CU’s MOOC and specialization offerings leap forward

University aims to empower learners to think globally, act locally
Cathy Beuten | CU System
Education, Innovation, Progress

The world of massive open online courses (MOOCs) is changing rapidly, and the University of Colorado is a leader in its evolution. Among a recent surge of 600 new online courses launched by 200 universities worldwide, 36 are from CU. The additions bring the number of CU MOOCs to 84 courses and 15 specializations.

Robert Mazzeo.

Robert Mazzeo

One of the top new courses is Science of Exercise, which gives learners an improved physiological understanding of how the human body responds to exercise, and identifies behaviors, choices and environments that impact health and training. The course is taught by CU Boulder professor Robert Mazzeo.

“I’m reaching populations I never thought I’d reach in my career,” Mazzeo told CU Boulder’s Coloradan December 2017 alumni magazine. Students who are enrolled in the course come from such faraway places as Botswana, Qatar, Algeria, Nepal, Iraq, India and scores of others.

Deborah Keyek-Franssen, associate vice president for digital education and engagement, said a MOOC is now considered to be an approximately four-week course with one to three hours of effort by a student. Learners can access videos, formative (non-graded) assessments and discussion forums for free. To get feedback and grades on assessments, learners can to pay a subscription fee – typically $49-$79 a month – and receive a certificate that has value in the market, she said.

CU’s four campuses also offer 15 specializations composed of four to seven MOOCs that work together as a series and sometimes include a capstone experience. Keyek-Franssen said 11 of those were launched in the fall.

John Byrd

John Byrd

Some standout new specializations include the Become a Sustainable Business Change Agent, taught by CU Denver senior finance and managing sustainability instructor John Byrd and CU Denver business professor Ken Bettenhausen.

“This specialization gives students tools for making positive changes now in their organizations. This is a program with immediate applicability,” Byrd said. “It’s our way to spread the word about making business a force for good.”

Bettenhausen said the specialty helps learners think globally, act locally. “It may be a cliché but in truth, it’s the only way to make a difference,” he said. “My hope is that through our MOOC we empower thousands of learners around the world to identify and implement changes that make their workplaces more sustainable.”

Kristen Walcott-Justice

Kristen Walcott-Justice

Cybersecurity issues make headlines every week. Eight cybersecurity specializations launched by the CU Colorado Springs campus are key to helping fill the huge demand for professionals in this field. One of the specializations, Cybersecurity for Business, offers the fundamentals of security in the business world, while others address homeland security and cryptography.

“We need people with skills in networking, cryptography, algorithms, and software engineering – just to name a few,” said Kristen Walcott-Justice, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at UCCS. “UCCS’ cybersecurity specializations on Coursera give learners a view into cybersecurity theory and practice, especially in the Requirements Engineering specialization where we start right at the beginning of the software engineering process and move forward.”

Daniel Liston

Daniel Liston

Another popular addition is the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Specialization. “It is our first Specialization from the School of Education, and aims to reach teachers across Colorado and the nation with the most current research and best practices for integrating SEL in the classroom,” said Daniel Liston, lead faculty member for the SEL specialization at CU Boulder. “Starting this spring, this specialization will be available for three university credit hours of continuing certification for teachers.”

CU’s partnership with Coursera, an online education platform, has enabled the four campuses to offer educational opportunities to learners around the world and to experiment with new learning modalities, Keyek-Franssen said. Across the system, 50 faculty offer MOOCs from 25 schools, departments and programs, such as physics, chemistry, bioengineering, business, anthropology, emergency medicine and English. Coursera hosts courses and specializations launched by the Denver, Colorado Springs, and Anschutz Medical Campuses and by the Boulder campus, while CU’s Mini-Med School is offered on the Canvas platform.