WellesleyX: First MOOC Begins

September 25, 2013

Adam Van Arsdale's ANTH207x: Introduction to Human Evolution Starts September 25 on EdX

first edition of Darwin's "origin of species"

In May, Wellesley College announced the first four massive open online courses (MOOCs) the College will offer. The first of those courses, Introduction to Human Evolution, taught by Assistant Professor of Anthropology Adam Van Arsdale, begins today, September 25. If you haven’t signed up yet, don’t fret—online learners can sign up at any point while the class is open.

On his blog Van Arsdale called the course “the culmination of a fairly frenzied amount of work over the past three months,” and added that he is “excited to see that work actually reach an audience.” He wrote, “It is a larger classroom to talk about issues of human diversity and evolution than I have ever had before, and hopefully one that will generate rich discussion. If even 1,000 students exit the course with an improved understanding of and greater interest in human evolution, I will consider it a massive success.”

Van Arsdale is also teaching Introduction to Human Evolution (Hominid Evolution) to about 20 Wellesley on-campus students during this semester. This concurrent MOOC/brick-and-mortar teaching model provides the opportunity for Wellesley students to interact with the thousands of online learners, and vice versa. The hope is that this learning model will lead to rich discussions that defy the traditional boundaries of the campus classroom.

We asked Van Arsdale if there’s a lecture he is most excited about (he couldn’t choose one) but he said, “My students and family really enjoyed a lecture that involves me demonstrating knuckle-walking.” That lecture will be shown in week four of the class.

Among the differences between teaching in-class and preparing for the online class, Van Arsdale noted, “It is much easier to work out the basic ins and outs of things with 15 students than it is with 18,000.” He added, “Being filmed without an audience—or an audience of a few camera people—is definitely a different skill set than teaching in front of a class. In class, you have a constant feedback from students—their faces, expressions, questions, comments—that you don't have on film. It has been a challenge, but a fun one.”

EdX also records some real-time classroom discussions, enabling MOOC participants to get a glimpse of the liberal arts learning experience that takes place on campus. The first in-class filming session was a class in which the on-campus students had the opportunity to try to make evolutionary sense of a set of unknown fossils. That session, along with five or six similar exercises for online learners, is being edited and will be incorporated into the online course.

Wellesley was the first liberal arts college to join edX. The initial WellesleyX offerings represent some of the most popular courses taught on campus, demonstrating the breadth of disciplines, from a virtual lab-based course on human evolution to an introduction to Shakespeare that combines literary study with theatrical analysis. All courses will be open to anyone with an Internet connection, regardless of gender or geography. Registration for all four classes is open now.

Wellesley’s Initial edX Offerings

Introduction to Human Evolution (Fall 2013) Taught by Adam Van Arsdale, Assistant Professor of Anthropology. Begins September 2013.

Was Alexander Great? The Life, Leadership, and Legacies of History’s Greatest Warrior (Spring 2014) Taught by Guy MacLean Rogers, Mildred Lane Kemper Professor of Classics and History. Begins January 2014.

Introduction to Global Sociology (Fall 2014) Taught by Smitha Radhakrishnan, Assistant Professor of Sociology. Begins October 2014.

Shakespeare: On the Page and in Performance (Fall 2014) – Taught by Yu Jin Ko, Professor of English, in collaboration with Diego Arciniegas, Senior Lecturer in Theatre Studies. Begins October 2014.


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