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UW's MOOC On Public Speaking Proving To Be Massively Popular

University of Washington professor Matt McGarrity teaches a wildly-popular MOOC, or a free massive open online course open to virtual students everywhere.

McGarrity’s course on public speaking is one of more than a dozen MOOCs offered by UW. The communications professor likens the MOOC approach to a yoga class that might air at 6 in the morning on TV.

“They’ve got people doing stretches. They don’t know if someone on the other side of the screen is doing downward dog in their living room. But the information is there, and they can participate as they see fit and as their health dictates. That’s what I see my class as,” he said.

One thing is certain: McGarrity’s MOOC attracts way more students than an early-morning exercise class. On average, more than 100,000 people from India to the U.S. and everywhere in between sign up to learn how to be more effective communicators. Of those, McGarrity says about 8,000 to 9,000 students stick with the course until the very end. They post their speeches on Facebook and YouTube, often talking to a camera, alone in a room.

“There was this just amazing and moving video of this young woman, this 16-year-old from Pakistan speaking about her love and belief in democracy. It’s a great opportunity to get some thought and hear about different speaking situations globally,” said McGarrity.

As MOOCs grow in popularity, they’re raising a lot of questions in academia. If a university offers free online courses in, say, accounting or coding, couldn’t that cost a teacher elsewhere his or her job? Will some of the magic that happens when students debate in a classroom be lost? At least one university in Maryland is now charging tuition and offering credit for MOOCS at a fraction of the cost of traditional class.

At UW, McGarrity is preparing for his first online public speaking class for paid credit. But it’s not a MOOC; it will be small, and the number of students allowed to enroll will be capped. McGarrity says the challenge will be making the online experience mirror what it’s like to take the class in person.

The class will be part of a new online degree completion program the university plans to launch in the fall. McGarrity says he still has to figure out how his online students will deliver their final speeches in front of a real audience.

Hear Matt McGarrity explain why he chose to teach a Massive Open Online Course: