For Susan Alcock, professor of archaeology and classics, archaeology does not need to be practiced amidst dusty ruins in an exotic country. Her students explore the field from behind their computer screens in Alcock’s massive open online course, “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets,” on Coursera.
Alcock’s second iteration of the course begins today after an initial debut last summer. The class has a projected workload of four to six hours per week over eight weeks, and students who finish the course will receive a certificate of completion signed by Alcock, according to the Coursera website.
Alcock’s Coursera course is based on a class that she has taught numerous times at Brown, ARCH 0100: “Field Archaeology in the Ancient World,” Alcock wrote in an email to The Herald.
Teaching the class online allowed her to provide students more creative materials like recordings of trips to the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology and conversations with fellow Brown professors, including Laurel Bestock, professor of archaeology, and Stephen Houston, professor of anthropology and archaeology, Alcock wrote. These new resources will also be helpful during her regular courses at Brown, she added.
“What I really want to convey in this class is not just what archaeology is, but how you do it and how you can do it anywhere in the world,” Alcock said in an introductory video for her MOOC.
Deputy Dean of the College Christopher Dennis is currently registered for a MOOC on Coursera himself. He said MOOCs “democratize access to education,” allowing anyone to learn about a specific field. But most people registered for MOOCs are generally already well-educated rather than those without access to formal resources, he added.
Because MOOCs are available to the public for free, registered students receive less individual attention, wrote Arnold Weinstein, professor of comparative literature, in an email to The Herald.
Weinstein taught “The Fiction of Relationship” as a MOOC on Coursera last summer. Because thousands of students were signed up for the course, Weinstein was unable to establish close connections with his students, he wrote, adding that many students signed up without the intention of fulfilling the course requirements but rather to gain access to the readings, lectures and online discussion forums.
Patrick Carey ’16, an English concentrator who registered for Weinstein’s MOOC but decided not to complete it, said the reading list was his primary motivation for taking the course. Carey dropped the MOOC because he had trouble staying motivated for a course that did not provide credit, he said.
“The problem with MOOCs is when you have 1,000 people in it, the energy of the teacher is spread over that many people,” he said. “I felt like I was writing a lot of things, but not getting the same experience as I would have at Brown.”
The future of MOOCs lies in the hybridization of courses, incorporating an in-person component into online classes, Dennis said.
Alcock hopes to hybridize her archaeology MOOC by simultaneously teaching an online class on Coursera and teaching the physical class at Brown using the same material, Alcock wrote. “This kind of blended class experience seems exceptionally promising, though everyone is still a bit of a guinea pig,” she wrote.
The University approved a policy allowing students to transfer credits from approved online courses offered by other institutions in December, The Herald reported at the time.
But the new policy does not apply to MOOCs.
The University’s policy on transfer credit for online courses mirrors its procedure for approving study away programs in the United States, Dennis said. Courses approved for transfer must be “highly vetted” and “carefully approved,” unlike MOOCs, which are “completely open,” he said.
Kathleen McSharry, associate dean of the College for writing and curriculum, said the University maintains high standards for accreditation of courses. Many levels of approval exist, beginning with the administrative level, she said, adding that courses must come from a college of arts and sciences, rather than a specialized school, such as a business school.
Specific departments must then approve the courses by examining the syllabi, reading lists and assignments, said Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services and acting dean of the College.
Students should check with the University before expending effort on an online course that might not be credited, McSharry advised, adding that no letter grades appear on student transcripts for transfer credit.
Klawunn said the University’s decision to allow transfer credits from online courses merited little response from professors. Attitudes toward the policy will be difficult to gauge until students have the chance to take more online courses over the summer, she added.