MOOCs, Museums, & Public Radio

What do a MOOC, a museum, and a public radio broadcast all have in common? The obvious answer (this week at Dartmouth, anyway) is Associate Professor Jerry DeSilva’s new open online course, Bipedalism: The Science of Upright Walking, which began today via DartmouthX.

The course, which explores how and why humans developed the unusual locomotive method of walking on two legs, incorporates a virtual tour of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Human Origins and an episode of the podcast Radiolab, which looks closely at a fossilized human skull. Among the wide collection of course materials, which includes five full units of short videos, fascinating articles, inquiry activities, discussions among global peers, a 3D fossil gallery, and endless opportunities for further exploration, these two items barely scratch the surface. But beyond their inclusion in the course, it is what a museum and a public radio broadcast both represent, along with this MOOC and all others, that is truly remarkable: access to education for all.

Like the Smithsonian Institute and National Public Radio and many others, the mission of massive open online courses includes a commitment to “quality education for everyone, everywhere.” Through open doors, open airwaves, and an open internet, these institutions are creating free, accessible learning opportunities for all. What’s more, they are part of a movement that is changing how we think about education, redefining the classroom, and reimagining teaching and learning in new forms across all divisions of society. For an institution like Dartmouth, with its low admission rate and high cost to attend making it inaccessible to many, being able to claim a space alongside our national museums and public media as a purveyor of education for all is significant.

For DeSilva, providing access to educational experiences outside of formal or expected structures is part of his DNA. The former museum educator began his career at Boston’s Museum of Science, and since arriving at Dartmouth in 2014 has engaged in nearly every innovative teaching and learning opportunity available to him. He was awarded an experiential learning seed grant in 2016, which supported the development of a new course with a field-based component in South Africa. With the addition of the Bipedalism MOOC, DeSilva continues to explore the edges of his own experience as an educator and push the boundaries to reach ever-wider audiences with his infectious enthusiasm and depth of knowledge. He developed the MOOC alongside a diverse team including graduate teaching assistant Ellie McNutt, instructional designer Adam Nemeroff, videographer Sawyer Broadley, social sciences librarian Amy Witzel, undergraduate course developers Sarah Miller ’19 and Kelly Caputo ’19, and high school intern Mason Mallett.

Check out some course highlights below, and register to join us for this upright, two-legged journey with Associate Professor DeSilva and DartmouthX!

Course Highlights

Watch: Learning to Walk
How do babies know to get up and start walking? Do babies from around the world learn to walk the same way?

Fossil Lab

Explore: Sketchfab 3D Fossil Lab

Inquiry Activity: Think Like a Scientist

The average human is 6.5 times taller than their foot length. Are you? Two footprints left at different sites in Laetoli, Tanzania between 3 and 4 million years ago by early human species Australopithecus afarensis measure 150 mm and 250 mm, respectively. How tall were these individuals likely to have been? What might account for the differences in height between individuals at different sites?

This post first appeared on the website of the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning.

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