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COA Professor to Teach Massive Open Online Course

Posted Jan. 03, 2014, at 11:48 a.m.

Dave Feldman’s Dynamical Systems and Chaos Class at College of the Atlantic Numbers 20 Students; His Massive Open Online Course on the Same Subject Will Reach More than 3000

BAR HARBOR, ME – The first free, unlimited-enrollment massive open online course (MOOC) taught by College of the Atlantic (COA) professor David Feldman for the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) starts January 6, 2014.

The eight-week introductory course, Dynamical Systems and Chaos, will be partly based on a class Feldman developed – and has taught for over a decade – at COA. Feldman also recently published a textbook on chaos and dynamical systems, Chaos and Fractals: An Elementary Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2012). Dynamical systems, known also as “chaos theory”, is the interdisciplinary field of applied mathematics that studies systems that change over time. Well-known phenomena from dynamical systems include the butterfly effect and strange attractors. Participants will learn what these phenomena are and why they are important. Registration and all course materials are free, and while the course is not for credit, students who complete all the quizzes with a grade of 70 percent or higher will get a certificate of completion. The only math required is basic high-school algebra.

“I’ve found my introductory class on chaos to be one of the most rewarding courses to teach at COA,” Feldman said. “I think chaos is an important and fun field that should be widely taught at all levels. So I’m excited to scale-up my class. This MOOC will make it possible for me to reach more students in a few months than I would otherwise be able to reach in my entire career at COA. I’ve taught my chaos class to approximately 200 students over my years at COA, and in COA’s 42-year history we’ve had just under 2,000 graduates. Already 3,000 students have signed up for my online course with SFI, and I expect the number will grow much larger once the course is underway. Of course, my MOOC won’t be the same as my 15-student COA class, but I think it will be possible to capture much of the fun and excitement of my course for this larger audience.”

MOOCs have gained much momentum in the past year, mostly at large institutions. Maine institutions’ involvement has been fairly limited to date. For example, the University of Maine System does not currently offer free and massively-attended online classes, but the University of Maine at Presque Isle has a program called UMPI OpenU, which resembles the MOOC phenomenon in concept and execution, though while the courses are open to anyone, only up to five students who are not enrolled in UMPI can take each course.

MOOCs could play an especially important role for institutions like COA and SFI, both of which are small and focus on interdisciplinary teaching and research and seek to combine ideas from different disciplines in ways not always done at larger institutions. SFI’s MOOCs are part of its Complexity Explorer project and are funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and voluntary donations from course participants. SFI has developed its own course platform and is not affiliated with any university or any other MOOC provider. COA does not have plans to offer MOOCs of its own, but it is fully supportive of Feldman’s collaboration with SFI on this project.

“We’re excited for Dave and his collaboration with the Sante Fe Institute on such an innovative venture,” noted COA President Darron Collins. “Online learning can be an effective teaching method if delivered by an experienced and engaging instructor like Dave. A large online course is very different from COA courses that are small and emphasize discussion and individualized learning. But we’re not afraid to experiment with different educational modes at COA – that’s what we’re all about.”

SFI’s MOOCs are aimed not at replacing existing courses, but disseminating new ideas – ideas that are not yet part of most college’s curriculum. Feldman’s course will be the second MOOC offered by the institute. SFI has had over 13,000 enrolled in their offerings so far, with students from over 100 countries. Melanie Mitchell, professor of computer science at Portland State University and an external faculty member at SFI, offered the first course. Seventeen percent of those who enrolled finished successfully, a rate that is much higher than the average for MOOCs.

To register for Dynamical Systems and Chaos, visit http://complexityexplorer.org. You can also watch the course preview video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5J55K5cugY. A Q&A with Feldman about the course is available via SFI’s website: http://www.santafe.edu/news/item/qanda-dynamics-mooc-feldman/.

About Sante Fe Institute

Founded in 1984, the Santa Fe Institute is a private, independent, nonprofit scientific research and education center located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Its scientists collaborate across traditional disciplines in pursuit of theories that describe and explain the complex adaptive systems most critical to our future — economies, ecosystems, conflict, disease, human institutions, and the global condition, for example. SFI’s missions are supported by philanthropic individuals and foundations, forward-thinking partner companies, and government science agencies. www.santafe.edu

About College of the Atlantic

College of the Atlantic was founded in 1969 on the premise that education should go beyond understanding the world as it is, to enabling students to actively shape its future. A leader in experiential education and environmental stewardship, COA has pioneered a distinctive interdisciplinary approach to learning—human ecology—that develops the kinds of creative thinkers and doers needed by all sectors of society in addressing the compelling and growing needs of our world. For more information, visit www.coa.edu.

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