University class on AIDS adapted for online course platform

By Isobel Futter, For the Daily
Published February 4, 2015

With an online platform called Coursera, the University is offering a popular class on AIDS to more than 1,000 students around the world.

Through Coursera, universities across the globe develop massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and publish them for anyone to take. The University has created 24 MOOCs over the last three years, 18 of which are currently running, including the brand new course AIDS: Fear and Hope.

The course is an interdisciplinary class on the history, politics and social implications of the AIDS epidemic. More than 1,100 people from all over the world are currently enrolled in the course, and enrollment remains open for two more weeks.

For the class, students watch lectures posted in each of the seven units, and then take quizzes at the end of each unit. If participants complete the course, they receive a certificate of completion. Though the units have deadlines, students can work at their own pace within the course.

The AIDS online course is based on a class offered at the University, taught by American Culture Prof. Richard Meisler. The University’s Office of Digital Education and Innovation, which is responsible for creating MOOCs, works closely with professors like Meisler to expand and transform University courses into online classes.

“I’ve been teaching the course on campus for years. What I did was translate it into this new format,” Meisler said. “It’s an interesting new development. It’s just started, and from the very beginning, we’ve had students from China, Ukraine, Sweden, and so it’s an interesting experiment in making education available to a wide range of people.”

James DeVaney, assistant vice provost for Digital Education and Innovation, said selecting courses for MOOCs is a challenging process.

“One of the reasons we chose this course is that it has enriched the lives of students on campus for decades,” he said. “So, we picked it because we can deliver it to a massive audience to enliven the discussion around AIDS, and further student understanding on the subject, which is really exciting.”

The topic of AIDS resonates deeply with Meisler. He said he enjoys the multidisciplinary aspect, and he stressed that the crisis of AIDS can be viewed through many different lenses.

“When AIDS first came out, it was very frightening, everybody was scared,” Meisler said. “I just wanted to know more about it. I’ve always been interested in things that are interdisciplinary with science, social science and humanities.”

All of the course units include lectures conducted by Meisler, as well as papers and articles on the epidemic. Meisler also offers videos, many of which include his interviews with people who recount the original outbreak in detail. Other videos show politicians discussing their approach to solving the AIDS epidemic.

“There’s videos on testing, politics and then some of the most interesting sessions are sessions in which people that I interview remember the beginning of the epidemic in Detroit, in Washington, in San Juan, Puerto Rico and other places.”

Though this is the first time that the course has been offered on Coursera, both Meisler and the DEI have high expectations for the course. DeVaney said the class is a helpful tool for students at the University, and encourages that they sign up before the deadline in two weeks.

“It has the potential to enrich and enliven the discourse that’s part of the class,” DeVaney said. “When you have multiple thousands of participants engaging in that course in the MOOC, one will get access to new and more diverse points of view and multiple disciplines. If we can learn from those perspectives, there will be interesting implications.”