Imagine teaching a class whose enrollment exceeds the population of many towns.
That was the challenge that UNC librarian and attorney Anne Gilliland faced this fall when she taught 10,000 students in a “massively open online course” (or MOOC) about copyright.
Gilliland, the Library’s scholarly communications officer, joined with Duke University’s Kevin Smith and Emory University’s Lisa Macklin to develop and offer “Copyright for Educators & Librarians” through the online learning site Coursera.
The instructors’ goal was to demystify the law and help educators and librarians do their jobs more effectively. The team set out to empower participants to navigate the arcane and sometimes mystifying world of copyright.
The course included units on milestones in copyright law, authorship and rights, fair use, and copyright exceptions for teachers and librarians. Most teaching occurred through short, lecture-style videos, including a Google Hangout with Kenneth Crews, a prominent copyright attorney.
The MOOC model encourages participation and collaboration. Several groups of students even formed their own study groups, using discussion forums as a springboard for online or face-to-face connections.
Anne Gilliland provides her perspectives on the recent MOOC:
How did you get the idea to teach a copyright MOOC?
I have been providing copyright information and education to non-lawyers ever since I started working in this area in 2008. For many years the University of Maryland ran a Center for Intellectual Property, which provided education and a certification program aimed at librarians and other educators. When that program closed there was a gap in the training opportunities available. My fellow instructors (Kevin Smith from Duke and Lisa Macklin from Emory) and I thought that the need and the audience were there. The MOOC had a very high completion rate, so I think that we were right.
How was the course structured?
It was a four-week “mini-MOOC,” with pre-recorded video lectures, assigned readings, forum discussions, and a weekly multiple-choice quiz. There was also a final project, where students analyzed a complex copyright situation. Once students turned in what they had written for the final, they received a model answer so that they could check their own work.
What was most rewarding about the project?
Watching people grasp some of the copyright basics and grow in their understanding of the issues is very rewarding. Meeting past and present colleagues within the context of the MOOC and making new friends and colleagues has also been a lot of fun.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Teaching 10,000 students at once is very challenging. It’s often hard to have meaningful interactions on that scale.
Have you had any surprises along the way?
One of my biggest surprises was that so many students had not taken a MOOC before and didn’t start out with a good sense of how massive and open the course was. On the other hand, it was great that this was the course that got people interested enough to try online learning of this kind.
Are you planning to teach again?
Yes. We are still working on the details, so I don’t have specifics yet.
Any advice for librarians who would like to teach a MOOC?
It’s a lot of work up-front. Being filmed can be nerve-wracking if you’re not used to it, and it’s difficult to spend that much time in front of the camera without the benefit of any feedback from the audience. However, I think the hardest thing is coming up with meaningful assessments when the enrollment is so large. Like all teaching, I found that presenting the MOOC videos improved my delivery and organization of the subject matter.
I don’t know what the future of MOOCs will be, but I don’t think that this sort of online teaching to large groups is going away any time soon. So I encourage anyone who has a chance to get experience doing it. Many of us feel that we have some important information and expertise to impart, and a MOOC is likely to be the biggest audience we’ll ever have.