New MOOC aims to turn students into computer programming teachers

April 16, 2014

Programming code skewed over a world map. Image credlt: CourseraANN ARBOR—The student becomes the teacher.

That’s the concept of a new mass open online course (MOOC) on computer programming led by a University of Michigan professor.

Programming for Everybody is an introductory class offered on Coursera and taught by Charles (Chuck) Severance, an associate professor in the School of Information. It’s designed to allow its participants to turn around and teach the material in their own communities. All course materials, including Severance’s textbook “Python for Informatics,” the syllabus, videos and software, are open source via Creative Commons licenses and available for students to reuse.

“Teaching Programming for Everybody as a MOOC lets me interact with students in high school, college, and adults who want to come back to school and learn technology,” Severance said. “One of my concerns with [open] materials is that potential faculty adopters around the world often think of them as somehow ‘not as good.’ I want to use the MOOC to give teachers who experience the MOOC a reason to make use of the open materials in their own classes.”

The class will give students a taste of the type of instruction Severance does in his networked computing class for the U-M School of Information, but at a simpler level, he said. More than 26,000 students have already signed up for the MOOC.

The course’s text was originally made available in a partnership with the U-M Library several years ago, via on-demand printing on the Library’s ‘Espresso’ Book Machine. It is now available in a variety of e-book formats, including PDF, EPUB, MOBI for Kindle, and an Apple iBooks version that includes interactive quizzes as well as the lecture videos.

Michigan Publishing, the primary academic publishing entity for the U-M community, worked with Severance to create the iBooks version, which has seen a significant download spike since course registrations opened two weeks ago. Severance has offered foreign rights to the book to any teacher willing to translate the text into their native languages.

The class began April 10.

Severance, known on campus as “the professor with the open-source tattoos,” has long been a proponent of open-source educational tools. He has taught other successful MOOCs, some with 50,000+ students in five continents. And he’s held office hours in countries around the globe.


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