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ISSUE 21 - December 2016

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Bringing the Universe to the World: Lessons Learned from a Massive Open Online Class on Astronomy (page 20)
Chris Impey, Matthew Wenger, Martin Formanek, Sanlyn Buxner

MOOC, astronomy, online learning, lifelong learning, free-choice learning, demographics


This paper presents the results of a massive open online class (MOOC) on astronomy called Astronomy: Exploring Time and Space. The class was hosted by the web platform Coursera and ran for six weeks from February to May 2015. Coverage was designed to emphasise topics in astronomy where there has been rapid research progress, including large telescopes, exploration of the Solar System, the discovery of exoplanets, exotic end states of stars, and the frontiers of cosmology. The core content was nearly eighteen hours of video lectures, assessed by thirteen video lecture quizzes, three peer review writing assignments, and two online activities. Information on demographics and on the goals and motivations of the learners was gathered using standard Coursera entry and exit surveys and an external Science Literacy survey. A total of 25 379 people registered for the course, and most of them did not complete any assignments. About two-thirds of the 14 900 learners who opened the course lived outside the United States, distributed across 151 different countries. Out of 4275 participants who completed one or more assignments, 1607 passed the course, and a majority did so with a grade of 80% or higher. Those who completed the course were generally very satisfied with their experience and felt it met their learning goals. The people with the highest chance of completing the course tended to be in the range 40 to 60 years old, had a college education, and were either retired or working in professional fields. The strongest predictors of passing the course were to have completed the first written assignment or the first online activity

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