April 2, 2014

Provost's office funds MOOCs, online innovation

Cornell has selected next year’s massive open online courses – MOOCs – through which students anywhere will explore the ethics of eating, civic ecology, global hospitality or understanding your inner smartphone through the edX online initiative.

“The MOOCs are providing Cornell with an opportunity to raise the general level of visibility and innovation around online learning here, and to engage faculty in ways that we expect to be long-lasting and directly relevant to innovation and best practices for education on campus,” said Laura Brown, senior vice provost for undergraduate education and chair of Cornell’s Distance Learning Committee.

The four courses, selected by a subcommittee of the Faculty Senate’s Distance Learning Committee, are:

  • “The Ethics of Eating,” taught by Andrew Chignell, associate professor of philosophy, and William Starr, assistant professor of philosophy, will look at how our dietary choices affect economies, the environment, public health and other people.
  • “Civic Ecology: Finding Meaning in City Life,” taught by Marianne Krasny, professor of natural resources and director of Civic Ecology Lab, will focus on why people cultivate communities damaged by disaster and conflict, or blighted by disinvestment, poverty and crime.
  • “Introduction to Global Hospitality Management,” taught by professors Bruce Tracey and Cathy Enz; associate professor Jan de Roos; and lecturer Bill Carroll, all in the School of Hotel Administration. The course will focus on elements of global hospitality management and how this business contributes substantially to the world’s economy.
  • “Computer Systems From Smartphones to Supercomputers,” taught by David Albonesi, professor and associate director of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, on the unknown of computing technology that lies beneath the surface of smartphones and other devices.

Next year’s MOOCs will be available for registration at times to be announced, beginning in fall 2014.

In addition to new CornellX MOOCs, the Office of the Provost awarded grants to projects that improve upon current ways to using online or distance learning:

  • “Incentives for Understanding Evolution,” by Irby Lovette, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Mya Thompson, eLearning specialist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, will create a learning module on evolution, natural selection and sexual selection.
  • “Where Is China Headed?” by Richard Miller, professor of philosophy; Andrew Mertha, associate professor of government; Xu Xin, acting director of the China and Asia-Pacific Studies program; and Elias Friedman, assistant professor in ILR, will create an educational module on Chinese politics and society today.
  • “Online Creative Patternmaking: Global Collaborations Among Scholars of Apparel Design,” by Susan Ashdown, professor of fiber science and apparel design; and Nese Cegindir, visiting scholar, is a design workshop module on 3-D online objects.
  • “Six Pretty Good Books,” by professors Michael Macy, sociology; Steve Ceci, human development; Jeff Cowie, ILR; and Jeff Hancock, communication, is an online interdisciplinary course that will survey human behavior and social interaction.
  • “Bodies at the Border: Rethinking Migration and Gender Through the Digital Academy,” by Anindita Banerjee, associate professor of comparative literature, and Debra Castillo, professor of romance studies, will create a video system that brings together Cornell students with scholars at the University of Texas, El Paso, and Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India.

The Office of the Provost also granted awards for Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs) – which use edX technology – designed for a limited number of people, usually matriculated Cornell students who will earn course credit:

  • “Understanding Social and Economic Data,” by John Abowd, professor of economics, and Lars Vilhuber, senior research associate in ILR, will teach techniques for turning raw information into social and economic data.
  • “Online Cloud-Computing Platforms and Applications for Students in CS5412-Cloud Computing,” by Ken Birman, professor of computer science.
  • “Problem Solving in Transport Processes: Applications to Biological Engineering,” by Ashim Datta, professor of biological and environmental engineering.
  • “Electronic Commerce,” by Levent Orman, professor of management information systems, for a course on conducting economic transactions and managing businesses over public computer networks.

Ideally, knowledge gleaned from these grants could be shared with other Cornell faculty. These grants are intended to create new knowledge and practices that can be shared with other Cornell faculty, said Brown. “In general, however, we want to share a range of opportunities with faculty going forward, including MOOCs, SPOCs and the other forms of innovation. We would get this underway in the fall,” she said.