Microsoft Adds MOOCs to its Offerings for Educators

Senior Writer

Teachers are increasingly turning to massive open online courses—or MOOCs— for their professional development needs. Now Microsoft is entering this space.

The computer software giant has sponsored the creation of five free MOOCs aimed at helping educators transform the educational experience for students. Though Microsoft funded the production of the courses, they were developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, and The University of Queensland and are part of the non-profit edX platform.

A collaboration between Harvard University and MIT, edX offers hundreds of these free online courses on everything from computer science to chemistry, to anyone in the world who wants to study those subjects.

The Microsoft-backed courses will launch in January and and focus on topics like “Leading Change: Go Beyond Gamification with Gameful Learning,” “Leading Ambitious Teaching and Learning,” and “Deep Learning Through Transformative Pedagogy.”

Justin Reich, the executive director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab (who is also a blogger for Education Week) will teach or co-teach two of the courses: “Launching Innovation in School” and “Design Thinking for Leading and Learning in K-12 Education.” Reich said the goal is to provide education leaders at all levels with opportunities to “advance their thinking on innovation, change initiatives, and moving education forward.” Reich called the courses “really action-oriented.”

Reich said he envisions instructing participants to go into their schools and experiment with the concepts being discussed in the MOOC, and then encouraging them to return to the online community for feedback and inspiration.

While Microsoft already offers 35 MOOCs on edX to allow participant to improve various skills, these five new courses are its first designed specifically for what the company calls “leaders of school transformation.” A 2015 study by Harvard and MIT of their MOOCs found that K-12 teachers were being drawn to the courses and that 39 percent of MOOC participants who responded to study inquiries identified themselves as teachers or retired teachers.

Reich said he sees Microsoft’s efforts with the MOOCs as a way to go beyond offering hardware and software to push for real change in the way students are taught in school. “You’ve also got to provide school leaders with ideas about how to take that new hardware, software and emergent tools and use them to affect teaching and learning,” he said.

However, Reich emphasized that Microsoft did not create the courses and that contracts around their development contained “really strong norms around academic freedom,” and that  Microsoft “can’t tell us what to say or what not to say.”

“The conclusion of this course is not to tell people to buy Surface tablets,” he aid referring to a Microsoft device. “This is about bringing improvement and innovation to schools.”


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