Barbara Endicott-Popovsky: UW MOOC pioneer

Over the past year, four faculty from the University of Washington each agreed to teach a MOOC (massively open online course) through UW Professional and Continuing Education and Coursera, an education company that partnered with UW to offer free online courses to anyone, anywhere in the world. 

Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, director of the iSchool's Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity, taught Information Security & Risk Management to more than 26,000 registered students during fall term 2012. 

A new report, authored by Janice Fournier, UW Information Technology, features interviews with the four faculty to examine the lessons learned from the partnership.

Excerpts from the report: 

Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, was primarily interested in MOOCs as a social phenomenon. She was able to engage chief information security officers, and those who aspire to such positions, from around the world and create a dialogue among participants about security needs and risks. “The result was a global discussion on security issues from varying perspectives,” Fournier says.

For Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, a nine-year veteran of online instruction, preparing her first MOOC was relatively straightforward, though it still took months of preparation. With the help of instructional designers and technologists in Educational Outreach (EO), she converted an existing course on Information Security & Risk Management, taught through EO and the iSchool, to the MOOC structure. EO staff were already familiar with the effort required to build a MOOC. They were able to repurpose Barbara’s existing content, divide and organize video material into smaller chunks, record supplementary material where necessary, and ensure the consistency and integrity of the course end to end. Additional help came from a teaching assistant, who wrote questions to the videos and monitored the discussion forums during the course.

When Barbara began teaching her courses in information security for Educational Outreach and the Information School, she was teaching students from the United States and preparing them to work in national corporations. With students from all over the world participating in her MOOCs, however, the content and discussions are infused with a global perspective. “Cybersecurity has strong privacy implications,” Barbara explained, “and different countries have different sensitivities to these issues. We have networks that cross boundaries, assets stored in the cloud. Each country has compliance regimes, regulations—we need to take all of this into account.”

The educational benefits of the expanded context are profound. “There’s potential for harmonization when people come together and begin to take into account perspectives they hadn’t previously considered. They deepen their thinking about concepts and are better prepared to engage with the global business world," notes Barbara.

“There’s a huge number of people who see these courses as a way to learn, share, and grow,” said Barbara. “MOOCs are convenient for adults looking to continue their education but who don’t have the resources to become full-time students enrolled in a face-to-face program.” And they are extremely grateful for the opportunity.

Beyond the discussion groups that formed online, Barbara found her own community growing. “A few hundred students contacted me through LinkedIn,” she says, noting that her account resembles “a mini United Nations.” She’s now participating on graduate committees of several former MOOC participants, and one student, a Ghanaian living in Denmark, has requested to spend six months with her as part of his doctoral training. His goal after completing his degree is to teach Barbara’s material on information security to the Ghanaian government. That kind of impact is something Barbara never imagined.

Read the complete report.