How To Build A Global Online University – In Three Weeks


When Matthew Rascoff learned he had three weeks to put all classroom teaching online at Duke Kunshan University, it stressed him out – but he also saw a chance to excel.

“I knew we had to give it all up, because it has to be successful,” said Rascoff, who leads Duke’s digital education efforts. “It was also a huge opportunity to build community across campuses. “

When the coronavirus outbreak locked down the Duke Kunshan campus, it shattered the original plan to resume classes in person on February 3 after the Lunar New Year holiday. That same day, Rascoff learned that the semester would resume on February 24 – but all online, and with 579 undergraduates and over 100 faculty all scattered across China and far beyond, in many different time zones. and with different levels of access to the Internet and other technology.

“The pressure was on,” Rascoff said. “But Duke is equipped to do it. We have spent years building the infrastructure to have the capacity and resilience to respond to a crisis. “

Duke has spent the past seven years helping faculty create over 60 online courses, understand how learning happens across different disciplines, and create participatory and engaging classrooms.

“Having this team gathered in one place meant that there was basically a place to go when Duke Kunshan is in this situation and needs help,” he said. “It takes confidence to say, we might not know how we’re going to get there, but we’re going to get you there somehow.”

This happens by first identifying the desired learning outcomes and designing the course materials, exercises and assignments from there.

“It’s a very solid foundation for quickly taking a face-to-face online course,” said Rascoff, “because the learning outcomes are the same in all cases. Technology is a catalyst, but the key is human interaction. Whether face-to-face or online, we try to support good, evidence-based teaching and learning practices no matter what.

In the current crisis, the first task was to complete the seven-week term interrupted by the holidays. This involves augmenting an existing and ongoing program with live sessions on the Zoom online conferencing platform.

But with no way of knowing when the campus can reopen, the biggest challenge is the full seven-week tenure starting March 23 that Duke Kunshan must also be prepared to conduct fully online.

“These are courses that in some cases have never been taught before,” Rascoff said. “Technology is often seen as cold, but in this case we are using it to recreate the student community, to support people and to help them engage them. “

It happens through human expertise and compassion – the faculty, Duke de Rascoff’s Learning Innovation team and the Duke Kunshan Teaching and Learning Center – coupled with technology custom: Zoom for live audio and video assembled on the fly by Duke’s Office of Information Technology); the Sakai learning management system for course materials, exams, quizzes and discussion forums; and the Coursera learning platform.

Duke and Duke Kunshan Libraries license electronic resources to students and faculty who do not have access to their own books or libraries. Duke brought many Duke Kunshan teachers from around the world to Durham to create their online course content.

“It’s really a team effort,” said Rascoff. “It’s about what students need to learn, and it doesn’t really change when you move a class face-to-face online. It’s just the way to get there that changes, and it’s a problem that can be solved. We want to make sure that faculty and students feel that this is a joint effort, that we are together.

Scott MacEachern, vice chancellor for academic affairs at Duke Kunshan, shared Rascoff’s sense of desirability in the midst of the crisis.

“It will force students, faculty and staff to go above and beyond in a variety of ways,” MacEachern said. “It’s always a good thing. People will acquire a useful skill set by learning how to deliver and digest this content.

MacEachern said he’s confident Duke Kunshan can make his plan work because the students and faculty are enthusiastic and because of the resources Duke has committed to the effort. He also called it a chance for the university to embody the globalism which is at the heart of its mission.

“We now have the opportunity to put this concept into practice,” he said, “in a way we did not expect.”


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