University Announces First Online Degrees through Coursera

Written by Laurel Thomas, Michigan News

Online learners may soon have three new University of Michigan master’s degree options through a partnership with Coursera—one in the growing field of applied data science, a first of its kind in public health and an advanced program in construction engineering and management.

In a joint announcement today with the online platform, the School of Information said its Master of Applied Data Science under development will build upon the school’s leadership in offering programing courses online, including several on Coursera.

Online learners on six continents have enrolled more than one million times in the UMSI MOOCs, taking courses in programming, user experience research and design, web design and applications, public library management, and applied data science.

U-M’s Master of Public Health from the School of Public Health is among the first degrees in this area of study to be delivered on a massive open online course (MOOC) platform. This degree program emphasizes application of research methods and public health principles to improve population health.

The announcement at the Coursera Partners Conference also includes the debut of a new Construction Engineering and Management MasterTrack Certificate that allows users to take courses for certification or toward an advanced degree to be completed on campus for those who meet admission criteria.

“We are expanding our efforts to scale the great public research university through further investment in our flexible, personalized and networked model for global and lifelong learning,” said Martin Philbert, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

“We intend to design two new fully online programs and augment our hybrid offerings. This will increase opportunities for learners around the world, enabling them to join our community in understanding and addressing global problems in pursuit of a more equitable world.”

To date, U-M has seen 6.5 million enrollments in its portfolio of more than 120 courses. Many MOOCs are for enrichment, some lead to certification, and others are part of micromaster programs, which allow students to take advanced-level courses online first, possibly leading to enrollment on campus for completion of a master’s program.

The School of Information leads in U-M’s MOOC space with nearly 40 courses online, including a micromaster’s in user experience research and design; a Coursera Specialization in Applied Data Science with Python; and course series on Python for Everybody, Web Applications for Everybody, Web Design for Everybody, and Public Library Management. UMSI has historically been known as a graduate school but four years ago developed a curriculum for undergraduate students.

“The development of this new degree represents progression toward our goal of extending access to professional education outside the conventional residential environment,” said UMSI Dean Thomas Finholt. “The demand for data scientists has grown dramatically in the past decade and it will continue to grow far beyond our capacity to accommodate students in a traditional classroom setting. UMSI continues to explore innovative ways to deliver the information-based knowledge and skills needed to meet the challenges of our increasingly data-intense world.”

The U-M School of Public Health has a 76-year history of offering master’s and doctoral level degrees and just this year launched a bachelor’s degree program. The school currently educates and trains more than 1,000 students a year.

The online program is expected to offer students and working professionals exposure to a variety of public health disciplines through a broad foundational curriculum that will equip them to tackle complex health challenges such as chronic and infectious diseases, obesity and food insecurity, health care quality and costs, climate change and environmental determinants of health, and socioeconomic inequalities and their impact on health.

Learners will have the opportunity to select from a wide range of specializations for focused expertise, including population health, program planning and evaluation, health analytics, genomics and precision health.

“Opening access to a global learning platform will increase public health knowledge and skills that are critical to our pursuit of a healthier, more equitable world for all,” said Cathleen Connell, interim dean of the U-M School of Public Health. “Through information sharing and capacity building, we can create a continuum of learning that reaches beyond the traditional degree program, leading to greater public impact.”

Meeting the demands of another growing profession has led to the development of a hybrid degree offering.

The Construction Engineering and Management MasterTrack Certificate is a new program co-created by U-M and Coursera. It allows learners to earn certification or take additional advanced courses, potentially leading to on-campus enrollment for completion of the Construction Engineering and Management Master of Engineering (MEng) degree.

The construction business is booming in the United States and is expected to continue great growth in the future, yet the industry suffers from a shortage of workers and managers.

Someone taking the Construction Engineering and Management MasterTrack Certificate can expect to learn from faculty at one of the top engineering programs in the world the skills of accounting, decision making and project management through an engineering lens. Participants will be prepared to take on a role as construction manager in as little as 6-7 months.

“We are deeply committed to leading the evolution of 21st-century engineering education for the benefit of the common good,” said Alec Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering. “Our new construction engineering and management master track certificate program is the first of its kind and is consistent with our strategic vision at Michigan Engineering to pioneer innovative educational models designed for global impact.”

MasterTrack is distinct from other programs of its kind in the way learning is structured. Learners have an opportunity to preview programs through open courses before engaging in smaller cohorts designed around high immersive projects and high quality feedback. They can join program-level learning communities and networks to pursue standalone digital credentials and pathways into top graduate degree programs.

“MasterTrack learners will enjoy rich applied projects, vibrant social learning environments, and the many benefits of frequent high quality feedback,” said James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation. “The advanced courses will provide immersive experiences built around applied projects that will benefit learners seeking advanced degrees as well as learners seeking to advance their careers.”

Coursera currently has four online master’s programs in computer science, business administration, accounting, and innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition to the Michigan programs, today’s announcement included two master’s programs in computer science from Arizona State University and University of Illinois, a master’s in global public health from Imperial College London, and a bachelor’s in computer science from the University of London.

“The University of Michigan took a bold step six years ago as one of Coursera’s four founding university partners. We are thrilled to continue working with this university to push the status quo by pioneering a new way to offer degrees that fits the evolving needs of students who demand degrees that are more affordable and are available when and wherever they are ready to learn,” said Nikhil Sinha, chief content officer at Coursera.

“The University of Michigan Master of Public Health and Master of Applied Data Science offered entirely online through Coursera will enable students to achieve top-caliber University of Michigan degrees with the flexibility and high quality online learning experience of Coursera.”

The Construction Engineering and Management MasterTrack Certificate will enroll its first learners in 2018, pending final approval.

The Master of Applied Data Science and Master of Public Health degrees are expected to launch in fall 2019, subject to approval.

Master of Public Health
Master of Applied Data Science
Construction Engineering and Management MasterTrack Certificate
Coursera online degrees
U-M Coursera

Four Keys to Managing Collaborative Teamwork in a Socially-Engaging Online Course

Kathryn Gabriele, Doctoral Student in Educational Studies in the School of Education and Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMasters 2018 Winter Cohort Learner

Hélène Gosset, Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMasters 2018 Winter Cohort Learner


This is the third in a series of blog posts from the 2018 Winter Cohort of the University of Michigan’s Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMasters program. In this blog post, we hear from members of the 2018 Winter Cohort about their approaches to self-organizing in an online course that places high emphasis on social engagement to help enable the learning of all participants.

Whether collaborating on team activities in a university-based course or engaging in work groups in a professional context, collaborative work presents a dilemma. On the one hand, it creates the potential to learn and do more than would be possible by working alone, in isolation. On the other hand, it requires managing a long list of challenges, including meeting logistics, interpersonal dynamics, joint work on shared products, and more. These potentials and pitfalls can increase with the diversity of work groups, the geographic distribution of members, competing work demands on members, and the complexity of the work at hand.

These challenges of socially-engaged learning carry into massive open online courses. Research findings suggest some of the greatest payoffs for online learners lie in the opportunity to collaborate with other learners in authentic, project-based learning opportunities. However, many learners value working in the online space precisely because it affords them the opportunity to work individually, and around the contours of their professional and personal lives to engage when-and-as they see fit.

The Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement MicroMasters program uses an instructional design called “Self-Directed/Community-Supported Learning” that challenges participants to manage the payoffs and pitfalls of socially-engaging online learning in team practice exercises, small group and large group discussions, and celebrating success.

The challenge begins immediately, in the first lesson. As a learner who created a team, I (Kathryn) was both excited and uncertain about who would join. After all, in reading the personal introductions of other members of the 2018 Winter Cohort, I realized I would be working with colleagues from across the United States and around the world, some of whom are just starting their educational careers and others who are seasoned professionals.

As members of the 2018 Winter Cohort joined my team, I was overwhelmed by their experience and diversity: a former principal in France now preparing for a leadership position in Québec, an experienced Michigan educator, a University of North Carolina PhD student, a state-level educational professional from Uruguay, and a University of Michigan master’s student.

As someone new to online learning, I was relieved to discover one of my new teammates, Hélène, had completed an online master’s program. Interested in learning more about her experiences and about any advice she might have for the team, I asked her to share the “Top Takeaways” about socially-engaging learning from other online courses.

Here is Hélène’s advice on leveraging the potential (and avoiding the pitfalls) of socially-engaging online learning:

1. Relationship Building Takes Time: Be Open and Patient

Learning to work together takes time. It is possible you won’t really start learning from others until after a few collaborative sessions, so don’t change groups too soon. Take time to learn from others. Form relationships with members of the group. It’s a good way to stay motivated to complete MOOCs.

But, what if I don’t get along with members of my group? This happens, but before changing, check to see if the team has worked together to set norms and rules to guide the group. These are helpful for coordinating team efforts. After several collaborative sessions, if your current team is still a challenge, make a change. Just remember: the perfect group doesn’t exist!

2. Thoughtful, Respectful Communication is Key

Communication is very important in online learning. You often don’t have set times to meet when working asynchronously.Instead, you may have to create them using tools like chat platforms, email, video-conference conference technology, etc. Even if you feel you don’t have much to say, maintain a presence and show interest in what others are writing. This is especially important in your small team.

Understand some people need time to feel at ease and share ideas. So, help engage others who may not initially be quick to respond. Reach out! Ask questions about their thoughts on a precise topic.

3. Be Planful, but Adaptable

Planning and respecting the plan is fundamental to online team work. All learners are working on different timelines. Some work during the day, others at night, others on weekends. Often learners have a full-time job. Planning ahead is necessary for success. Nonetheless, a member of your team may get behind or withdraw from the course. Be prepared by always having an understanding of what others are working on and potential ways to adjust if necessary. Life happens, and sometimes teams need to rearrange how work is shared with little notice.

4. Be Open-Minded, but Earnest

Students from all over the world and from very different backgrounds enroll in MOOCs, so social codes and ways of proposing ideas can vary greatly. A team member may propose an idea with which you may disagree and/or lack comfort. Accept the expression of this idea, and be earnest and explain why you are not comfortable with it. Sometimes the fact that we write instead of talk can lead to misunderstanding and/or contribute to reasons for disagreement. When expressing an idea orally, we can share ideas and ask clarifying questions. It might be a good idea to schedule a video-conference with your team to try to talk through brainstorming sessions and any potential areas of disagreement.

As our team worked together in Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement, we found Hélène’s insights were helpful in guiding our collaboration. Heeding her advice allowed us to form strong, collegial relationships. While we did face the inevitable, initial challenge of self-organizing and delegating tasks in the absence of face-to-face conversation, following her “Top Takeaways” has helped us to successfully jump that hurdle and continue to move, as a team, closer to the finish line.

A Mentor Academy

Christopher Brooks, Director of Learning Analytics and Research, Office of Academic Innovation and Research Assistant Professor, School of Information

Rebecca Quintana, Learning Experience Designer

MOOC learners have an insatiable desire for more content, more examples, and more problems to try. This is particularly true in MOOCs where learners are developing new skills, such as creating data visualizations using Python. Learners require multiple opportunities to practice their emerging skills in order to become more proficient in a domain. Instructors and course staff may be hard-pressed to find the time to create the volume of examples and problems that would satisfy the appetite of MOOC learners. Further, because we operate in a global classroom (Kizelcic, Saltarelli, Reich, & Cohen, 2017), instructors want to provide diverse examples and authentically situated problems in an effort to cultivate an inclusive learning environment.

An instructional team from the University of Michigan (U-M) developed a Mentor Academy to address these challenges. Christopher Brooks (Research Assistant Professor at U-M’s School of Information) and Rebecca Quintana (Learning Experience Designer at U-M’s Office of Academic Innovation), along with an educational technology professor, two graduate students, and a community engagement specialist, developed and supported a two-week instructional program to guide mentors in the creation of authentic programming problems. We invited learners who had completed the Introduction to Data Science with Python course to help the course team generate new content, by engaging them in the creation of problems that will be used in future versions of the course. Our program is based on the concept of learner-sourcing, where learners contribute novel content for future learners, while engaging in a meaningful learning experience themselves (Kim, 2015). We wanted to create an apprentice-like experience, where mentors could interact with each other and with university professors and instructors, providing them a “higher touch” experience in which they could both learn and give back. The program included video lectures about how to locate open data sets, how to write authentic problems, instructor-moderated discussions, and live video chats with mentors and instructors.


Python code on the left of the image with a chat window on the right with two students on a webcam and a chat box

Left: The Jupyter notebook environment. Right: Live video chats.


120 mentors participated, joining us from a variety of countries including Brazil, Canada, China, India, and the US. We ran four sessions of the program, and mentors worked in smaller cohorts of about 30. Mentors located local datasets and wrote authentic problems that leveraged these datasets. The problems were written in the Python programming language, using the Jupyter notebook environment. Mentors shared their problems on the programs’ discussion boards, and improved their problems through feedback from fellow mentors and the instructional team. Mentors created a number of high quality problems, equivalent to the ones that the instructor was creating. The problems were diverse and covered a wide range of topics, skill sets, and interests. For example, a mentor from Germany created a problem about beer prices in Germany, while a mentor from the US created a problem about the California wildfires. The problems are going to be deployed in Introduction to Data Science with Python in February 2018 for new learners in the course.

This exploration was just stage one of the Mentor Academy. With the success we have seen here we are planning to turn this into a permanent fixture for us to experiment with how lifelong learners can be lifelong mentors — giving back to global learners while continuing to “level up” their own skills. Plans for 2018 include involving these mentors in new course design (for agile just-in-time review of new course material as it is created), as well as connecting mentors with learners in peer help networks, bringing on-demand collaborative problem solving to data science learning environments.

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