Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Digging in to Dino 101

On September 4, the Faculty of Science and the University of Alberta launched our first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). The debut course was “Dino 101: Introduction to Dinosaur Paleobiology” (actually, PALEO 200). We are now in week 9 of the course and things are going surprisingly well. We have a talented team of people (especially our paleontologists) who are doing a superb job of making sure that students enrolled in the course receive a memorable experience.

Dino 101 is not like any other course you have experienced. It is not a professor lecturing in front of an audience, or a talking head on a screen. It is not scribbling on a white board or a collection of PowerPoint slides. It is a well-thought-out filmed “experience”, including on-location shooting (real Dino digs), the use real fossils, and augmented with interactive experiences. In other words, it is cool, fun, and engaging! Check it out at Better yet, sign up and take the course. It’s free!

Creating, designing, producing and, now, delivering this course has been an incredible learning experience for all involved. The yearlong Dino 101 effort required the talents of over 50 people to transform the idea into a reality. Creating the course was akin to building a 16-hour documentary. We had people in roles such as producer and director. We held a screen test to identify our co-host. We wrote scripts with dialogue. We filmed and re-filmed to get the visual images just right. We even had our own “Hollywood Star”, Dr. Phil Currie (well, at least he is a star in the paleontology world).
Paleo artist extraodianaire Jan Sovak and Paleo hunter extraordinaire Phil Currie.
 The variety of skills that had to be brought to bear on this project was surprising to me. Some of the key areas of expertise include:
  • Management: producer, project management, financial expertise, legal expertise, administration
  • Pedagogy: domain expertise, instructional design, pedagogical assessment
  • Filming: director, presenters, graphic design, artists, videography, film editing, script writing, makeup artist, diction coaching
  • Technology: software development, technical support
  • Sales: marketing, product development
Quite frankly, when the Dino 101 project began in earnest in October 2012, I had no idea of the level of commitment needed to see this through to a successful conclusion. That it all worked out in the end is a testament to the passion of the team members (University Digital Strategy, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Education, and contractors). After all, we were all working on dinosaurs; what other motivation did you need? How cool is that?
Dino 101 director Kevin Barrett,
 Dino 101 is a success. Over 20,000 students are enrolled in the course and several thousand are already interested in the January offering. The community feedback for the course has been overwhelmingly positive – web sites, reviews, user forums, etc. At the University of Alberta 450 students are taking the course for credit. Over 200 people external to the university are taking the course for certification (Coursera’s Signature Track) or for course equivalence.

We have two more MOOCs in development and two more on the drawing board. With Dino 101, we set a high standard of excellence, and we have every expectation of meeting or exceeding this performance bar with our future MOOCs. We want the University of Alberta brand to be synonymous with quality. 

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