Lebanese American University


A new kind of active learning experience

LAU instructor Brian Prescott-Decie holds a talk on the possibilities presented by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS).

The term MOOCs (short for Massive Open Online Courses) was coined in 2008 and refers to large-scale courses of study made available online, free of charge. Anyone with access to a computer and an Internet connection can log on and sign up for these virtual classes. The earliest proponents of this wave have been some of the most prestigious international universities—Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. Typically the courses do not offer official course credit for participation but do grant certifications of recognition if a course is completed.

“The debate is centered on what exactly the role of MOOCs will be in education,” said Brian Prescott-Decie, professor of English and cultural studies at LAU’s department of humanities on the Beirut campus. The Oxford-trained professor led an engaging debate about the possibilities and challenges posed by MOOCS on May 7.

A longtime professor at LAU, Prescott-Decie has been both an instructor and student of MOOCs and is a convincing advocate for their effectiveness in creating highly efficient learning environments. “MOOCs are extremely effective vehicles for content delivery, and, if properly organized, give remarkable opportunities to develop extensive dialogue in a community of like-minded people,” he enthuses.

Prescott-Decie has participated in a MOOC both as a student and as an instructor, and his online project Hour 25, a community forum under the aegis of Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies, allows participants to delve deep into ancient Greek history using the latest technology. The professor, however, cautions that such a tool should be regarded as a supplement rather than a replacement to a traditional course on the matter. In addition to that, although they are touted as a democratizing force in education, MOOCs do present some challenges with high rates of attrition and many opportunities for cheating, among others. Though such issues present legitimate concerns, Prescott-Dicie reiterates that the most important dimension of this trend is that it is fostering a community of lifelong learners who are motivated by their own sense of personal achievement.

Event attendee Reine Azzi, instructor of moral reasoning and curator of TEDxLAU, agrees wholeheartedly. “Technology can help spark students’ interest in a topic and motivate them to dig deeper.” Adding, “We want our students to have access to as many learning tools as possible—education doesn’t end when you graduate; in fact, with today’s competitive job market there is pressure to constantly learn new things, and it’s the love of learning that top universities in the world strive to foster in their graduates.”


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