MOOCs, DH, and BTLE: The Future of Teaching?

 September 24, 2015



If you have no idea why these acronyms might have anything to do with the future, and even the present, of teaching, then keep reading. Massive open online courses (MOOCs), digital humanities (DH), and blended teaching and learning environments (BTLEs) are part of a growing trend in higher education curricula incorporating online teaching components. The idea is to use online tools to re-think how teachers and students engage with course materials. Online teaching, and the DH more generally, are not about re-inventing our very disciplines, but they allow us to approach our objects of study in new and exciting ways—in the words of Jesse Stommel, founding director of the digital journal Hybrid Pedagogy, “the digital humanities is about breaking stuff.”

Now you might be thinking “Okay, I see how this could be really helpful for my own teaching, but I have no idea how to learn more about it.” Fear not, The Graduate School is here to help you in becoming online-teaching proficient. Our Duke graduate students who embark on faculty careers will be expected to design online learning curricula, and they will likely be part of shaping the future of online learning. The Graduate School has responded to this need by creating the Bass Online Apprentice Fellowships (Bass OA). The OAs acquire hands-on skills by apprenticing with the Center for Instructional Technology staff and Duke faculty for one semester.

So what is it like to be a Bass OA? Dr. Sophia Stone, senior academic technology consultant at Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology, talked to four Bass Online Apprentices about their experiences in the program. Courtnea Rainey was excited to point out how the Bass program has taught her ways to scale her science outreach efforts in order to reach a larger audience. The idea of reaching a larger audience through online platforms is a crucial aspect of combining remote teaching elements with FTF (face-to-face) instruction—in the end, don’t we all aspire to inspire as many people as possible with our teaching?

As part of their Online Apprenticeship, Giuseppe Prigiotti and Keri Hamilton both enrolled in a MOOC class. By putting themselves in the role of a student taking an online class, they better understood what it means to design such a class as a teacher. In their interview with Dr. Stone, Giuseppe and Keri both stressed how this experience helped them to “learn, unlearn, and relearn” about their own teaching ideas and practices in light of innovations in online teaching.

Former Bass Online Apprentice Adrian Down expressed in his interview that he was happily surprised about the high level of student engagement in online teaching environments. Maybe counterintuitively, less FTF instruction does not mean less sustained dialogue.

As you can see, the Bass OAs program really does take the “Apprentice” part very seriously. You don’t just learn the theoretical nuts and bolts of online education. OAs gain hands-on experience in designing online course components that enhance their own teaching, and by extension their students’ learning.  Want to be part of this exciting program? Get in touch with Dr. Hugh Crumley, assistant dean for academic affairs, or check out the Bass OA website.

(Photo: Top from left to right: Adrian Down, Keri Hamilton; bottom from left to right: Guiseppe Prigiotti, Courtnea Rainey)
(Thumbnail photo credit:


Steffen Kaupp, Ph.D.

Graduate Student Affairs Administrative Intern, The Graduate School

Steffen is an intern in the Office of Graduate Student Affairs, and recently defended his dissertation on the transcultural politics of satire in contemporary Turkish German fiction. After graduating with a Ph.D. in German Studies this May, Steffen will join the faculty at the University of Notre Dame as teaching professor in the Department of German and Russian.