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Digital Learning Initiative Announces New Grants

Support for faculty developing online education innovations


Could a cousin of the much-heralded MOOC help disadvantaged high school students take college-level classes?

That’s what BU’s Mark Greenman and colleagues are test-driving in a project that is among the latest to receive development grants from the Digital Learning Initiative, BU’s team overseeing enhancements in online education.

MOOCs (massive open online courses) offer instruction to global audiences (hence the “massive”). Greenman, by contrast, is experimenting with SPOCs (Small Private Online Courses), which, like MOOCs, use video lectures. But they are geared toward smaller classes and use blended, or hybrid, learning, combining online and face-to-face instruction.

Greenman, a College of Arts & Sciences research fellow in physics, is working with Bennett Goldberg, a CAS physics professor and a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering, and Andrew Duffy, a CAS master lecturer in physics, to determine whether a SPOC could effectively provide the College Board’s Advanced Placement physics instruction to at-risk students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to take the class. “During the pilot phase of this project,” Greenman says, “our target population is underserved students from Massachusetts high-need school districts.”

If it works, the SPOC might expand to 50 or more cities around the country, says Goldberg. “Many of our nation’s high schools don’t offer AP courses, since they don’t have enough students who have reached that level of achievement,” he says. BU’s model plans to offer a SPOC with faculty instruction and undergraduates acting as mentors and tutors to participating high school students. It could be replicated nationwide, Goldberg says, since the course content is available through edX, the online learning platform BU belongs to.

The DLI announced other grants for the following efforts:

  • Lloyd Baird, a Questrom School of Business professor of organizational behavior, and Jack McCarthy (Questrom’02), an associate professor of organizational behavior, and Sandra Deacon Carr, a Questrom master lecturer, for digitally improving the lecture class on Leading Organizations and People.
  • Duffy, for developing new ways to use his physics MOOC materials in his traditional campus course. In the last academic year, Duffy taught a MOOC to help high school students prepare for the AP Physics 1 test.

The DLI provides seed grants to promote innovative technology use in BU’s education. Proposals are being accepted now for the next round of grants, to be announced in late spring or early summer 2016. Find information and apply here.

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Rich Barlow, Senior Writer, BU Today, Bostonia, Boston University
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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