When BU joined the online educational platform edX three years ago, it committed to producing massive open online courses (MOOCs), the popular computerized classes that can reach a global student audience. With that mission accomplished (15 edX courses have been produced, with more in development), the University leadership looked for the next stops on its digital journey.
To coordinate that University-wide effort, Chrysanthos Dellarocas has been named to the new job of associate provost for digital learning and innovation. Dellarocas has been leading the Digital Learning Initiative (DLI), the team that developed the MOOCs and that provides grants to faculty to come up with new ideas in digital education. In his new post, he will oversee the DLI and two other University groups: the Center for Teaching & Learning and the educational technology team in Information Services & Technology.
“Chrysanthos Dellarocas’ appointment to this new leadership position signals the importance that President Robert A. Brown and I place on BU’s need to make significant progress in the area of digital learning,” said Jean Morrison, BU provost, in announcing Dellarocas’ new role, which “allows us to coordinate and provide strengthened leadership for a number of existing efforts.”
Dellarocas’ experience has taught him that there’s more than MOOCs to online education, and newer models increasingly involve hybrid, or blended, classrooms, where students receive both online and traditional face-to-face instruction. The Richard C. Shipley Professor of Management and Questrom School of Business professor of information systems has plenty on his digital plate in expanding BU into non-MOOC areas, as he made clear in an interview with BU Today.
BU Today: Why did the University create this new position?
Dellarocas: We have discovered that there are different groups and pockets of competency that could be valuable to this broad and ambitious objective, but perhaps they were not as aligned as they could be. So the creation of this new role is primarily driven by the desire to pull together different groups and capacities that can help in the broader goal of assisting us to move forward with the use of new technologies.
What is BU going to be doing in technology innovation that it wasn’t doing heretofore?
Within the MOOCs realm, there is a shift of focus from individual courses to new credentials that include a combination of courses. MIT has introduced a concept where you take a combination of courses in MOOC format, and you get this credential called the “micro master’s.” This then gives the option to apply to the residential master’s degree program on the subject. And if enrolled, you get credit for the courses you completed online, and essentially you can get the residential master’s in half the time and expense. We are interested in how we can combine MOOCs and offer micro credentials. I’m working with schools on it.
The other big thing is transformation of on-campus teaching using technology to make room for more active student engagement in classrooms. Often, this is accomplished by videos—giving your lectures as homework—and then spending class time to do problems and exercises. BU’s objective is to accelerate the adoption of active teaching and learning from faculty. We are developing a website that will be like the hub of blended learning activity at Boston University, showcasing professors who will be flipping the class. We’ll help people who are interested in learning more about how to get in touch with each other, and we will link to all of the sources that we will be offering. This will be available soon. There will be training programs for faculty who want to get up to speed with the methodology and technologies of blended learning and one-on-one consulting.
What still needs to be done for the University to create the ideal environment for digital learning?
The University lacks infrastructure that would facilitate the creation of online programs, which are focused on Metropolitan College. The University would like the rest of the schools and colleges to be able to engage in such activities. Some are making steps to do this independently. One of our missions is to study and design an infrastructure that makes sense for the University…in the next one to three years. There’s no centralized expertise. BU needs to figure out how to leverage the tremendous experience that MET has accumulated in this space.
Beyond that, there’s a project focused on using alumni as mentors. The School of Public Health is launching a major initiative for lifelong learning. We would like to build a University-level infrastructure to enable all of our schools and colleges to start experimenting with online and distance education structures. It’s a multiyear undertaking.
Is additional staff going to be hired to support you in this new office?
Each of the units reporting to me has a head. I’m planning to have an executive assistant for my schedule and my life. The other person that I think is especially important to hire is a communications director for the whole umbrella, because a lot of what we’re doing are new ideas. We need someone who will help us reach out both within BU and to the world. It is part of our stance nationally and internationally, so it is important to have someone who will be skilled in getting the word out.