Kirkwood course goes global with more than 15,000 ‘students'

More than 15,000 people are learning to speak and write in Chinese for free, thanks to a Kirkwood Community College instructor and a new way of sharing classroom content. Alan Peterka is teaching Chinese classes and posting video lessons to iTunesU that people around the world are now accessing for free.

Peterka taught Elementary Chinese I to students on the Cedar Rapids campus last fall. As part of the class he started posting short videos on iTunesU in August, 2012.

The dozen or so classroom students would watch the videos online and be ready for discussion in the physical classroom. The more than 15,000 virtual students from around the world subscribed to the content on iTunesU can watch the videos whenever they want, for free.

“I was shocked to see how many people were watching these videos and wanting to learning Chinese,” said Peterka, an instructional designer and faculty member in Kirkwood’s Distance Learning department. “Chinese has always been sort of a more obscure language and there’s a newness to it. It’s really a niche group of people wanting to learn the language.”

When students take one of Peterka’s “hybrid” courses on campus with the online proponent, they can earn college credit. The thousands of iTunesU subscribers who aren’t enrolled in the class don’t earn college credit, as they’re not a part of classroom discussion and don’t partake in any assignments.

“We’re still learning about teaching classes in this massive open online course structure,” said Peterka. “We aren’t making any money from those who are watching the videos, but we are sharing education and knowledge with people around the world, which is a pretty neat bonus. We’ll see where this takes us in the future. It’s really exciting.”

At one point, the course was the third most popular language class being offered on iTunesU and ranked as the 32nd most popular course overall. The class sits among those being offered by places like Johns Hopkins University, Ohio State University and Liberty University.

Two weeks ago Peterka started teaching Elementary Chinese II. In that short amount of time more than 120 people have subscribed to the content. He said if there’s demand there could be additional Chinese courses offered in the future.

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