Photo collage of three young women who work with the Office of Academic Innovation as Course Advocates

How Residential Students and Global Learners Play a Role in Enhancing the MOOC Experience

Cinzia Smothers, Community Engagement Manager

Stephanie Haley, Engagement & Iteration Manager
@stephrwooten

We often receive feedback from learners about how smoothly their MOOC learning experience ran. Since this is in large part due to our Course Advocates, we wanted to share some context on what their role is here in the Office of Academic Innovation.

Course Advocates (CAs) and Course Development Assistants (CDAs) are assigned to assist Faculty Members who work with us to design, produce, and offer a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

CDAs and CAs have very similar and, in many respects, overlapping roles. The work of a CDA takes place primarily during the development of the MOOC leading up to the point of the course launch. Some activities that CDAs might be involved with are assignment creation, assisting with course building, graphic design tasks, and more. The work of a CA begins slightly before the MOOC launches and continues through the management and maintenance of the MOOC Discussion Forums, as well as through the course review process for future iterations. It is also not uncommon – and is even encouraged, when practical – for a CDA to transition into the CA role for a designated MOOC.

Our team of CAs and CDAs currently consists of about 60 individuals with rich and diverse backgrounds and interests. Most CAs and CDAs are current U-M students (undergraduate as well as graduate), but there is also a subset of enthusiastic former MOOC learners who have joined the CAs/CDAs’ ranks, often by direct invitation of the respective faculty member.

Sophie, who holds a Master of Science degree in Web Applications Development and a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical/Computer Engineering, and who is the CA for Introduction to Data Science in Python and Applied Plotting, Charting & Data Representation in Python, became interested in MOOCs to stay involved in the Computer Vision sector. Reflecting on her experience as a CA, she said, “I enjoy helping learners troubleshoot problems with their assignments, it gives me a sense of empowerment and wellbeing.”

Blair, who is a doctoral candidate in the School of Education and the CA for Leading Ambitious Teaching & Learning, became a CA to gain a deeper understanding about various perspectives on systemic approaches to improving teaching and learning and also to learn more about MOOCs and innovative ways to increase access to educational opportunities. Reflecting on her experience so far, Blair said, “I like the opportunity to learn with and support a large group of learners in diverse contexts tackling the challenging issue of leading ambitious teaching and learning. I enjoy supporting the learners’ discussions about the course content because everyone brings such unique perspectives to the material and often these discussions push my own thinking.”

Isabella, CA for Mindware: Critical Thinking for the Information Age and Inspiring and Motivating Individuals, said, “I first got involved with CA work by helping to develop one of U-M’s courses, and now I enjoy being able to be a part of the course community and making sure students from all over are excited about the material and having a fun time taking our courses.”

Sometimes, CAs might take on slightly different responsibilities, depending on specific circumstances and the CA’s interests, aptitudes, and background. Because of this variety of responsibilities and backgrounds, and with the goal of developing appropriate and responsive workflows, we initiated a process of examining CAs’ relevant work-related needs. For example, Kayla Carucci, a graduate student who will start her PhD program at the U-M School of Information this fall, has been working at the Digital Education and Innovation Lab over the summer months to conduct a contextual analysis of the CA/CDA workflow (more to come on this soon!).

To learn more about the CDA/CA role here at Academic Innovation, check out this snapshot of the role and its responsibilities.

U-M students who would like to apply to this position are encouraged to submit their resume through the Student Employment Office website.