2012 Annual Report, U.Va. Office of the President

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Reinventing the curriculum

Teaching Exponentially

In the 21 years that Professor Louis Bloomfield has been teaching How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life, he’s taught almost 10,000 students. He now may be able to reach 10,000 students in a single semester, thanks to the University’s partnership with online-learning pioneer Coursera.

But Bloomfield is less impressed by the numbers than by the chance to see how yet another thing works—in this case the kind of massive open online courses that Coursera promotes. For Bloomfield, the best way to understand the new format is to build a course himself.

From the start, Bloomfield understands that there will be some trade-offs. “I will lose class conversation,” he said. “In compensation, I will be able to do things that are impossible in the classroom.” For example, he currently rides a bicycle around his lecture hall to demonstrate its remarkable stability in motion, something he can accomplish much more effectively outdoors. “There are instances in which I can make video that has more minute-by-minute value than I can achieve in person,” he said.

Consequently, Bloomfield is learning about the production cycle that creating these videos for an online course requires. He’s also working to develop a manageable plan to monitor the discussion forums and provide feedback to students.

Despite these differences, Bloomfield is determined that both online and on-Grounds courses share the same rigor. “My courses are demanding, for the simple reason that it takes work to learn something,” he said. “Regardless of the format, my strategy is to produce such compelling content that students stick with it.”