First residential MOOC for U-M students focuses on health care


The university’s first U-M-only massive open online course had about 400 enrollees just prior to kickoff Jan. 12. By the end of the first day the number had nearly doubled, and as of mid-week had grown to more than 800 undergraduate, graduate and professional students from health-related schools across the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses.

Dr. Matthew Davis is not totally surprised that his “Understanding and Improving U.S. Healthcare: Special U-M Student Edition” course is popular, based on his research and a previous offering to a broader audience.

“I think it’s safe to say that health and health care are of interest to just about everybody. Yet, a large portion of the public does not understand the U.S. health care system as well as they would like,” said Davis, professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases and of internal medicine, Medical School; professor of public policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; and professor of health management and policy, School of Public Health.

He also is affiliated with the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, which is sponsoring the MOOC. The U-M Medical School also has provided support for development of course materials.

“With colleagues at U-M, I’ve conducted research about the confidence of medical students in various aspects of their education, and across the U.S. they are less confident about health policy than just about any subject they study,” Davis said.

“There are not a lot of faculty in medical schools across the country teaching about health policy,” he said, adding that the 130 medical schools across the country devote very few contact hours to the subject.

This video explains the idea behind the university’s first MOOC aimed solely at U-M students.

Davis also was not surprised with the enrollment in this U-M-only course because an international MOOC on this topic that he and colleague Michael Rubyan offered a year ago also was well subscribed, with 3,800 enrollees, 20 percent of them from outside of the United States. As is true with most MOOCs, not all who enroll see it through to the end but about 850 people did.

Students taking the U-M MOOC have even more reason to finish, at least those in the medical and dental schools, where leaders have now made the short course part of the curriculum. As with global MOOCs, the course is free.

At the conclusion of that first MOOC, Davis talked with leaders of the Office of Digital Education & Innovation (DEI) about what might be next. James DeVaney, assistant vice provost for digital education and innovation, had an idea.

“One goal for DEI has been to bring some of these far-reaching digital experiences back to campus to enliven the residential experience,” DeVaney said. “Our north star is redefining residential learning.

“Through his journey from MOOC to this blended approach tackling the complex and interdisciplinary health policy space, Dr. Davis has provided the U-M community with an exciting model for other faculty to consider.”

“U-M is making strategic investments in support of a wide range of curricular innovations.  A big area of emphasis is increasing student access to interdisciplinary learning experiences,” he said. “U.S. health care policy is a groundbreaking initiative in the brief but eventful history of MOOCs, and a terrific illustration of U-M’s unique approach to digital innovation. “

The fluid enrollment is not a concern because these courses are designed to be self-directed. Davis hopes that signups will stabilize by the second week, however, because there is a unique element in this MOOC that only works in the campus setting. In week five, participants will meet on campus for small group discussions.

“Our idea was to offer this course to students on the U-M campus so that they could become confident in their understanding of the health care system and feel they have a vested interest in improving it,” said Rubyan, a public health professional and documentary filmmaker who developed the MOOC with Davis and served as course producer.  Rubyan also is an SPH health management and policy doctoral student.

Throughout the course, students will hear from U-M experts about the complexity of the U.S. health care system, and the themes that have dominated the conversation about it for nearly three-quarters of a century, Rubyan said.

“This innovative MOOC is a departure from traditional teaching methods. We produced it as a TV show. Every week a new episode,” he said.

“We created one-on-one interviews with faculty that are like what you might see on ’60 Minutes,’ a series of mini-documentaries on the history of reform, and in week six we have a panel discussion that mirrors ‘Meet the Press.’ It’s designed to be engaging and entertaining.”

The different learning materials provide students with a variety of pedagogical styles. That is a key feature of the MOOC, Davis said, designed to offer students a wide variety of ways to connect with the material and come away with deeper understanding. Faculty featured come from the Medical School, School of Dentistry, School of Public Health, School of Social Work and Ford School. The students also will hear from U.S. presidents dating back to Harry Truman.

“We say, ‘Here’s President Truman. Let’s listen to what he says about the need for health care reform,’ and students respond that they didn’t realize this was part of the political discourse 70 years ago,” Rubyan said.

Participants also will have an opportunity to design a health insurance program, using a special simulation experience developed by Susan Goold, professor of internal medicine, Medical School, and of health management and policy, SPH.

Her CHAT (Choosing Healthplans All Together) program helps users create health plans that take into consideration the realities of scarce health care resources.

Davis and Rubyan’s MOOC is only accessible by people affiliated with the three campuses, on a dedicated U-M Coursera page. Coursera is one of two online learning platforms that features MOOCs. U-M also has a contract with NovoEd, a similar platform.

Davis said he’s heard from faculty and staff who are interested in the course, too, so he likely will offer that next, as part of repeating the global course later in 2015.



  1. RA Duda
    on January 23, 2015 at 4:06 am

    How can we sign up!

  2. Jamie Iseler
    on January 23, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Signup is through U-M’s Coursera page. This link has been added to the story:

  3. Tonya Thomas
    on January 23, 2015 at 9:31 am

    Loving the content of this course. Shoot, this sort of thing needs to be taught at the high school level! #thingstheydontteachyouinschool

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