Key insights from the Course Teams Track at the 2019 Coursera Partners Conference

By Nikki Gibson

Tea and scones were a star attraction at this year’s 2019 Coursera Partners Conference, which took place at the historical University of London. The Course Teams Track brought together a diverse group of participants: instructors, instructional designers, project managers, administrators, video producers, media specialists, marketing specialists, and many others. Over the course of five sessions, university and industry speakers shared key insights into how they design, create, and market online courses at scale. Here are the main themes that emerged during our discussions:

#1 – Increase course engagement by connecting with learners

Several panelists urged participants to add personal touches to their videos to increase learner engagement. Charles “Chuck” Severance from the University of Michigan spoke about “breaking the fourth wall.” One way he achieved this was by playing the notorious “Pomp and Circumstance” graduation song and wearing a cap and gown at the end of his “Introduction to Python” course to congratulate learners on their achievement. Marketing strategies were also presented as a way to reach, engage, and retain learners. Kelly Cannon discussed how the Museum of Modern Art enables learners to preview content through engaging storytelling. To market their course “Seeing Through Photographs,” which includes photographs of the moon, MoMa posted Instagram stories on the day of an eclipse, on the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and on World Photo Day. This helped the show why the course is compelling and relevant.

#2 – You can scale production and maintain quality

As online content repositories grow, many partners have worked to strike a balance for factors like production time, budget, and quality. Kathryn Kearney shared how Google Cloud takes into account how often their content will need to be refreshed during development. As a result, they rarely include screenshots as user interfaces change often. Instead, they guide learners through step-by-step instructions. Alice Hobbs explained how the academic and videography teams at Imperial agree upon timelines and high-level rollout plans upfront to manage prioritization. At CalArts, Jen Hutton works with graphic designers to create reusable templates and style guides that save time and effort.

#3 – Online content creation requires collaboration

Part of transferring on-campus content to the online space involves obtaining university buy-in. Maria Elia from Imperial noted the importance of creating a “burning platform” that expresses urgency and momentum. One way to achieve this is by emphasizing other universities who are creating online programs. “The train is moving, you need to get on it whether you’re ready or not, Maria said.” Even after a university has jumped on the train, it’s essential to help instructors adjust to teaching in the online space. Thom Stylinski from Yale advised course teams to help make instructors more comfortable in front of the camera by adding another person to the video to make the lecture more of an authentic dialogue. Brian Innes, an instructor at IBM, strongly advocated for providing instructors with deeply honest feedback.

We look forward to sharing more insights with you over the coming year!  

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