Student Spotlight: Jake Morgan, University of Oklahoma

Jake Morgan, a microbiology sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, is the driving force behind the university’s decision to dip its toe into the waters of massive open online courses (MOOCs). As part of a pilot program, the university has authorized interested optional, informal groups for students who wish to enhance their education by participating in massive open online courses.

Morgan explains that the groups will be modeled on the University of Oklahoma Honors College’s reading groups and are an attempt to use group learning to combat MOOCs notoriously low completion rates, routinely fewer than 10% of students who register for a massive open online course complete it.

“By forming these groups we hope to provide students with a resource to fill the whole that a lack of community creates,” Morgan said. He explained that he was inspired to create MOOC support groups after he seeing a presentation from NextThought CEO Ken Parker at the Oklahoma Creativity Festival in September.

NextThought, a one-year-old tech company headquartered in Norman, Ok., is designing and building an integrated platform around the principles of content, collaboration, and community. In his presentation Parker explained how community is necessary for student success and warned about the dangers of relying too heavily on internet enabled independent study.

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Parker’s presentation left Morgan wondering if it was possible to add a community element to MOOCs. To explore the idea he approached David Ray, dean of OU’s Honors College, who helped Morgan get administrative approval to begin the pilot program. Morgan explains that the idea seemed a natural fit for the honors college and that the first order of business was determining if students were actually interested in taking MOOCs.

“We sent out a survey to all the students in the honors college, 150 responded,” Morgan said. “Based on those responses we went through and determined what students wanted to take and what courses didn’t have a competing class here either on-campus or online.”

Morgan explains that for the university to get a representative sample of MOOCs’ capabilities the pilot program had to select classes from three of the main providers.

“We’ll be taking a Game Theory class from Coursera, a class on building a startup from Udacity, and an artificial intelligence class from edX,” Morgan said. “We also wanted to select classes that fit with the interests expressed in the surveys.”

According to Morgan, the decision to use the pilot program to explore MOOCs, as opposed to for credit courses offered through 2U’s Semester Online platform, was made in order to create a “low stress environment.”

“We want to give students a chance to explore and ask questions, not worry about graduation requirements,” Morgan said. “The program is designed to let students engage materials and just learn.”

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