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USF offers courses through Reddit

More than 1,000 students from across the world are enrolled in free USF classes this semester.

USF joins a small group of universities in the nation offering free online classes to non-USF students, called massive open online courses (MOOC).

We are expanding the social, physical and temporal boundaries of the classroom, Edward Renner, adjunct professor in the Honors College, said.

For USF students wanting to count the courses for credit, however, it is not free. Students register through OASIS and pay for the credits that they will receive from the classes. Non-USF students, whether enrolled in another college or not, can sign up and take part in the class for free online.

Renner, who has been teaching for over 50 years, is teaching a social science course on sustainability called Forums for a Future. Renner has 25 Honors College students who he meets with face-to-face every Wednesday and approximately 320 students none from USF who signed up for the course online.

Both sets of students take part in online discussion forums, talking about class material.

For Renner, he believes a hybrid-course like this is the best option for students.

Allowing USF students to discuss subject material with students signed up from around the world, Renner said, enriches the dialogue and is advantageous for students.

Philip Bishop, visiting assistant professor in the Honors College, teaches an arts and humanities course called What Does it Mean to Live Well? His class has 1,000 students signed up online from various countries, and his first video lecture posted on YouTube had 206 total hits, with 74 hits from 24 different countries.

Renner and Bishop approached Stuart Silverman, dean of the Honors College, with the idea of creating MOOCs and cited examples of other universities who offer them, such as Stanford and Harvard.

Silverman said he thought it was a great opportunity for all involved.

I love it because it gives USF students the opportunity to interact with students literally all around the world, Silverman said. It is a fantastic
opportunity for students They learn, the university is being showcased and it might turn people on to attending USF.

There is no cost for offering these courses online, as the professors decided to use the University of Reddit, a social media platform, to host the course material. The University already existed as a platform, but Anastas Stoyanovsky, a graduate student at Indiana University-Purdue, discovered it and bought the servers so he could redesign it as a free global learning platform.

I saw it as a new idea that could grow into an idealistic community, Stoyanovsky said.

So far, these classes are the only ones of their type being offered at USF.

Bishop said these hybrid courses would be the best option for students, as opposed to regular lecture style or face-to-face classes.

Hybrid online and face-to-face classes are the strongest platform, Bishop said. (USF) students gain the most benefit.

They have the privilege of engaging in discussion with an international audience.

Renner said the benefit for USF students paying for the course is that the credits from participating in such a course counts toward their degree.

Bishop said he and Renner shared similar views that inspired them to offer courses of this kind. Both saw a way to be more effective than the typical classroom, as well as offer an intangible at no cost knowledge.

If they just seek to learn or gain knowledge, they shouldnt have to pay anything, Bishop said of those students who were only taking the course online.

After teaching classes in regular formats, Renner said his classes werent as interesting and his students werent as engaged.

What new communications technology has given us is a way to deliver the material more effectively and efficientlyand more easily accessible, he said. I know of all (the students) better. You have a deeperknowledge of your students when you dont spend all your class time performing.