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MOOC data gathering at Syracuse University

Syracuse data science MOOC was designed principally to showcase the school’s new certificate of advanced study in the field
University Business, October 2013

Syracuse University, which has offered MOOCs in data science and librarianship, has used CourseSites to download user information and export it into Excel.

The Syracuse data science MOOC was designed principally to showcase the school’s new certificate of advanced study in the field, says Peggy M. Brown, director of instructional design and an adjunct professor in the School of Information Studies.

“We were trying to grow [and] market the program, and grow knowledge in the world of data science,” she says. “The goal of the MOOC was to market and get our name out there, and get the word out there that we have a CAS in data science.” Unlike many MOOCs, the Syracuse course required participants to apply rather than “lurk,” which elevated the completion rate.

“This is a strategy that has been used since time immemorial: try before you buy,” says Jeff Stanton, senior associate dean of information studies. “We definitely set about doing both the data science MOOC and the new librarianship MOOC with the explicit goal of trying to build some brand awareness for our school.

The ability to reach out to thousands of people without purchasing advertising was very appealing. As part of our marketing and recruiting effort, this was, I think, a pretty worthwhile activity.”

The course is being offered again this fall but with revised content. Data gathered from the earlier MOOC showed that two-thirds of students participating had never heard of Syracuse. “We’re not a household word, particularly outside of New York state,” Stanton says. “In terms of raising brand awareness, that is a very positive thing.”

The librarianship MOOC had a more typical open enrollment structure, and was aimed at providing continuing education units or a certification of completion for professional development. Syracuse librarianship alumni were the target audience.

Syracuse does not have a specific goal or data set in mind for every MOOC since they’re being developed by individual departments, Brown says, adding that, “of course, we’re interested in the number of users and percentage of completion.” Still, the definition of completion can vary: For example, does it mean getting a certificate or getting another credential?

Administrators of the Syracuse MOOCs have gathered some contact information, including the highest degree achieved, Stanton says. Student are asked if they mind being contacted again. “Everybody who has opted in to being contacted in the future has received at least one additional contact from us, email, or something along those lines,” he says. That list amounts to “thousands of people,” not “hundreds of thousands.”