MOOCs for Educators Using WestEd Resources

by Glenn Kleiman

Would you rather independently work through material at your own pace or have the opportunity to interact in an online, face-to-face, or blended professional learning community? Does a hands-on workshop or an in-depth college course suit you better?

Just as differentiated classroom practices help educators meet the needs of diverse students, differentiation in professional development delivery can help meet the needs of diverse educators.

At the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University, we’ve developed six Massive Open Online Courses for Educators—MOOC-Eds for short. The courses blend a variety of professional learning opportunities to create 6-10-week structured experiences in digital learning, addressing student learning differences, or teaching to rigorous curriculum standards in fractions, statistics, or literacy across disciplines. We’ve successfully delivered each course at least once, with enrollments ranging from 700 to 2,700 participants from every state and 80 countries.

Following research-based guidelines for effective professional development in general and online learning more specifically, the MOOC-Eds are designed to provide large-scale, readily accessible, anytime, anywhere professional learning opportunities to large numbers of educators.

"We have used the skills, knowledge, tools and videos offered in this course with our students, during our lessons and I also shared this information with my colleagues during in-service and ourparents during a parent meeting. The information shared here has been invaluable to my professional practice and I am eternally grateful!"

Each builds upon the following four core design principles:

  • Multiple voices. Participants learn about the perspectives of other teachers and administrators along with those of students, researchers, and experts in the field.  MOOC-Eds are purposefully not designed around one or two experts who present online lectures. They are about a rich set of perspectives presented within the context of activities and exchanges that reflect the additional design principles described below. 
  • Self-directed learning. Participants can personalize their experience by identifying their own goals, selecting among a rich array of resources, and deciding whether, when, and how to engage in discussions and activities to further their own learning and meet their goals.
  • Peer-supported learning. Participants engage in online discussions, reviewing each other’s projects, rating posted ideas, recommending resources, crowdsourcing lessons learned, and participating in twitter chats and other exchanges appropriate to the individual course. 
  • Job-connected learning. Participants center their work on critical problems of practice and data-informed decision making in their own classrooms, schools, or districts through the use of case studies, classroom- and school-related projects, developing action plans, and other activities. Participants are encouraged to work together with local colleagues and to discuss how the resources and activities apply to their local context.

Based on our experience and research so far, we consider MOOC-Eds to be valuable new additions to the professional development landscape.

Introducing a MOOC-Ed: Fraction Foundations: Helping Students Understand Fractions

“Until this course I was not familiar with the ‘Doing What Works Library’ and I am really appreciative of this resource. I really appreciate how they present the information, simply.”

Fraction Foundations: Helping Students Understand Fractions is an eight-week course organized around the three major topics of the IES Practice Guide, Developing Effective Fractions Instruction for Kindergarten Through 8th Grade—fair sharing activities, measurement and number line activities, and understanding procedures for computation with fractions. The course has been offered twice so far, reaching an audience of more than 2,500 registered participants.

The Fraction Foundations course makes extensive use of the video resources from the Doing What Works Library. Each unit has one or more expert interviews with IES Practice Guide panel members about the key principles of teaching fractions (ex: What Teachers Need to Know About Teaching Fractions), along with one or more classroom videos showing how educators bring those principles into practice (ex: Ways to Measure 1 ½ Cups). Both types of video have been rated as highly useful by participants.

“I have really enjoyed this class! Thank you for offering it!! I have gained so much just from reading others’ comments. I especially enjoyed and gained a lot from the sample problems/situations and the What would you do next? videos with the students.”

We also recorded three national experts from the University of Missouri-Columbia—Kathryn Chval, Barbara Dougherty, and John Lannin—responding to my questions. In this Expert Panel Video they discuss the underlying research and how it informs classroom practices, providing additional voices that help participants to bridge research and practice. 

Throughout the units, participants are invited to engage in a variety of discussions. They share reflections on the Practice Guide, videos, and expert panels; ask questions of their peers; suggest additional resources; and share classroom experiences, teaching challenges, and insights into students’ learning. They are also invited to complete a small project designing a lesson, trying it with students, and reporting back on what happened and what they learned, which provide additional discussion starters.

Based on interviews conducted with participants, we also added activities called What Would You Do Next? that ask participants to add their own voices to the MOOC-Ed while engaging in an activity that reflects job-embedded and peer-supported learning. 

Coming Soon: In part two of the Friday Institute’s guest posts, Theresa Gibson provides a closer look at the value of the What Would You Do Next? activities in the Fraction Foundations MOOC-Ed.

For more information on the Friday Institute’s courses, visit

Glenn Kleiman is the Executive Director of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and a Professor at the NC State University College of Education. A cognitive psychologist by background, his work in education has spanned basic and applied research, curriculum development, software development, providing professional development for teachers and administrators, policy analyses, and consulting for school districts and state departments of education. Currently, Dr. Kleiman is leading the Friday Institute’s Massive Online Open Courses for Educators (MOOC-Ed) initiative and the development of the North Carolina digital learning plan for K-12 schools.

Executive Director, The Friday Institute