MOOC completion and course activities

There has been a lot of discussion about MOOC completion, most of which has focused on completion rates: what percent of people complete a MOOC, and how should we calculate that number?  However, what has drawn less attention, but is potentially more interesting, is what in-course activities impact completion.  Understanding whether or not different course elements in a MOOC affect completion can potentially help us better understand best practices in MOOC design.

We used data from three of Duke’s MOOCs that recently concluded – The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, Introduction to Genetics and Evolution, and Image and Video Processing: From Mars to Hollywood with a Stop at the Hospital – all three of which began in January and ended in March.  A total of 4,973 students successfully completed one of these three classes.

We asked students to complete a survey after the course ended.  A total of 1,979 students across the three courses completed a survey.  Note that this includes both students who received a Statement of Accomplishment and those who did not.  The surveys are roughly split 50/50 between those who completed the course and those who did not.

We were interested to find out what course activities increased the likelihood that someone would finish the course.  We asked students whether they participated in various activities – things like completing optional readings, participating in forums, or editing a course wiki.  The full list of activities we asked about is shown in the table below.  We then ran a statistical model predicting whether a student had completed a course based on their involvement in each of the activities.


We found three especially interesting things in our analysis.  First, “Watch lectures” is omitted from most of the models.  This is because watching the lectures perfectly predicts completion in two of the three classes.  Unsurprisingly, no one completed the courses without watching the lectures in either Genetics of Image and Video Processing.  What is interesting is that some students in the Higher Education course did complete the course without watching lectures.  This is likely because the Higher Education course focused on delivering content in a variety of new and innovative ways using different mediums.  Because the “watch lectures” variable is not significant in that model, we believe this suggests that content can be effectively delivered in MOOCs in ways other than only through video lectures.

Second, we find that viewing the course wiki in the Higher Education course was significantly associated with completion.  Students who used the course wiki were 75% more likely to complete the course.  This may be because this course had a very extensive and active course wiki; 73% of survey respondents viewed the wiki at least once.  Our analysis indicates that participating in a student group in this course is associated with a lower likelihood of completion.  However, this is likely not a robust finding since less than 10% of the sample reporting participating in a study group.

Third, there is a significant relationship between forum activity and completion, but only in the Genetics class.  In that class, students who participated in the forums were twice as likely to complete the course.  This could be due to the level of difficulty in this course; students who were actively discussing the material with other students may have learned more.  The survey respondents from the Genetics class were especially active in the forums; 46% reported some forum activity.

Note – while taking quizzes is obviously the strongest predictor of course completion, this is essentially a non-finding because the quizzes are the main graded elements of the courses.  Therefore, completing the course means, by definition, that students completed the quizzes.  We kept the variable in the analysis simply to confirm that the analysis was accurately modeling course completion.

Bass Online Apprentices Share the MOOC Student Experience

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) offer the potential for a student learning experience that is collaborative, engaging and global. What is distinctive about the student experience in a massive open online course (MOOC)? What do participants find most challenging about learning in a MOOC, and how has the MOOC experience impacted their learning?

To find out, I asked two students who are a part of the Duke Graduate School Bass Instructional Fellowship Program, for PhD students, led by Dr. Hugh Crumley, Director of the Certificate in College Teaching.  As part of the Bass Online Apprenticeship (OA) fellowship, students enroll in GS 762 Online College Teaching, and participate in an online apprenticeship with the Center for Instructional Technology (CIT), to gain practical experience working with Duke faculty and CIT consultants in online education. One of their course assignments is to experience learning and observe instruction in a massive open online environment, with a class peer, and at the end of the semester reflect and share their MOOC experiences.

 Keri HamiltonKeri Hamilton, a PhD student in Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology, and a Bss OA Fellow, signed up for two MOOCs offered by Coursera: Duke‘s Introduction to Genetics and Evolution, and Human Evolution: Past and Future offered by University of Wisconsin-Madison.  In Genetics and Evolution, Keri participated in Google Hangouts on Air, which she found enhanced her learning:

“Being able to record the hangouts allowed students to view them later, and the hangouts had a Q & A feature that allowed students viewing the interactions to ask questions and participate. I really enjoyed this feature, and thought it was a good way to interact with students in real time on a broad level.”

In terms of what positively impacted the user experience, Keri commented on the forums, which made it enjoyable to interact with many different students, read their opinions, and watch collaboration on problems sets or fundamental ideas.  “It made the class feel more interactive,” she said. Keri sums up her student experience:

“Participating in MOOCs has shown me that you can learn new things even in fields that you didn’t think you could take classes in.  It lets you continue to broaden your horizon past your job and research specialties. Take a MOOC! The worst that can happen is you learn something!”

Bass OA Fellow Giuseppe Prigiotti, a Phd Candidate in Romance Studies (Italian), enrolled in the Coursera Duke PrigiottiMOOC: The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.  For Giuseppe, the MOOC experience was “a unique opportunity to envision the future of college education, constructing effective paths to twist online and on the ground learning.” Giuseppe benefited most from the peer assessments. “Writing these three essays, I was obliged to rethink course materials in light of my personal perspective. I want to question my idea and practice of education. I have had many chances to teach in the last 14 years, but I still like to learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Giuseppe’s commentary captures one of the many benefits of learning in a MOOC –the opportunity to experience innovation and consider the pedagogical possibilities.  Of special note is Giuseppe’s comment on the significance of the Bass OA fellowship, and the important experience it provides:

“The new Bass Online Apprentice Fellowship has been the starting point to discover MOOCs, and that may be beneficial for my future work in academia, as a professor of Italian Culture — hopefully!”

With the added experience of enrolling in a MOOC, reflecting on the experience and how it has impacted their own learning, these Duke Bass OAs (online apprentices) will have a well-rounded set of online teaching skills to add to their fellowship experience, as well as practical, applied experience in the realm of online teaching and learning.

Lessons from a Meta-MOOC

hastacThe main purpose of Cathy Davidson’s The History of Future of (Mostly) Higher Education (taught in the Coursera platform) was to think about how to redesign higher education to meet 21st century learning goals. Professor Davidson has a track record of innovation in education; she co-founded the influential HASTAC organization, which is dedicated to increasing student engagement in learning. In this tradition, she framed her MOOC as a movement across universities and institutions, rather than a single course, and went above and beyond to encourage online student interactions beyond the traditional model of forum contributions. Below are some highlights of her experimental approach to teaching a MOOC and the lessons her students took away from the experience.

Be a skeptic of the medium. Professor Davidson was openly critical of the way content is presented in massive open online courses. Most information is delivered by lecture and multiple choice quizzes are sometimes the only form of testing. This developed partly out of necessity — videos are the easiest way to communicate online and similarly testing discrete knowledge, when teaching thousands of students, is the most practical solution to assessment. However, it is also a reflection of the academy’s lingering perception of the lecture being the best way to deliver content to students. As Professor Davidson points out, this teacher-centered approach to knowledge is a disservice to a class that strives to increase critical thought about education and foster student empowerment. Her honesty about her issues with the delivery of the course content encouraged her students to reflect on the ways in which they get their information, the nature of the lecture, and what kind of assessment are meaningful and when. As one student explained, “this course was a well-intentioned effort that seemed to run smack into the limitations of the MOOC format…”

Seek out other perspectives and networks. The Coursera MOOC was only one component of the larger HASTAC #FutureEd Initiative. This was an invitation to anyone interested in transforming higher education to contribute resources, share pedagogical innovations, hold events, and use the MOOC content in their own courses. The call was answered by instructors, graduate students, and academic administrators from around the world. While teaching the MOOC, Cathy Davidson also collaborated with colleagues from Stanford University and University of California Santa Barbara to teach connected #FutureEd classes on their own campuses. The students in Duke’s History and Future of Higher Education served as community leaders in the MOOC course. They held online office hours, responded to content questions in the forums, and wrote reflective blog posts for The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s FutureEd series. Davidson’s it-takes-a-village approach to solving the issues facing higher education modeled her belief that learning in the 21st century must be connected and collaborative. The MOOC students did not limit their interactions to Coursera; they took it upon themselves to create virtual study groups and Twitter had a steady stream of backchannel conversations.

Take charge of your own learning. To increase student engagement, Professor Davidson created assignments in the MOOC that moved beyond the typical online forum discussion questions. Students were encouraged to create their own texts; for example, they worked on a course constitution to decide on the rules of conduct and intent of the online course. During a week discussing the roots of higher education, the international audience was wikiuniinvited to add seminal dates in the history of education in their country to a course wiki. One student was inspired to contribute mind maps of the weekly content to the course wiki. The design of formal assessments were also meant to generate student content, instead of reiterating the information in the videos. The final peer assessment asked students to describe their vision of a modern university. The point was made–education needs to be responsive to learner’s goals, make sense in the connected, Internet world of today, and students need the tools to write their own path in learning.



Embed VoiceThreads into WordPress Sites

During the Fall semester, Duke added a multimedia discussion tool, VoiceThread, to Sakai. Instructors and students are able to leave written, video, and audio comments on media items such as slides, videos, or images.

The functionality of the tool has been expanded to another Duke-supported teaching tool. Duke’s instance of WordPress ( now allows a VoiceThread to be embedded easily into your course website.  Note: This feature is best used to display a polished VoiceThread rather than to encourage new discussions. For example, students might want to showcase one of their VoiceThreads from your course in an end-of-semester portfolio or you may want to use a VoiceThread narrating a set of slides for display in a public WordPress site.

An example of how a VoiceThread displays in WordPress:

You will need to turn on the plugin in WordPress before the feature is active. In the Dashboard of your WordPress site, go to Plugins and then scroll down to find VoiceThread for Duke Auto Embed and click Activate.

vt plugin

Next, please go to Sakai to change the VoiceThread you want to embed from private to public. You’ll need to be in the edit screen of that VoiceThread (click the gear icon). From the edit screen, first choose Share (1) and then Get Link (2). In the pop-up window, you should now click Copy Link (3) and (optional) uncheck the comment option (4) before closing the window. Now you can paste the copied URL into a WordPress post or page. When you save and view the post, the VoiceThread will be visible and playable.

share link



Students in Duke’s Data Analysis and Statistical Inference MOOC

This post is co-authored by Kim Manturuk and Andrea Novicki

The Data Analysis and Statistical Inference Coursera MOOC is huge! There are over 85,000 students in the class from all over the world.  The interactive map below shows the locations of students who completed out pre-course survey.  If the survey is representative (and students in this class know why that matters!), then each student on this map represents 5 students in the course.

Over 50,000 students have accessed the course website, over 36,000 have watched at least one video, and over 22,000 students are still active during the third week of the course.  This course also has the highest number of Signature Track sign-ups of any Duke Coursera course to-date.

Why are students taking the course? The majority of people are participating in the course because it teaches useful skills.  As shown in the chart below (click to enlarge), an overwhelming majority of students felt that an important reason for them to enroll in the class was to learn something they will use in their career.Slide02

The second most common reason for enrolling is related – students expect to learn a skill relevant to their academic field.  In addition, a majority of students expected the course to be enjoyable, and a much-higher-than-typical percent of students felt that earning a credential was important to them.

This unique combination of practical skills and an enjoyable learning experience is reflected in the posts students made in the Discussion Forum thread asking why they are taking Data  Analysis and Statistical Inference:

I am a Marketing Director and moving my organization towards data driven marketing, and looking forward to building my expertise in statistics and data analytics.

I work as Business and Process Analyst for a large multinational company.
I have joined Coursera in order to enhance my statistical and analytical skills.

I am taking this course because I am an analyst for a think tank in the DC area and want to improve my analysis skills.

In addition to statistics, I need to do different kind of data analysis in my research for which I chose R as a primary platform. Up till now I’ve taught R to myself and feel the need to get a basic training. I hope this course would suit my training needs and also serve as the foundation in this specialization.

While I don’t use modeling and stats in my daily activities, I have 3 Analysts and 2 Strategy Managers reporting into me who do. I would like to have a better understanding of the work they do every day.

The  course has enrolled a wider age range of students than many of the MOOCs typically attract.  While you can see below that the majority of students are under 35, there is a big group of students in the 36-45 age range and 9.5% between 46-55.  Most MOOCs have a much higher concentration in the under 35 age group.


Course Design

This course has seven units, organized by learning objectives. Students are given clear learning objectives they are expected to be able to do at the end of the unit. Click on the image of Unit 3 learning objectives to access a PDF of all of the objectives for Unit 3.

learning objectives

To achieve these learning objectives, students are provided with many resources. Dr. Çetinkaya-Rundel has created videos explaining the content and giving real-life examples, suggested readings from the free textbook, and suggested additional exercises. In addition, students are given quizzes for each unit that can be attempted three times, with feedback on the student answers that directly references the learning objectives.

image of hypothesis test explanationStudents have praised the clear explanations in the videos, which come with in-video questions. The clarity of the explanations is echoed in the design of the presentations materials. 

I’m about 30 mins into the second week’s lecture, and thus far the explanations of these concepts is far and away the best I’ve ever seen! Thank you Professor! I’m thoroughly enjoying this class and I’m learning a TON!

I have taken a course before on Coursera and one on EdX as well as “browsing” other courses on both platforms.  This is by far the best.  The syllabus is clear, concise and takes a logical path from basics to the more complex. The video lectures are also of a high quality and Dr Cetinkaya-Rundel explains things in a very easy to follow, conversational manner…
Absolutely fantastic.

This is my 6th Coursera class, and I’ve probably seen more than a dozen explanations of Bayes’ rule. After lecture 2 in this class, I feel like I finally understand it.  I could go on for hours with examples like that… and it’s only the second week.
Simply amazing!

This course answered some many questions I had such a hard time getting right before.
The material could sound classic at first glance, but in fact it’s presented and ordered in such a brilliant way that is surpasses all the previous material on introductory statistics I’ve seen before. Really amazing work !

Dr. Çetinkaya-Rundel co-authored OpenIntro Statistics, a free online comprehensive text that students are encouraged to download. Assigned readings and practice problems from this text help the students master the content.  Some students have commented that they find the text very helpful while others prefer the videos; this course is designed to help multiple types of learners succeed. Students have commented:

The fact that they have a free OpenIntro Statistics pdf text book to accompany the course, which I haven’t seen on other courses anywhere and which is also available in paperback for a incredibly modest price on Amazon, is a massive bonus.

The open source textbook is just another cherry on top. I mean seriously, even the latex files are provided.

I agree.  I would be lost without the textbook.  It’s informative, clearly written, well-edited, and closely follows the lectures.  Amazingly, I enjoy reading it too.  Thank you, Dr. Çetinkaya-Rundel, for providing a free textbook to accompany the course.

Students can apply what they have learned using R, an open-source, free statistical analysis software to complete lab exercises. To help students learn R, they have the option to use DataCamp, which is integrated into the Coursera course. Students can complete a project in which they analyze data of their own choosing.  There are many student comments like the one below:

This is definitely the best Coursera course I have ever taken part in. DataCamp is a phenomenal tool.

Also, in my 20+ years of programming, I’m yet to see a learning tool as good as Datacamp.

Because the DataCamp integration is new, and students must enter DataCamp from a link within Coursera, there has been some confusion and anxiety about grades on these lab exercises. DataCamp engineers have been responsive to student questions on the course forums, making modifications as needed.

Student reaction

Student reaction has been tremendous!

I’m just chiming in here because it’s frankly astonishing and heart-warming to see how pedagogically gifted Dr. Çetinkaya-Rundel is. I’m joining the Signature Track as a gesture of respect for the unprecedented amount of preparation which she has poured into this course.

The most active discussion forum is the one where students introduce themselves, with 608 posts to date. Students describe a wide range of motivation and relevant backgrounds.

The next most active forums debate whether the course is too time consuming and too difficult, while other students praise the course, pointing out how well the instructor simplifies the concepts, the good explanations in the text, and state that learning to do data analysis does take practice. Students trade tips for how to study, discuss how much time the course takes, recommend other courses and identify useful resources for each other.

…I just wanted to see if people agree with me about this.  This course is unbelievably time consuming.  I’ve worked longer on this course than all of my other Coursera courses combined – heck, I would longer on this course than I did for most courses in my undergrad college career.

I agree with you that the course is time consuming but it’s also very interesting and practical, which make me stick to. Usually I spent 2-3 hours on reading the textbook (I found it’s much more easier to follow the videos if you preview the lessons) , 4-5hours on the videos (I usually took one-week videos in a weekend day) , 1.5-2 hours on the quizz and lab (the instruction is clear and easy to be understood, even though I have no R backgound), so there are about 8-10 hours per week for this course. That’s ok for me for now.

I (very respectfully) mostly disagree with you.  Yes, 6-8 hours is definitely too low, but 15-20 is a lot. I have a full time job and two kids, so I can spend on this course 1-2 hours on the night (and not always) plus 3-4 either in total or split during the weekend. So far, I’ve been able to do all videos, all the quizzes, do the project proposal and also all the exercises of the book. I don’t find it overwhelming: DEMANDING, definitely, yes, but I wasn’t expecting to learn statistics and probability by watching a couple of videos.

Marine Megafauna: By the Numbers

Our pre-course survey results are in and all indications are that Marine Megafauna students are a diverse group!  The first chart below shows the age distribution of students who took the survey.  While there is a high concentration of students between ages 18 and 35, over 450 of our students are under 18.  Of those, several told us that they were taking the course as part of a homeschooling learning experience.  For example, a student posted the following in the discussion forum:

I’m from France. I’m following this MOOC with my homeschooled daughter, who picked the subject. She’s 9 and loves animals.  As for me, I’m the daughter of a navy officer, so I’m kind of connected to the sea since childhood. I currently [live] far from it and miss it a lot.

Slide1As you can see in the chart below, most students already have a college degree.  However, again because the enrollment numbers are so large, the 3% of students who are still in middle or high school amounts to nearly 350 people.


Most of the students in Marine Megafauna are also students elsewhere – 42% are currently enrolled in some type of educational program.  Furthermore, most students also have previous online learning experience; almost half have taken a Coursera course before.  Hopefully this is an indicator of the high quality of these types of courses!





When it comes to why students signed up for Marine Megafauna, the answer is simple – they expected the course to be fun and enjoyable!  Over 90% of students felt that was an important reason why they signed up for the course.  Earning a credential was the least important reason, yet over 30% of students did say the credential was important.


Finally, we were interested in learning how comfortable people were with the topic of marine megafauna before starting this course.  Marine megafauna is more of a niche topic than some subjects, so we were curious to find out if the course attracted people who were brand-new to the topic or people who were already knowledgable and looking to learn more.  Our survey indicates that most students feel fairly comfortable discussing the topic of marine megafauna with others and engaging in learning activities on the topic.


The course discussion forum posts bear this out; many students are already very enthusiastic about marine megafauna.  Some sample posts are:

Marine biology had always been a dream since I grew up in one of the island-provinces in the Philippines and thus, I came to love the sea which had been a big part of my childhood.

I have always had a fascination with the ocean and it’s inhabitants. I have either lived at the coast, on an island in the pacific, or currently within 2 hours of it for over 20 years. I am looking forward to this class.

I have always had a love for our oceans and waterways, and I simply want to learn more about them and how our actions are affecting them.

On a final note, the students in this course include people from an eclectic and interesting range of backgrounds.  Students in this course include: a penguin animal trainer, an environmental activist, a marine expedition safety and support specialist, a full-time mother of eight, a filmmaker, a marine rescue volunteer, and one student who is currently taking a trip around the world.  We can’t wait to hear what types of marine megafauna that student gets to observe on his or her journey!

Marine Megafauna MOOC and the Public Library of Science (PLoS) collection

Marine Megafauna MOOC

UnderPermitNOAA 2013-04-2309-06-07 (1)

Dave Johnston and Ari Friedlaender recover a digital recording tag after deployment on a humpback whale. Photo credit: G. Ruttle, under permit by NOAA.

A new Duke University MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) titled Marine Megafauna | An Introduction to Marine Science and Conservation has been running since February 3rd, 2014.  Dr. Dave Johnston teaches this course offering about sea turtles, whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, sharks, giant squid and other large ocean creatures – collectively known as marine megafauna – and what they can tell us about how the ocean works and why it is so important for all life on earth.

Dr. Dave Johnston is a broadly skilled biological oceanographer and marine conservation biologist. He teaches courses at both undergraduate and graduate levels at Duke University – with experience in large and small classrooms and in field-based learning situations.


Dave Johnston attaches a digital recording tag with suction cups to a humpback whale in the Western Antarctic Peninsula region. Photo credit: MISAP Project, under permit by NOAA.

Dr. Johnston noted, “I was greatly excited when Duke announced their support for the development of a marine science MOOC based on my traditional undergraduate Marine Megafauna class taught every spring semester. This was a golden opportunity to reach out to an even larger number of people and educate them about key issues related to ocean science, marine resource conservation and general ocean health.”

The course now has over 13,500 students registered, 9,495 of which have accessed the course content. There are a total of 131,554 streaming views, 51,531 video downloads, and 3,521 posts on the discussion forums. Please visit Marine Megafauna: By the Numbers to know who enrolled and why they are taking the course based on our pre-course survey results.

leopard seal

A leopard seal watches researchers from an ice flow in the Western Antarctic Peninsula region. Photo credit: D. W. Johnston

In this course Dr. Johnston generously shares many of his vivid field images and videos that give students a close-up view of marine species and their habitats, which extend from the Arctic Ocean to Antarctica. Students are active on the discussion forums and follow the course’s Twitter and Facebook feeds, and they have also formed their own study groups. Many students have shared their own favorite images of marine species in a Marine Megafauna Photo Book, with over 300 photos posted already.

PLoS Collection of Marine Megafauna

One of the learning goals of the MOOC is connecting students with real marine science in current scientific journal articles. Dr. Johnston and his colleagues from other institutions have curated a collection of 96 open access articles representing a broad survey of fascinating marine organisms and systems. This collection provides a core set of reading materials for marine science educators seeking to increase student engagement in class through the use of compelling examples of current research. The collection is accessible at

PLoS ONE collection in five main categories

PLoS ONE collection in five main categories

These articles – all published in the peer-reviewed, open source journal PLoS ONE – capture the real science behind concepts taught in class and link students directly to up-to-date sources of knowledge.


The data shown via Google Earth represent the three-dimensional foraging tracks performed on four consecutive days (10-13 December 2012) by a single yellow-eyed penguin (bird id 17935) off the coast of New Zealand, near the city of Dunedin.

In one of the early course assignments, students use Google Earth and data from a PLoS ONE article to get first-hand experience visualizing spatially-explicit data and measuring animal movements. The data come from a research project that uses satellite telemetry to track the foraging patterns of a penguin of the coast of New Zealand. When the data is opened within the Google Earth software, the student is shown detailed paths traversed by the penguin over the course of four days, as shown in the image to the right. The students then use measurement tools provided in Google Earth to determine the distance traveled each day. They also identify and describe the penguin’s coastal habitat. Afterwards, students evaluate their peers’ work, which deepens their own understanding of the assignment.

What students say about the course

 After the first few weeks of the course, students have made some of the following comments on the course forums.

I just wanted to say I am learning so much from doing this course.  What is even more brilliant about it is I am learning not just from my own work and my assignments but also from the assignments I have been marking.  I think it’s an excellent system that gives more scope to learn about other countries and their marine environments/megafauna there are out there! Anyway I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who designed the course and everyone that is contributing, I love it!

After years of being an undergraduate law student, this course has made me feel like that inquisitive child pouring over an illustrated encyclopedia of wildlife facts once more.

…Excellent course! Very informative, up-to-date informations. Also very engaging, and excellent resources provided. Also + 1 votes for all the students how are actively posting on facebook and here on the forum. Lots of good resources, stories, and discussions going on! Well done all of you!

Thank you so much for all your efforts to teach us about these wonderful creatures, and their environment. I would love to continue taking any other classes you might offer in the future, and to tell you the truth, I will take this class again, because it is so wonderful, and I am actually learning!

In Chinese society, there’s a wide gap between science (Biology, Chemistry, Maths) and art (Geography, English, History) subjects, which means our secondary schools do not allow us to take any science subject while we are belonging to Art class. Therefore although I love animals and I have deep interested in biology, I could not take any degrees or courses after graduated in secondary school as I don’t have relevant academic background. I am so glad that I can take these kind of courses online now, thank you all of you!

I’m finding this course interesting and worthwhile, and it has whetted my appetite to do more marine biology. Well done and it would certainly be worth running it again.

Even though the course has started and is halfway complete, if you are passionate about the ocean and want to learn more about ocean organisms and ecosystems,  then you still can join us for Marine Megafauna | An Introduction to Marine Science and Conservation.

The following infographic, created by Dr. Johnston, visually presents a sample of the course topics discussed in Marine Megafauna. Enjoy!


Human Physiology Session 3: Student Survey Results

We are about one month in to the third session of Duke’s MOOC on Human Physiology, a popular course with over 32,000 students enrolled, and are excited to release some of the findings from our pre-course survey. As in most MOOCs, the students in this course tend to be college-educated young adults from English-speaking countries. However, as shown in the charts below, there are students ranging in age from under 13 to over 65, and at all education levels. Over 3,000 students have no previous formal post-secondary education (remember, even 1% of students in a class this size equals over 300 people!). While the United States and Canada have the highest enrollments, students come from many other countries as well.




While many science and technology MOOCs enroll mostly men, Human Physiology is actually 53% woman!

One third of the students in this course have a background in the health sciences, not surprising given the subject matter. What is surprising is that 20% of the students in this session were enrolled in a previous offering of the course. While about 2/3 of returning students did not complete the course the first time they enrolled, 1/3 successfully completed the course and re-enrolled a second time.

What motivated students to enroll in this course? As we would expect with a scientific course such as Human Physiology, just over half the students said that an important reason they were taking the course was because it was relevant to their field of study or would teach them career skills. However, the most common reason given for taking the course is simply that students expected it would be fun and enjoyable. Only about 1/3 of students felt that the Statement of Accomplishment was an important factor that motivated them to enroll.


Most Human Physiology students had previous online learning experiences before this course began. As shown below, only 31% of students had never taken any type of online class before. The first time that Human Physiology was offered, in the spring of 2013, 38% were taking their first online class. It is likely that this number will continue to fall as MOOCs continue to grow in popularity.


Another trend to note is a move towards accessing course content on platforms other than a desktop or laptop computer. While most students – 82% – plan to use a computer as the primary access point, 18% or over 5,700 students anticipate using primarily a mobile device or tablet. It is not uncommon in developing countries for a smartphone to be the first and only computer that people own. In future analysis, we plan to evaluate whether there are correlations between student locations and the technology platforms being used to access a MOOC.


“Transforming the Teaching and Learning Environment” PASSHE Online Conference

Learn more about mobile learning, emerging technologies, best practices for teaching online, and more by attending the 5th annual “Transforming the Teaching and Learning Environment” virtual (online) conference hosted by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. CIT has obtained an institutional registration for the conference, and individuals at Duke can obtain the login information by emailing

The online conference begins Wednesday 2/5/2014 with a pre-conference plenary session at 1:30 pm EST. The bulk of the conference is comprised of 60 one-hour online sessions scheduled between 2/10 and 2/21. Review the session schedule and plan to join as many of the sessions as you find interesting!

Connect with Fellow Duke Community Distance Educators and Support Staff

The Distance Education Special Interest Group at Duke (DE SIG @ Duke) has announced their meeting agendas through June 2014. The group does not have a formal membership and all meetings are open to anyone who is interested in distance education – from the instructional, technical, or administrative perspective. Registration is requested for planning purposes, but not required. For dates and information about future DE SIG @ Duke meetings, and to register, see the CIT event page:

Below are the DE SIG @ Duke meeting agendas through June (all meetings will take place in Bostock Library Room 024 (CIT Instructional Technology Lab):

Notes: the group regularly meets the same time on the second Tuesday of even-numbered months, and each meeting includes time for open discussion and opportunities to network with others from around Duke who are involved with distance education.

February 11, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM

  • Dr. Lynne O’Brien, Associate Vice Provost for Digital and Online Education Initiatives, will talk about her new role, Duke’s goals for recent online Education Initiatives, and what Duke is doing to accomplish these goals. She will share some key results including impact on campus courses, trends in online education outside Duke, and how those trends might affect Duke.
  • Hugh Crumley (Ph.D., Director, Certificate in College Teaching), Keri Hamilton (Ph.D. student in Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology & Bass Online Apprentice), and Sophia Stone (Ed.D., Senior Academic Technology Consultant, CIT) will discuss the Graduate School’s Bass Undergraduate Instructional Program and its impact on preparing future faculty for positions in college teaching, with an understanding of online higher education.

April 8, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM

  • Dr. Jane Blood-Siegfried, Professor, Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON), will present “12 Things you should never do when you teach online.” Throughout the presentation, each of the “12 Things” will be open for discussion. Then, Dr. Blood-Siegfried will ask the group, “What ‘things’ would you add to this list?”
  • Marc Sperber, Instructional Design and Instructional Technology Consultant, DUSON, will present “Using quality improvement rubrics to design, assess, and improve your online courses.” This will also be a discussion-heavy presentation. After a brief introduction to QI tools, the group will review several tools and discuss the pros and cons of each considering a range of use cases and perspectives. Marc will also share a strategy he recently used to recruit several DUSON faculty to try out QI tools.

June 10, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM

Two technologies to increase student engagement:

  • Articulate Storyline, an e-learning authoring tool that allows for the development of interactive online and mobile courses. Michael Palko, Informatics Educator, Duke University Health System will give an overview of how the Providers Services team is using Storyline to create interactive simulations that teach staff how to use Maestro Care, Duke’s new electronic health record.  The discussion will include a review of that authoring tool as well as demonstration of some of the course content.
  • VoiceThread, a web-based tool that transforms media (images, documents, and videos) into a collaborative space for video, voice, and text commenting among students and instructors, asynchronously. VoiceThread was recently intergraded into Sakai.  Haiyan Zhou, Academic Technology Consultant, Duke Center for Instructional Technology will give a brief overview of the technology and show examples of VoiceThreads that Duke faculty have set up for their courses.

Understanding and Using Digital Badges by Sheryl Grant (HASTAC ) and Carl Melle (Duke University Continuing Studies)