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UNM expands massive online courses after early success

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

After a tentative, first step into the world of Massive Open Online Courses last semester, the University of New Mexico this fall is offering three MOOCs, which, even before they are set to begin, already have more enrollees than UNM’s entire student body.

UNM’s first MOOC, last spring, was Professor Greg Heileman’s Web Application Architectures. Then – and now – it was described by the university as an experiment. It was also wildly popular, with more than 48,000 students enrolling from 192 countries around the world, about 10 times what Heileman had expected.

But popularity does not automatically mean success.


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“If it were only about numbers, we’d be doing great,” said Provost Chaouki Abdallah.

With that first MOOC, said Abdallah, who is also the university’s executive vice president for academic affairs, UNM was indeed experimenting. “We wanted to learn, to see if (the MOOC) would be disruptive or whether it might complement the work we already do.”

Coursera, the private company that promotes and delivers MOOCs for UNM, says success can be measured by the university’s enhanced reputation. “They tell us that the marketing cost, to reach so many people, would be in the tens of millions,” Abdallah said.

Another benefit is that some students will convert from online MOOC takers to become UNM students. However, class credit is not given for the MOOCs, which are separate from regular online for-credit courses.

That said, most students who register for MOOCs do not intend to complete the courses, Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller told the Chronicle of Higher Education last year. “Their intent is to explore, find out something about the content, and move on to something else,” she said.

In general, the completion rate for MOOCs is about 10 percent, but it climbs considerably for students who show some indication that they plan to do the work. Students who submit the first assignment have a completion rate of 45 percent. For those who indicate a desire to attend UNM or who seek a certificate, the rate is about 80 percent.

This fall, Heileman, who is an electrical and computer engineering professor, will again offer his six-week Web Application Architectures class. As of late last week, nearly 32,000 students from 184 countries have enrolled for the course that opens today.

Also, Professor Eliseo “Cheo” Torres, the university’s vice president for student affairs, will offer an eight-week course called Curanderismo: Traditional Medicine. It opens Aug. 18 and has already signed up well over 20,000 students from 160 countries. Finally, Professor Doug Thomas of the Anderson School of Management will offer an eight-week bilingual course on the Global Business Environment in English and Spanish. It won’t open until Sept. 2, but early indications show an interest from 135 countries.


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Students who complete Heileman’s and Thomas’ courses can obtain a certificate of completion.

Heileman said he was extremely pleased by the way his first MOOC turned out.

The very size of a MOOC can be sobering, he said, noting that he ended up teaching more students in a semester than he could expect to teach in a lifetime in the classroom. More important, he said, a MOOC can do a lot of good in a lot of different ways, for example, opening the world of knowledge to people in developing countries.

His first MOOC attracted a large number of Nigerian students. And, in South Korea recently for a conference on the World Wide Web, he met another of his MOOC students, a Ghanaian, who is now applying to UNM for graduate school.

Later this fall, Heileman plans to offer Part II of his MOOC. Part III is also in the works, but it will be a regular online, for-credit course.

• Web Application Architectures, Greg Heileman,

• Curanderismo: Traditional Medicine, Eliseo “Cheo” Torres,

• Global Business Environment 1/Entorno Global de Negocios 1, Doug Thomas,