Massive Open Online Courses start up at the University of Minnesota


The University of Minnesota began offering free massive open online courses this month, drawing thousands of students from around the world and demanding hundreds of volunteer hours from five professors.

“I’ve probably put 400 hours into preparation,” said University chemistry professor Chris Cramer, who is teaching his first MOOC this summer. “That’s a lot of time. I didn’t sleep much this last semester to be perfectly honest.”

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are free online classes that are open to an unlimited number of students from anywhere in the world with access to computers and Internet.

Cramer said his Statistical Molecular Thermodynamics class of more than 8,000 students has the lowest enrollment rate of the five University courses currently being offered. But the high number of students in the course changed the way he prepared.

“[Professors] are used to creating our courses almost on our own,” Cramer said. “You can’t do a MOOC that way.”

He said he relies on a production team made up of five University librarians almost every day.

Nancy Sims, a University librarian who is part of the team, said team members have shifted some job responsibilities to support the MOOCs.

“Sometimes people think of the library of just being buildings with books in them, but I think this has shown that this is not what we are…,” she said. “The way the library folks have been able to just dive right in in a short time frame has shown a very high level of amazing talent.”

Karen Monsen, who is teaching a MOOC called Interprofessional Healthcare Informatics, said she also leans on the team frequently for help.

“They are the one who really showed us about the in-video stuff,” she said, adding that they have also shown her how to see the real-time progress of data collection.

Sims said the classes reinforce the University’s land-grant mission “to provide resources and education to the public.”

“This is a great example of the way that MOOCs are being used to create something really accessible and applicable,” she said.