MOOCs Spark Professor’s Opportunity

Career College Central summary:

  • When Jim Fowler becomes an assistant professor of mathematics at Ohio State University this fall, he can thank his massive open online courses — and former president E. Gordon Gee. Fowler came to Ohio State in 2009 as a visiting assistant professor decidedly off the tenure track. When he finished that postdoctoral appointment three years later, Fowler negotiated an administrative position that split his duties equally between lecturing and researching. In fall 2012, Ohio State joined the MOOC platform Coursera, and Fowler began building what would become the university’s first MOOC, Calculus One.
  • In almost two years, Fowler’s now three MOOCs have run six times, and Ohio State uses his content in flipped and fully online courses for its own students. Local high schools have used the materials to supplement their own math education. Even Fowler’s colleagues in English, engineering and statistics have found uses for his coding.
  • As an assistant professor (no longer visiting), Fowler’s duties will also be split 50-50, said Luis Casian, chair of the math department. He will spent half his time focusing on math instruction — creating courses, building tools and writing textbooks — and the other half researching. "The department already had a position oriented towards math education, and Jim Fowler fit that position well because of his successful work developing the MOOC," Casian said in an email. "However his work in topology was also taken into account and he is supposed to do both: research in topology and to continue his work on instructional issues."
  • Fowler's background is in geometric topology, not math education, but he said MOOCs have given him an opportunity to expand his field of work.
  • “I think a lot of it comes down to the extent to which the education can be viewed externally,” Fowler said about his new position in an interview. “The MOOC stuff kind of lets me publish my teaching, in a way. I certainly think that turned out to be really helpful in being able to evaluate me for this position…. Without the MOOC platform to provide a context for that kind of exploration, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to get involved in the math education world.”

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