Steffen Schmidt’s email and phone inboxes are flooded every day with questions about the Iowa caucuses. Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University, started to realize there’s a large number of people who don’t understand the caucuses and the impact they can have in deciding the next president.
To help, he created ISU’s first MOOC — short for massive open online course — that will focus on how the caucuses came to be what their future may hold.
“My feeling was, ‘Let’s package it together and put it out there,’ ” Schmidt said.
Mack Shelley, another ISU political science professor, said the class is important to explain the complexities of the caucuses.
“The MOOC is really essential to try to drive home that there are … lots of moving parts that go on in the caucus,” he said.
This is the first MOOC to come out of ISU and the first to focus on this subject. The course is free and enrollment is open to anyone. There are more than 400 people signed up so far.
There are four sessions of the course, the first beginning Sept. 1 and the last ending a few days before the caucuses next year. Each session lasts four weeks. with the last three giving updates on the candidates and polling data.
Discussion forums, interviews with professors and political professionals and testimonials from people who were involved in the creation of the caucus will make up the content of the course.
MOOC is a new method of teaching, but Schmidt said he thinks it will be perfect for a course that can appeal to a wide audience, as anyone can sign up without the hassle of course fees and lecture attendance.
Participants can choose which content to learn, but those who complete the course will be awarded a certificate.
The project manager for the course, Rema Nilakanta, said it presents a trial run for the university as well.
“The whole development is different,” she said. “Our purpose is to check out MOOCs and its position at Iowa State.”
Shelley said ISU backed the cost for the effort, paying around a quarter of a million dollars for salaries, technology, and travel expenses for the interviews.
But, he added, the class will increase popularity of the Iowa caucuses, probably creating a better turnout in 2016.
“This is basically an investment in the future … in a topic that is quintessentially Iowan,” Shelley said.
To find out more, visit iowacaucusesmooc.org.