January 14, 2013
Seed grants enable new online courses for Stanford students
The newest cohort of faculty pioneers will not only teach at Stanford, but also in high school, on overseas programs – and throughout the world. One of the grants is being used for a course that launches tomorrow.
By R.F. MacKay
Professor Jennifer Widom describes her Introduction to Databases course on the Class2Go website.
Fourteen faculty members or groups have received seed funding from the office of the Vice Provost for Online Learning (VPOL) to develop innovative courses for Stanford students or reach beyond campus to teach massive open online courses (MOOCs).
The recipients, who received word of the grants at the end of fall quarter, teach at the schools of Medicine, Engineering, and Humanities and Sciences, and their fields include surgery, democracy, performance, databases, mathematics and virtual laboratories, to name a few. Faculty in the School of Engineering received matching funds from their school.
"We're seeing broad interest among the faculty in exploring new ways of teaching," said John Mitchell, vice provost for online learning. "These teams will develop online material for their Stanford courses and produce free online learning experiences for the public. We're very excited to see new directions, including physical experiments, and such a wide range of topics."
Announcement of the new seed grants comes as several winter-quarter online courses are getting under way. The latest course offerings can be found at Stanford Online website.
As with the first cohort of seed grants awarded last summer, many of the 14 proposals are products of cross-disciplinary collaboration or projects between units that might lie on opposite ends of campus.
Gateway calculus course
One example that benefits both Stanford students and others is Rafe Mazzeo's proposal to develop online material to supplement the lectures for Math 51, the linear algebra and multivariable differential calculus class taken by several hundred Stanford students every year.
Aside from being a professor of mathematics, Mazzeo also is faculty director of Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies (SPCS), which, among other projects, oversees the Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY), which has offered online courses for almost 20 years. The current Math 51 project also will modernize and replace the former equivalent EPGY course, which is taken by more than 250 high school students each year. It is being developed as a sequence of modules which will be used both in the flipped model for Math 51 lectures at Stanford and as a self-contained online course for high school students through SPCS.
Mazzeo's proposal was submitted jointly by the Department of Mathematics and SPCS, and the latter also contributed funding.
"While my primary goal is to find ways to make Math 51 more accessible and useful for Stanford students," Mazzeo said, "I'm also excited to figure out how to design this course so it works equally well for all the students in our high school outreach programs."
Another seed grant is going to Jennifer Widom, the Fletcher Jones Professor and chair of the Computer Science Department, who was one of Stanford's pioneers in online teaching; her Introduction to Databases was first taught online in fall 2011. But a lot has happened since then and now, so though this is the second instance of her class, Widom said, the prospect is still brand-new.
"I'm not sure any of us really know where this is headed in the long run," she said. "We're still very much in the experimental and learning stages."
This time around Widom will teach Introduction to Databases, which starts Jan. 15, on Stanford's own open-source platform, Class2Go. She opted to switch platforms (her initial offering was on the student-built platform that evolved into Coursera) for several reasons, she said: to experiment with portability of course materials, to host her course on an open-source platform that permits easy experimentation and to have immediate access to data on student learning. Because the online interactive exercises that form the backbone of her course require some advanced functionality, she thought Class2Go would be a better match.
Unlike Mazzeo and many of the other seed-grant recipients, Widom will teach people around the world. By the start of winter quarter, Widom had 37,000 students enrolled in the nine-week course, though the number was expected to rise. Her teaching assistant will be experimenting with online, interactive office hours, another innovation for the Class2Go platform.
Sociologist Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and the Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies, will be teaching an online version of his traditional Stanford course called Comparative Democratic Development, which is being taught this quarter to Stanford students (PoliSci 147 and Soc112). Putting the class online in spring will enable people in the very countries he talks about in his lectures to participate in the class themselves, with Stanford students acting as online discussion leaders.
Teaching Stanford students
Most of the projects envisioned in this latest round of seed grants are not aimed at a worldwide audience. Courses in human biology and theater and performance studies are designed to capitalize on online technologies to vastly improve the learning experience of Stanford students.
Robert Siegel brings together human biology and the Bing Overseas Studies Program. Siegel's project is to flip the flipped classroom; instead of having students watch videos at home before coming to class, he plans to have Stanford students create video material while in the classroom – which will be in Madagascar, one of the world's greatest biodiversity hot spots. In a Bing Overseas Seminar there in the summer of 2013 called Madagascar: Island Biogeography and Culture, students will create online educational materials on climate change, ecology, culture and insularity that will then be passed on to the next cohort of students and a Sophomore Seminar the following year. Siegel, an associate professor (teaching) in microbiology and immunology, is a physician, scientist and award-winning teacher who has led numerous overseas seminars, mostly in Africa.
Finally, Helen Paris, associate professor (teaching) of theater and performance studies, is using the opportunity to integrate online learning technology in her teaching by developing a course aimed at removing the divide between theory and practice. She plans to develop an online laboratory comprising tutorials, performance, archives and rehearsals. The project will be developed in collaboration with colleagues at the University of California-Davis and Queen Mary University in London.
The next call for proposals will be in mid-February and then again in late spring quarter. For more information or to find out what online courses are being offered winter quarter, go to Stanford Online.
Other grant recipients
The remaining recipients of the seed grants are:
- Maya Adam, lecturer in human biology: Child Nutrition and Obesity Prevention
- Sallie De Golia, clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences: Psychopathology and Psychopharmacology
- Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, professor (research) of psychiatry and behavioral sciences: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Skills
- Michael Genesereth, associate professor of computer science: General Game-Playing
- Noah Goodman, assistant professor of psychology: Probability
- Lambertus Hesselink, professor of electrical engineering: iLab Design
- Allison Okamura, associate professor of mechanical engineering: Haptics
- Candace Pau, education development specialist, head and neck surgery: Introduction to Otolaryngology
- Alberto Salleo, associate professor of materials science and engineering: Thermodynamics and Phase Equilibria