A bisected image with a woman using a tablet on the left and Dr. Colleen Van Lent looking at a laptop in the right

Open Online Office Hours (OOOH!)

Adam Levick, Data Scientist

Launching a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) involves a lot of moving parts. The design and development of the content and the production make up the bulk of the process. After this hard work is done, it’s time to get the word out about a course, but what’s the best way to do this? The Marketing team at Academic Innovation will help develop communications strategies and promote MOOCs through a variety of approaches including press releases, blog posts, and social media. We also collaborate with and support faculty interested in connecting directly with potential learners by developing strategies for faculty to engage with potential learners in online communities, where their primary audiences are spending time.

Q&A on the Web

We recently started to help MOOC faculty engage with audiences through two websites, Reddit and Quora, with great results.


At the time of this post, Reddit is the 9th most visited site (daily) on the internet. Of the top 50 most visited sites online, Reddit users generally spend the highest amount of time per day and view the most pages on their site compared with other most visited sites. This means Reddit is extremely active. This site is made up of “subreddits,” which are user communities that are interested in a specific type of content, such as “r/science” where users mostly discuss new science, or “r/aww” where users post pictures of animals being adorable. “r/IAMA,” which stands for “ask me anything” and “I am a,” is a highly popular (16+ million subscribers) subreddit where scheduled guests come on to discuss their job and life while promoting content or a cause. Here are some examples of our faculty using Reddit:

Data Science Ethics

Dr. H.V. Jagadish, Bernard A Galler Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in the College of Engineering

Screenshot of Reddit Ask Me Anything Thread for Data Science Ethics

61 comments, 104 upvotes

“Reddit User: Hi Professor, thank you for the AMA!
What would you say are some of the dangers of predictive analytics? How does the study of data ethics address some of those dangers and, also, who is responsible for conclusions made by a machine?

H.V. Jagadish: Predictions depend on the model, which reflects the worldview of the model-builder. Predictions depend on the training data, which may not be appropriately representative. Predictions depend on the input variables, which could have errors. Whoever is responsible for predictions (the human) has to take responsibility. We cannot simply say the machine did it.”

Applied Data Science with Python

Dr. Christopher Brooks, Research Assistant Professor in the School of Information, and the faculty development team

Screenshot of Reddit Ask Me Anything Thread for Applied Data Science with Python

58 comments, 110 upvotes

Reddit User: “How proficient does one need to be in Python going into the class to be successful?”

Applied Data Science with Python Team: “All of us chiming in: If you don’t know python but you have a programming background I think it’s very attainable – we provide some material in the first week which will help bridge the gap. If you don’t have a programming background or want a review, then we would recommend checking out Dr. Chuck’s MOOC, ‘programming for everybody.’”


Quora is a question and answer site, which is well positioned to support faculty engagement with learners. Questions are tagged with subjects, and users can follow those subjects in addition to specific authors. Quora also let’s experts set up Q&A “Sessions” in one of 8 different categories where they answer a series of questions from users all over the world. Unlike AMA’s which are scheduled multiple times in a day, Sessions in a given category are separated by at least a day (and sometimes weeks). Here are some examples of our faculty using Quora:

Web Design for Everybody 

Dr. Colleen Van Lent, Lecturer IV in Information in the School of Information

Screenshot of the Quora Q and A with Dr. Colleen Van Lent

Answered 15 questions, each receiving 400-1,500 views

Quora User’s Question: “I have 9 year old daughter that started programming in Scratch 2 years ago. Would you recommend JS as a next step? Which page/video/tool/program?”

Colleen van Lent: “The choice of next language depends a little bit on who is around to help out. Last year my 11yr old son struggled trying to learn JavaScript using traditional books. The problem is that the smallest typo in the book will derail him – at this age they are still typing the code more than coding themselves. The only reason it works for him is that I can check in when he gets stuck.

He had a lot of success with Snake Wrangling for Kids for learning Python. He is currently using Khan academy to learn JavaScript.

My 9yr old daughter uses Code.org: Anybody can Learn to do general coding ideas rather than a specific language. She also learned HTML and CSS last year, with a little bit of JavaScript.

If you can, contact any local colleges or universities. Many student groups hold coding workshops for elementary and middle school children.”

Faculty who have used these platforms enjoy how this type of engagement gives potential learners a less-formal space to get to know them. We have also heard that these experiences are useful for supplying faculty and their teams with questions that are top of mind for potential learners in their subject areas:

“[Using Reddit] helped me connect with a group of keen learners who had a breadth of exposure with similar MOOC offerings, giving [our course team] an understanding of what students were looking for.” – Dr. Christopher Brooks, Research Assistant Professor in the School of Information and Director of Learning Analytics and Research in the Office of Academic Innovation

Faculty interested in participating in future Q&A sessions are encouraged to speak with their program manager and connect with our marketing team to discuss their ideas.