Skip Navigation

The University of Maryland University College (UMUC) recently dipped its toes into the world of free massive open online courses, or MOOCs, with two goals: to carry its online-course expertise farther beyond the borders of Maryland than ever before and to test interest in a new graduate certificate program in global health.

On both fronts, the “Global Health: The Lessons of Ebola” MOOC earned a thumbs up. And for instructors involved in designing and teaching the course, the value-added was tremendous.

“The high point was hearing from students all over the world, including students from countries affected by Ebola, talk about their experiences and apply them to the course,” said Katherine Marconi, an adjunct professor of health care administration and health infomatics administration at UMUC.

Marconi most often teaches courses with students who live in Maryland and who share common experiences. The MOOC drew nearly 1,100 students from 118 countries.

“I was learning, too,” said Marconi, who has deep experience in infectious diseases, particularly AIDs. “For example, I didn’t really do much [field] work in Asia, except for Vietnam, so when students started talking about India, I had to look up some of the conditions and diseases they were discussing.”

The global health MOOC came out of a three-way collaboration among UMUC, the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), and edX, a nonprofit created by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In partnering with edX, the University System of Maryland joins a prestigious group that includes the Sorbonne in France, the University of Queensland in Australia, Delft University of Technology of the Netherlands, the University of British Columbia in Canada, the University of California, Berkeley, Boston University and Georgetown University.

EdX provided the technology platform for the MOOC. UMUC, meanwhile, brought its long experience delivering online courses and its expertise in health care management, while UMB contributed its knowledge in health services delivery. Faculty from both schools helped design and teach the MOOC.

Kathryn Klose, acting dean of the UMUC Graduate School, explained that while UMUC is well versed in delivering online courses, the MOOC forced it to focus on shorter classes with a faster impact—and to design to scale.

“UMUC is uniquely able to design at university size but our [course enrollments] are smaller than [with] a MOOC. It was different to design to this kind of scale, with 1,100 students,” she said. “We’re now looking with edX at some enrollments [of] 10,000 and what designs would give that many students a really good experience.”

The six-week, no-credit global health MOOC looked at ways multidisciplinary teams can work together more effectively in addressing global health needs. It also examined why local health issues can have a global impact. Video presentations and class discussions covered a broad range of health issues, from gender disparity in care to emergency response to mass violence and disaster.

EdX training in Cambridge, Massachusetts, focused on the components of a MOOC, as well as how to keep students’ attention, and how to monitor—and respond—if students start to drop out. Beyond adapting to the big-platform technology, the MOOC had to manage the expectations of vast numbers of students with varying educational backgrounds, according to professor Donald Donahue, chair of the UMUC Health Care Administration Program and one of the MOOC developers and instructors.

“We had 1,096 students total enrolled,” Donahue said. “There were 83 students with doctorates and 276 with master’s degrees.”

A quarter of the students came from the United States, which is typical of a MOOC. The country with the next-largest representation of students was Peru. Donahue said the wide age range among the participants surprised him.

Klose said that in assembling a multidisciplinary faculty team, UMUC and UMB looked for instructors with international experience or perspective. “This area of health requires a team approach and some managerial experience. These are unique areas where UMUC has expertise that we could bring.”

Other faculty involved in the MOOC included Jody Olsen, a visiting professor at UMB and former acting director of the Peace Corps, and Mary Jo Bondy, adjunct professor at UMB and a certified physician’s assistant.

Global Health: Tailor-Made for MOOCs 

The director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), world leaders and U.S. health authorities have called for greater leadership and responsiveness to cross-border health challenges. MOOCs are an effective way to provide global health education since health care challenges and practitioners are scattered across the world.

Although the WHO and other agencies have been working for decades to eradicate diseases like polio and improve access to health care and vaccinations, interest in global health and global health education has blossomed in recent years.

“The MOOC was exciting because global health is an … area of great interest,” Donahue said. “This isn’t the chance to contribute to an emerging discipline, it’s a chance to help define it.

“Opportunities like that don’t come along too often,” he added.

Marconi also noted that global health knowledge, including as it applies to interdisciplinary teams and under-resourced settings, is relevant to local health agencies.

The success of the global health MOOC is driving enrollment for a new 12-credit, six-course graduate certificate program in global health systems and services—entirely online. Students must be registered at the university, but they can access the course from anywhere in the world. High-performing MOOC participants with the required educational background have been invited to sign up for the certificate program.

“We are going to be launching the global health care certificate for summer in 2017,” Klose said, adding that students interested in the program could enroll through UMUC or UMB, with courses available through both schools. Each host university will confer its students’ certificate.

Applications for admission to the summer term are due by April 15.

The structure of the new certificate program is innovative. There are two three-credit courses that all students will take. They are hosted by UMB online via its Blackboard platform. Students on a clinical track take their remaining courses at UMB but those on a management track follow UMUC management and global health classes.

Meanwhile, a waitlist already has been started for a second edition of the global health MOOC. There is no date yet for when it might begin.