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July 11, 2013

RSU Dean Offers One of Oklahoma’s First Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)

A Rogers State University dean has developed a sociology course that will be offered as one of the state’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), which allows large numbers of people to participate in a non-credit class.

Dr. Frank Elwell, dean of RSU’s School of Liberal Arts and professor of sociology, has spent the past several years developing the underlying material for his “Sociocultural Systems” course during research for his book of the same name, which is being published this summer by Athabasca University Press.

The course and book focus on social institutions and frameworks to address crises that plague human society. As Elwell was completing the work, he thought the course might translate well into a Massive Open Online Course, which is an emerging distance education trend to develop courses that attract large-scale interactive participation via internet platforms.

The only other Massive Open Online Course affiliated with a state university is a management course that the University of Oklahoma began offering this June.

“MOOCs have garnered a lot of attention in the academic and popular press because they are attracting students in such large numbers,” Elwell said. “The MOOC is intriguing because it provides a scalable way to increase awareness both of the subject matter.”

Generally not-for-credit, MOOCs have open enrollments that allow anyone with an interest in the subject matter to participate and the largest can have tens of thousands enrolled in a given session. Schools both large and small have developed these Massive Open Online Courses, which Elwell described as “a web course on steroids.” Other schools that have offered MOOCs include Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) among others.

Elwell’s course is one of 30 new MOOCs offered this summer and fall through Blackboard Inc.’s CourseSites, the company’s free open course platform. Blackboard is one of the world’s largest providers of enterprise technology and solutions that improve the educational experience for students and learners around the world.

There will be no charge for those interested in taking Elwell’s course online when it starts on Sept. 2. The only affiliated costs for most similar programs would be for course books or other supplemental materials.

Fortunately for students in Elwell’s class, Athabasca University Press is an “open-source” publisher that will publish “Sociocultural Systems” paperback for sale, as well as provide the entire book as a free download so students who cannot afford the text may still take the course.

“I am proud that Athabasca will make it available free to anyone with access to the Internet. It appeals to my sense of community,” Elwell said.

The “Sociological Systems” course is a pilot program being conducted by Elwell independently of his university teaching load. The university and its faculty committees will continue exploring the viability of developing similar programs in the future, including determine best methods for delivery.

For his “Sociological Systems” course, Elwell divided the class into 10 units that mirror the content of his book. His approach requires students to tackle questions and issues via student forums, blogs and journals. He said the course will have some limited lecture material, but he was purposefully seeking to avoid “talking head” videos. The course will utilize some YouTube videos that will be pertinent to each unit, including documentaries, short presentations by experts and an occasional musical interlude.

Upon successful completion of the course, students should have mastered the vocabulary of macro-sociological theory and be familiar with a systemic social theory relating the various parts of the sociocultural system to one another and to the whole. They also should be able to apply sociocultural theory in understanding contemporary societies and demonstrate an understanding of the historical/comparative method as the basis of sociological and anthropological practice.

For more information or to enroll in the “Sociological Systems” or other Massive Open Online Courses, visit Information about Elwell’s book (as well as the free downloadable version) can be found at