FREE MASSIVE OPEN ONLINE COURSES

by Mindy Hughes

Change—transformative change—lies at the heart of LUXVERA®, the massive open online course (MOOC) platform that launched in January 2014, powered by Regent University.

The meaning of LUXVERA is simple—Light and Truth. This new platform promises to bring wisdom and hope to every person around the globe through free, world-class university courses.

“Our content has to be transformative. People will come in and leave differently as a result of what they learn through LUXVERA,” says Dr. Gerson Moreno-Riaño, director of the university’s MOOC initiative and strategy and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences (CAS).

Although “MOOCs” aren’t yet a term on the tip of the average person’s tongue, they are the latest progression in higher education and a learning opportunity that is sweeping the globe. Several prestigious universities—including Harvard, MIT and Stanford—now offer some of their most popular classes free online, to anyone with Internet access. What’s the purpose of giving away course content as a business model for universities? And why has a Christian university such as Regent joined secular peers by developing an exclusive, proprietary MOOC platform?

We want to teach the world.

“There’s a great hunger in the world for higher education. Our sister organization, the Christian Broadcasting Network, works in about 200 different countries … in almost 60 languages, and there is an enormous demand for higher education material in Latin America, China, India and all over the world,” explains Regent’s founder, chancellor and CEO, Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson, adding that this same thirst for knowledge exists in the United States.

“We desire to make things better, engage with creation, cultivate and help things flourish,” says Dr. Jason Baker, professor in Regent’s School of Education and a member of the LUXVERA team. “If people, Christians or otherwise, see that people are going without quality learning, they will step out to offer something and fill the void. Shouldn’t an organization that’s equipping and training leaders to change to the world be actively looking to provide that quality learning?”

LUXVERA aims to reach a variety of people with different methods and opportunities, who will become part of an integrated whole. “An entrepreneurial focus has been baked into this institution from the beginning,” Baker says. “Regent is always looking for ways to fulfill God’s calling. That’s the absolute delight about a place like Regent. There is a sense of anticipation and expectation that we have yet another way of reaching people.”

Online learning has become an accepted, perhaps expected, offering from universities as part of their curricula, so what makes a MOOC different?

“We move in a world where everybody is networked all the time,” Baker explains. “The online world is how people get knowledge. We should expect people to look into the networked world for knowledge and information. We should be in that domain, and as Christians, we should be providing wisdom and transformation.”

Regent’s MOOC development takes into account the nature of the online world and people’s expectations for finding and consuming information and knowledge.

“We need to learn how to deal with the sound-bite culture and convey information in short, precise chunks,” says Michael Pregitzer, associate dean of instruction for CAS and a member of the LUXVERA team. “We can’t ask people to read 50 pages of text. It’s about paring down the process. How do we get to the essence of a subject, being effective, succinct and efficient?”

Designing courses for LUXVERA has been a collaborative process, with a team of people from across the university contributing different kinds of expertise. It’s also been a deliberate and intentional process, Pregitzer adds, that involves the use of technology, video and graphic elements.

Standard online learning models are heavily text-based, with documents and PowerPoint presentations, says Baker. With the LUXVERA platform, course developers are approaching content from a different perspective.

“We’re building this around a more visual experience,” he explains. “With a visual model, rather than text, from design and aesthetic, it’s the idea of a narrative or journey. Our intent for the MOOC is to bring that narrative, that journey, to life.

“The idea of narrative in this visual perspective will help people to contextualize what they’re learning. And ultimately, that promotes a greater degree of transformation,” he adds.

Appropriately for a Christian MOOC, LUXVERA’s first course, “Who is Jesus?” demonstrates the application of this new approach. Dr. Corné Bekker, department chair for Biblical Studies and Christian Ministry in CAS, developed the course content, meeting the challenges of his own learning curve in the process.

“It’s a brand-new way of thinking. I came to realize how important aesthetics are. Content is incredibly important, but also how you present that content,” Bekker shares.

“In our first course, we’ve restated in simple but elegant and engaging ways, three enduring questions—Who is Jesus? What did Jesus teach? and Why did Jesus live?” he says. “It really takes us back to the first century and how Jesus gave messages—the mode by which He delivered the message and how He embodied the message—that’s aesthetics. He was the fleshly incarnation and the embodiment of the content.”

Another part of Bekker’s learning curve was to reflect on asking questions and thinking about course content in terms of mankind’s most enduring questions, those that will remain forever.

“It’s not about being relevant. The moment we become relevant, we are already behind the curve,” he cautions. “Great thoughts and leadership continually push us to transcend fashion and momentary obsessions and force us to consider what really matters.”

The third element of Bekker’s learning curve has been the process of unbundling education. “Professors tend to think in blocks of three credits. Now we’re presenting information in 5- to 10-minute snippets,” he says. “Students read short snippets of information. So we’re unbundling and dividing content into smaller, engaging and informative segments that address the fundamental questions.”

Moving forward, LUXVERA will continue to roll out new courses, enhancing the learning experience and ensuring academic rigor and quality.

The next generation MOOC could involve adaptive learning that tailors education to individual students. Automating the feedback process may help students learn better. For example, scoring well on a pre-test could allow a student to skip content he or she has already mastered. A post-test may point them back to a section of video to review information they missed.

“How can we apply wisdom in an automated environment?” Pregitzer asks. “Developing an automated Socratic method (asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking) can challenge students and get them to think about choices. That’s more transformative.”

With course offerings in disciplines such as business and economics, Internet and technology, Christian ministries, and the humanities, LUXVERA is also poised to offer for-credit classes leading to academic degrees and professional certifications over the coming year.

“We’re providing an excellent user experience—beautiful, elegant, intuitive, simple,” says Moreno-Riaño. “The ideal platform didn’t launch on January 22, 2014, but we’re continuing to refine and adapt.”

Robertson, who believes LUXVERA and efforts like it are the “wave of the future,” adds, “Training people who are grounded in Biblical values and traditional morals can have a profound impact, assuming there are leaders who come out [of LUXVERA] … and then go on to take positions in the world.”

“THERE IS A SENSE OF ANTICIPATION AND EXPECTATION THAT WE HAVE YET ANOTHER WAY OF REACHING PEOPLE.”

Regent Students

LEARN MORE ABOUT LUXVERA AT LUXVERA.REGENT.EDU

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