Open Courses

Most MOOC courses, iversity’s included, are quantitative. But humanities departments are adapting curricula to online platforms, a less intuitive medium for teaching subjective material. 

We look to the thirty-three thousand-student Coursera class “Modern & Contemporary American Poetry”, as a successful example. Its assignments are similar to those in a traditional university, with students close-reading texts then analyzing them. Students then post feedback to essays uploaded on forums. Since students don’t know one another, they comment purely on essay content, a benefit of teaching humanities online. 

However, distinctive challenges arise. When students so vastly different from one another critique each other’s work, meaning may be lost in translation and across culture gaps. Afghan students can now not only access high-quality education, but also provide feedback for Canadian and American students. But geography may hinder these reviews, gaps that, in our ever-globalizing world, may eventually narrow. Peer-to-peer review certainly has its shortcomings, but is a more natural way to assess humanities students than multiple-choice testing. Such testing, typical of MOOC courses, does not lend itself well to the subjective matter and creative interpretations inherent in humanities courses.

The Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania. By Bruce Andersen, via Wikimedia CommonsThough students in “Modern & Contemporary American Poetry” cannot sip tea and converse at the University of Pennsylvania Kelly Writer’s House, they can study under its founder, Al Filreis, an opportunity once afforded to only a privileged few. Filreis made this MOOC not technically perfect but evocative of a certain culture, featuring a tour of the Kelly Writer’s House on a personal camcorder. He sheds the standard MOOC lecture model, opting for live webcasting and discussions, replicating the informal group conversations had at Penn. As MOOCs take root, professors enliven their courses and adapt them to different teaching styles, expanding humanities offerings. iversity will offer many MOOCs that don’t fit the typical quantitative model – keep an eye out for our Design 101 and Future of Storytelling MOOCs.

by Anna Meixler

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The jury has selected MOOC Fellowship Competition winners from more than 250 submitted course concepts. The winning courses cover a diverse variety of scientific disciplines: from media studies to arithmetics, from medicine to agricultural science. 

The result of the preceding MOOC voting was one of the factors in deciding the winners. “It was important to us that that actual skills are taught in the courses and that the instructors use the new capabilities the web offers,” says Dr. Volker Meyer-Guckel, secretary-general of the Stifterverband and head of the MOOC Fellowship Competition jury



Design 101  is one of the  winning courses 

Production of the MOOCs will be the next step for the winners. iversity and the Stifterverband will not only support the professors and teams with the grant money of 25 000 Euros (33 000 USD), but will also give technical advice and advise the winners individually on how to produce a MOOC.

“We are amazed by the diversity of the topics and are looking forward to seeing the concepts become excellent online courses. I believe that, together with the Stifterverband, we’ve proven that online education and MOOCs will be a significant force in the future of higher education on this side of the Atlantic as well”, says Marcus Riecke, CEO of iversity. 

iversity warmly congratulates the winners of the MOOC Fellowship. We are looking forward to meeting the Fellows during our workshop in Berlin.

The winning entries can be found on

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