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Stanford seed grants for online learning highlight international collaboration

Faculty members in education, medicine, law and the humanities are the latest recipients of Stanford funds for innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

Jennifer Paschal Richard Thompson Ford portrait

Law Professor Richard Thompson Ford is among the recipients of seed grants to develop online courses. Ford's course, which he will teach in conjunction with colleagues from Berkeley, Calif., and France, is called Comparative Anti-Discrimination Law.

Ten faculty teams representing four schools will receive funding in Stanford Online's latest round of seed grants. The grants will help faculty develop online and blended classes for Stanford students or as massive open online courses (MOOCs). Several will have an international bent.

Three of the selected projects are from the Graduate School of Education (GSE); two are from the School of Humanities & Sciences; two are from the Law School; and three are from the School of Medicine.

Law Professor Richard Thompson Ford is a widely cited expert on civil rights and discrimination.  His course, which he will teach in conjunction with colleagues from Berkeley, Calif., and France, is called Comparative Anti-Discrimination Law. Students will be able to navigate online in non-linear fashion among source materials on such matters as employment, sexual orientation, gender, health care, religion and hate speech. His course will be a "flipped" one, in which the course content is provided online and the class time is used for discussion.

Ford said his experience teaching at Stanford has shown him that an enormous amount of prior knowledge is necessary for making any sense of another country's law.

"The practice of law is increasingly international," Ford said. "But different students want to focus on different regions, and it's not possible to teach everything in a Stanford course. I think a flipped class can solve this problem. Students can focus on what they need, and we can use class time to discuss the larger concepts and complexities. The audience for a comparative course is huge; there are lawyers and scholars all over the world who could benefit from and contribute to the course. The online component will allow us to reach them."

Ford's class is one of two in the most recent crop of seed grants that received additional funds from Stanford's Office of International Affairs (OIA), a division of the Office of the Dean of Research that facilitates relationships with international partners on behalf of Stanford's faculty.

The second law class to receive funding will build upon Stanford's hugely successful program of legal clinics, in which students participate directly in litigation and procedure. Taught by law professors Jayashri Srikantiah, director of the Law School's Immigrants' Rights Clinic, and Bill Koski, director of the Youth and Education Law Project, the course will help provide students with hands-on lawyering skills.  Teaching these skills in the classroom might seem too theoretical, and teaching them in the courtroom might be too late. Video modules will guide students through such practicalities as interviewing skills, depositions and courtroom appearances, freeing up clinic time for more direct contact with clients.

Ancient manuscripts

English Professor Elaine Treharne's project, which she is coordinating with a team of colleagues at Stanford and in England, combines the latest technology with one of the most ancient: handwriting. The course proposes to help students, librarians and scholars read manuscripts dating back as far as 500 CE. The course will teach terminology and point students toward resources for learning about the material nature of the manuscript, how to read and interpret it and some of the theoretical questions that scholars engage with as they pore over ancient scripts that are often nearly indecipherable.

A second project representing the humanities is being led by Amir Eshel, a professor of German Studies and director of Stanford's Europe Center. The interdisciplinary project will combine collaborative online learning tools, scholarly practices and primary and secondary sources to help develop students' historical analytical tools, focusing on key historical dates. The interdisciplinary venture is in part based on pedagogical and psychological work by the Stanford History Education Group and is aimed at enabling students to think about such questions as authorship, historical veracity and the organization of historical data.

Through its Interactive Learning Initiatives program, the School of Medicine was in the forefront of online learning at Stanford well before the establishment of the university-wide Office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning (VPOL). Among the school's latest offerings is Introduction to Essential Emergency Care, which will experiment with new teaching models for medical students in developing countries. The course, which also received funding from OIA, will be taught at Stanford and at Makerere University in Uganda.

MOOCs on education

Almost all the proposed classes receiving seed grants in this round are aimed at Stanford students (or, as in the Ugandan case, at colleagues abroad.) Three, however, are MOOCs, and they all emanate from the GSE. They concern the teaching of mathematics, the new common core standards for assessing K-12 learning, and global learning.

The next seed grants from VPOL will be awarded in fall quarter. Some may receive matching funds from other university units, including the schools of Medicine and Engineering. The complete list of Spring 2013 seed grant projects and their lead instructors follows:

Graduate School of Education

  • How to Learn Math, Jo Boaler, education
  • Assessments for the 21st Century: Using Performance Tasks to Assess the Common Core Standards, Ray Pecheone, education
  • Open Education, Open Knowledge: Changing the Global Course of Learning, John Willinsky, education, and Lauren Maggio, medicine

School of Medicine

  • Bringing the Patient to the Classroom through Cinema: Medical Genetics, Jon Bernstein, medicine
  • Surgery Core Clerkship, James Lau, medicine
  • Emergency Medicine, Matthew Strehlow, medicine (with matching funds from OIA)

School of Humanities & Sciences

  • Textual Technologies, Elaine Treharne, English
  • Lacuna Stories Project: A Novel Multimedia Platform for Interdisciplinary Student Engagement with Major Historical Events, Amir Eshel, German studies

Law School