Professors take lessons from online teaching (Boston Globe)

Very nice coverage in the Boston Globe over the weekend on the research behind MOOCs, featuring David Pritchard, who is teaching Mechanics ReView, now underway on edx.

Professors take lessons from online teaching

Researchers mine a trove of data from courses offered free on Web

By Marcella Bombardieri

CAMBRIDGE — David E. Pritchard has dedicated his life to physics, conducting pioneering work in atom optics and mentoring Nobel Prize winners at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But now Pritchard, whose aviator glasses and flyaway gray hair give him the look of the quintessential MIT professor, has dropped his physics research “cold turkey,” as he puts it.

A new frontier of human knowledge has captivated him and others in academia: studying how people learn and finding ways to teach more effectively.

Fueling their enthusiasm is the explosion of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, the new species of free classes prestigious universities are offering to students around the world. As educators debate what the classes mean for the future of traditional universities, one thing is clear — they provide a vast laboratory to study learning, using a trail of electronic data to examine what resources or study habits best help students, whether they take courses online or in traditional classrooms.

The data from just one online class, Circuits and Electronics, the first offering from edX — the nonprofit founded by MIT and Harvard University to develop MOOCs — have already spawned multiple research papers by Pritchard and others. Read more.

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