Syracuse University Magazine


Professor Rick Burton '80 records a MOOC lesson. He worked with the SU Video Production Unit, a division of ITS headed by Neal Coffey G'89, to create the online videos. While filming a lecture at NBT Bank Stadium in Syracuse, Burton (below) poses with sound recordist Roxane Niezabytowski and key grip Sean Horsford '10. 

Photos courtesy of SU Video Production Unit

Knowledge-Sharing Experience

Although he hadn’t taught an online class before, Rick Burton ’80, David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management, didn’t hesitate to accept the challenge of teaching a massive open online course (MOOC) to a group of nearly 1,000 students from around the world last fall. With the help of the Information Technology and Services (ITS) department, Burton organized the course, The Subject is Sports, and shared his knowledge of the sports business with participants of all ages and backgrounds through a series of video lessons, live chats, and forum discussions. “It was a bit of an exploratory journey for all of us,” he says. “I was thrilled and honored.”

MOOCs are free online classes that anyone with Internet access can take to learn about a specific topic, usually without earning credits—and they’re catching on in higher education globally and on the SU campus. “It’s a little bit of an interactive experience for someone to get a taste of what’s going on at Syracuse University,” says Michael Morrison, director of Online Learning Services (OLS), the ITS unit responsible for supporting teaching with technology at the University. Along with the sports course, Morrison’s team helped develop The Subject is Lava, which was taught by Earth sciences professor Jeffrey Karson and sculpture professor Robert Wysocki this spring. For the class, the instructors created lava and poured it on different surfaces to study its behavior from geological and artistic perspectives, constituting an interdisciplinary learning experience. “We wanted to highlight the kind of learning that can go on at SU—that you experiment, try something, work at it over a period of time, and try to figure it out and make something of it,” says Bronwyn Adam G’82, G’04, director of faculty development at SU. 

The courses are meant to be a channel for pedagogic exploration at the University rather than a substitute for classroom-based education, says Christopher Sedore, associate vice chancellor for academic operations. “I’m very enthusiastic about the experimentation,” he says. “This is an opportunity to improve not just online education, but explore new approaches to face-to-face education as well.”

Though Falk College offered its first MOOC last semester, the School of Information Studies launched the MOOC Introduction to Data Science in February 2013 as a way to spark interest in its Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) in Data Science. To generate incentives for engagement, participants would receive a certificate of completion to show professional development and a discount if they enrolled in the CAS program within the two semesters following the end of the course, says Peggy Brown, director of learning services at the iSchool. And the strategy was successful. “We were hoping for 500 participants,” Brown says. “By day two we were over 1,700.” The iSchool’s MOOCs differ from OLS’s because they’re based on existing graduate-level courses and are more integrated into the school curricula. The school has completed three so far and will offer a fourth MOOC this fall.

Following the conclusion of The Subject is Lava, the University will evaluate the experience gained through the MOOCs to decide whether to continue experimenting in this direction. “The question is, ‘Is there something we learned in doing this experiment that can make us better teachers, make us a better university?’” says Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina. “We do need to step back and see overall what we’ve learned.”  —Pablo Mayo Cerqueiro