Learning How To Teach

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Amid the various influences that massive open online courses have had on higher education in their short life so far — the topic of a daylong conference here Monday — this may be among the more unexpected: The courses may be prompting some faculty to pay more attention to their teaching styles than they ever have before.

The conference, organized Monday in Cambridge by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, featured academics and administrators from elite North American universities and other players in the world of MOOCs discussing the rise of online courses and the future of residential colleges and universities.

The new attention to teaching methods and learning sciences is coming from two directions: faculty who want to make sure their teaching is up to snuff for a wider audience, and technology that allows new levels of interaction with students, and new understanding of students' strengths and weaknesses.

Harvard Provost Alan Garber said the free online courses can invite comparisons of faculty and course shopping by students. That, along with their scale — tens of thousands of students will sign up for a course, versus only scores for a large traditional class — means MOOC instructors now “are working at an entirely different level.”

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