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NIU professor crafts disability MOOC

July 9, 2013
Greg Long

Greg Long

This fall, Northern Illinois University is offering its first open online course, “Perspectives on Disability,” led by College of Health and Human Sciences professor Greg Long, a Presidential Teaching Professor in the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders. The 10-week experience is a streamlined version of the for-credit AHRS 200, a general education course entitled, “Disability in Society.”

The massive open online course (MOOC) is designed to raise awareness and increase knowledge about disability. The program is available to nearly all learners ranging from middle school students through adults.

“I have been teaching Disability in Society at NIU for 10 years, and each year students say it deeply impacted them and changed the way they feel about people with disabilities”, Long said. “The students always say that everyone should take the course, and I agree. I took on the challenge and decided to promote these ideas to more people by offering a MOOC.”

Participants will learn about disability from personal, philosophical, sociological, psychological, medical and legal perspectives by seeing, hearing and connecting with people living with disabilities as they share their stories of everyday living and dealing with adversity.

“Disabilities and rehabilitation-related research and practice are major themes in the College of Health and Human Sciences,” said Derryl Block, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. “We are proud of the collaborative development of the MOOC and thrilled that this resource will be widely available.”

“Perspectives on Disability” was designed with the assistance of the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, which provided voluntary support for design and project management; current former Rehabilitative Services undergraduate students who provided feedback regarding course content; professor Laura Vazquez and students from the Department of Communication who assisted in recording and editing content; and students, faculty and community members with-and-without disabilities who participated in on-camera interviews.

Long formed a MOOC development seminar with students from across campus with-and-without disabilities in Spring 2013 with the purpose of developing the course content, identifying readings, websites and videos for the online experience.  The students met weekly with Long and representatives from Faculty Development to complete the project for a Fall 2013 launch.

Asian student“I felt it was critical to involve students in the development of this MOOC because so often decisions and activities related to disability are made without the input of the people with disabilities” said Long. “I know it helped me, and I think it benefited the students as well. There was a strong sense of community, and the students felt empowered to voice their opinions, listen and learn from people they might not have met otherwise.”

Registration for the course will begin in August, and the course will run from early September until its completion prior to Thanksgiving. Students who complete the course requirements will receive a digital badge or certificate. The potential also exists for Illinois teachers to earn Continuing Professional Development Unit (CPDU) credits upon course completion.

Distributed Learning (DL) is a Vision 2020 priority at NIU, with the goal of developing a complete set of courses for place-bound or time-constrained non-traditional students to obtain a degree or certificate. Although the MOOC program is not an official NIU course offering, it will provide the university with a greater understanding of the role MOOCs can have on student learning and access to open source materials as the university integrates more distributed learning options into its curricula.

“At NIU, we pride ourselves on our commitment to exploring innovative ways of teaching with technologies, said Raymond W. Alden III, executive vice president and provost. “This MOOC by Professor Long on promoting perspectives on disability issues is just one example of how our faculty members achieve that goal. This effort has been a labor of love for him and a research project for Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, and I am especially pleased to see so many students engaged in the development of this MOOC.”

The course will be delivered via Blackboard CourseSites, a free, fully-hosted and supported online course system featuring the company’s latest teaching and learning technologies.

“One of the reasons we chose to work with Blackboard to run our MOOC on disability was the platform’s recognition of accessibility,” said Stephanie Richter, instructional technologies coordinator at the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at NIU. “It is very important to us that the platform itself embodies the ideals of the course, and that course navigation and content is accessible to everyone.”

The Blackboard platform was recently recognized by the National Federation of the Blind for accessibility and offers 24/7 technology support for students as well as an automatic self-enrollment process.

For more information about the “Perspectives on Disability” MOOC, contact professor Greg Long at [email protected] or (815) 753 6508.