Skip to content

A Hands-on MOOC: ENGSx with Vicki May

Student Bridges from the ENGSx course
Student Bridges from the ENGSx course

Professor Vicki May’s “The Engineering of Structures Around Us” DartmouthX MOOC ran from May 5th - June 19th in edX. It’s now in archive mode, but still accessible for anyone to register and go through the material self-paced. We’ve had over 700 new students in self-paced mode since the course ended!

What did it take to produce and deliver a six-week edX MOOC course? Eight months, one instructor, one instructional designer, seven undergraduate teaching assistants, two video producers/editors, one technical expert, one librarian, a handful of helpful Dartmouth colleagues, and over 10,000 students all made “The Engineering of Structures Around Us” not only possible, but very successful. This bears repeating, the MOOC students are what made the course not only successful, but also a rewarding experience for the course team.

How are we measuring success? For us, it’s really about the participation of the online students and witnessing how they are engaging with the content, the activities, and with each other. Some students may have had the goal of watching 15 minutes of video lecture while others wanted to do every activity. Both are successes if the students met their own personal goals and interacted in some way with the course material. We saw participation and engagement through many different activities and at many different levels. The course contained four hours (43 video clips) of video lectures, demonstrations, and guest speakers, eight hands-on building activities, twelve discussion forums, six interactive simulations, pre-concept surveys, multiple knowledge-check and end-of-week quizzes, and an illustrated narrative of Owl’s library treehouse. Professor May worked closely with illustrator Katherine Roy during the course development. This awesome relationship was facilitated by the Center for Cartoon Studies  in White River Junction, VT.

Illustration by Katherine Roy
Illustration by Katherine Roy

Minimally, students watched the short video lectures and demonstrations or popped into the Share Your World discussions to see interesting structures from around the globe. Many were actively participating in those forums by finding, annotating, and posting pictures of buildings and structures from their communities or online sources. Others were getting a virtual world tour of amazing structures.

The primary engagement strategy in the course was to get students exploring structures with hands-on tangible activities that used easy to find materials. They were asked to share images of their work in discussion. Speaking of images and discussion, check out the Visual Discussion Tool that Jared Benedict (Thayer School of Engineering) made for the course to allow better navigation to image posts and a clearer view of all the hands-on activities.

The custom tool by Jared Benedict (Thayer) pulled images from discussion posts into one page. At a glance, one could scroll through the images and click to go directly to the discussion post to comment.
The custom tool by Jared Benedict (Thayer) pulled images from discussion posts into one page. At a glance, one could scroll through the images and click to go directly to the discussion post to comment.

For five hundred US residents chosen at random, we were able to send out Activity Kits that contained all the necessary materials for the hands-on activities. We’ll be examining the course data in the coming months to see if having a kit had any effect on students participation or engagement with the course.

TAs and Thayer staff help put together the Activity Kits, brainchild of Jared Benedict.
TAs and Thayer staff help put together the Activity Kits, brainchild of Jared Benedict.

A highlight of the experience for the course team was when the first students started posting their building projects. I recall someone saying, “They are really doing it!!” For us, that was a sign of success - that a learner is actively engaging and investigating the course concepts by trying the hands-on activities. Then, more and more were posting, it was amazing! We were unsure if students would even try the activities and were very pleased with the results. Enroll in the course to look at more samples of student building projects and try some yourself!

Week 4 of the course dealt with tension and compression working together in a structure. Tensegrity models and truss bridges took over our discussions.
Week 4 of the course dealt with tension and compression working together in a structure. Tensegrity models and truss bridges took over our discussions.

Stay tuned as now the big data from the course is taking over our time and we’ll be doing another blog post in the future on results!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *