Due to the new Digital Islamic Studies Curriculum, developed and lead by the University of Michigan International Institute, students who want to study Islam — but whose universities don’t offer the course — now can.

The new digital curriculum creates a cross-university classroom where other schools in the Big Ten Academic Alliance can explore their interests in Islamic studies by attending an in-person class at the University virtually.

Efforts by Pauline Jones, the International Institute’s former director and a current professor of political science, along with a 3-million-dollar Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant awarded to Jones for the project, helped make the curriculum possible.

“It’s really about fostering networks,” Jones said in a video interview with Michigan News. “It’s not just the opportunity for students to learn more about Islam, and the potential to even possibly do a minor in Islamic Studies with the amount of courses they’ll be able to access through DISC, but I think equally importantly to build a network in a sense of community across Big Ten Academic Alliance campuses.”

Already, over 250 students across 10 universities have taken courses through DISC in semesters past.

Last year Rudolph Ware, associate professor of history, taught a class titled Islam in Africa where University students were also joined by students from the University of Iowa and the University of Minnesota.

In an interview with Michigan News, he described how, in Western society today, there is a large misconception about Islamic culture, and students want to begin to understand it.

“There is a lot of misinformation about Islam and Muslims around the world,” Ware said. “There is a real need for students to understand the human diversity within the religion.”

Meanwhile, the University has been a proponent and carrier of several Massive Open Online Courses in recent years. It was one of the first four schools to partner with Coursera, a host website for MOOCs. Coursera courses are taught by top University professionals and include video lectures and discussion forums, among other opportunities. Since 2012, the University has produced over 100 MOOCs and has reached 5.6 million people around the world. 

In an April interview, LSA freshman Boyang Yu said he liked working independently through MOOCs he took in high school. 

“I’m not one of those people who needs to study in groups and I really like the freedom a MOOC has of starting whenever you want and repeating whatever you want,” Yu said. “In certain ways, it works better than physical classes.”

Adam Megeed, a recent alum who graduated this spring discussed with Michigan News how he enjoyed the contemporary, dynamic classroom setting DISC offers.

“I like everything about the class,” Megeed said. “It is eye-opening to see the subject matter and hear the discussions from different perspectives.”

Over the course of each DISC course, the instructor of the host university is required to travel to the assisting university to teach there. In addition to the one visit, graduate student instructors are made available to aid undergraduates with the course material.

For Jones, the value of interpersonal interactions with the faculty who teach and coordinate the course is indefinite.

“It is different from a recorded lecture, it is active learning,” Jones told Michigan News. “The students interact with the professor and other students. Thanks to the grant, there is also a graduate-student instructor available at the receiving university to help them with the course material.”

As courses through DISC gain momentum and popularity, more universities plan to offer courses within the coming semesters. This coming fall, Rutgers University plans to offer an Islam in Africa course through DISC, with four universities, including the University, registered to receive the class virtually.

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