Nebraska researchers launch new approach to massive open online courses

· 3 min read

Nebraska researchers launch new approach to massive open online courses

MOOCocracy Pilot

A new partnership between University of Florida and Nebraska researchers is seeking to transform massive open online courses, or MOOCs, into more user-friendly and engaging platforms.

The joint project, MOOCocracy, was designed as a solution to the traditionally unorganized, overwhelming nature of MOOC discussion boards. Penned as a social learning democracy, in a MOOCocracy IDEA (informed discussion for effective action), conversations are organized by attitudes.

Jamie Loizzo, assistant professor in the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, co-leads the project. The first MOOCocracy engagement is called “Introduction to Food Insecurity.”

“With a traditional MOOC, there are thousands of participants,” Loizzo said. “It is easy to get lost in the discussion. With our new technologies, we are trying to get our learners to identify their own goals and seek out perspectives that will help them learn more about food insecurity.”

Going forward, the MOOCocracy project aims to enhance engagement around global social issues. The website will feature a learner-centered dashboard for tracking participation and individual goal-setting, a customized discussion board focused on investigating others’ attitudes and positions and a community knowledge-building space for sharing multimedia projects and resources.

“Traditional MOOCs focus on learning, but don’t necessarily foster action,” said Lisa PytlikZillig, project co-lead and researcher at the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center. “The MOOCocracy concept fosters learning for the purpose of formulating actions that communities might implement to solve social problems.”

The new tools address frequent MOOC criticisms, such as low completion rates, top-down goal-setting, and lack of facilitator presence.

“We are excited to pilot the MOOCocracy tools around the important topic of food insecurity,” said Loizzo. “The ultimate goal of MOOCocracy is to create online communities where people can engage around global social issues, share attitudes, ideas and information, and collaboratively identify and mobilize around solutions. We believe our new technologies take the first few steps in that direction.”

The research team includes Nebraska computer science and engineering professor Leen-Kiat Soh, who has expertise in computer-aided education systems and intelligent data analytics.

“Once we have the pilot data, we can use it to begin to understand how people engage, and then create additional tools to help people engage even more successfully,” Soh said. “These data-driven tools can help people find others with similar goals, or even help people expand their worldviews by connecting people with different knowledge or attitudes so they can learn from one another.”

The MOOCocracy project is partially funded by Nebraska’s Food for Health Collaboration Initiative and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The five-week course will be open from Feb. 25 through March 29. Those interested in participating can register for free at

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