggling with the language. His advice: “[D]on’t get hung up on being grammatically perfect, concentrate on getting the point across.” Outside of the United States (~25% of enrolled students), the largest concentration of students reside in India, Brazil and Spain, with 7-8% of students in each of those countries.
There are over 64,000 registered students and 23,645 have signed in since going live Monday. Videos have been streamed over 50,000 times and downloaded about 35,000 times. In the first day, nearly 1700 new threads were posted in response to the first short essay assignment “I am a Writer.”
Comer reflected on how the scale of the course can be overwhelming at first:
“I was really nervous on the first day of the class–nervous at the prospect of over 60,000 people sharing a course website. This nervousness slowly gave way to awe and enthusiasm by the end of the day, though, as I continued reading the discussion forums … I feel privileged to have the opportunity to facilitate conversations about writing between so many learners across the world. The students are teaching me so much already about writing in various contexts, and it’s helping broaden my perspectives on teaching and writing.”
Students are reacting positively to the instructor too, noting that her delivery is “welcoming and kind” and the materials are “excellent.”