All over the country, universities are trying to use online connectivity to share knowledge and increase learning opportunities for students. Many schools use Massive Open Online Courses—or MOOCs—to broadcast their classes nationwide. Some students and faculty like the flexibility MOOCs offer, while others prefer the familiarity and access of a bricks-and-mortar classroom. The Nam Center for Korean Studies, in collaboration with departments from other Big Ten Schools, is borrowing the best from both models. The Korea Foundation CIC Korean Studies e-School is the result, and it's designed to give students broader access to a specialized Korean Studies curriculum.

With a close to $1 million gift from the Korea Foundation, the e-School reaches campuses across the Midwest along the network laid by the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), the academic arm of the Big Ten Conference.

“Through e-School,” says Nojin Kwak, associate professor in communication studies and Nam Center director, “our students not only have access to leading scholars in the field, but they are also learning with students across the Big Ten. When an idea or argument is being discussed at Michigan, students from Purdue or Minnesota can contribute to this, adding a valuable layer to how students understand and process the material."

Broadcasting Education

Each of the e-School’s classes is taught in the traditional way—by a professor lecturing to a classroom of students. However, while some of the students are sitting in the same room listening, others are hearing the lecture simultaneously broadcast, in real time, to satellite classrooms on campuses that might be a state or two away. The professors tailor their teaching styles to maximize their effectiveness over the screen.

Each classroom has a proctor who manages the technology, and students on satellite campuses can sometimes participate in discussions remotely. In addition, the professor visits each of the satellite campuses during the semester to meet the students, facilitate discussion groups, or hold student conferences. During the visit, the professor also teaches a class that is similarly broadcast to the other classrooms.

“It was a little weird at first,” says Tina Choung, a senior enrolled in a North Korean literature class, which is taught primarily on the University of Minnesota campus. “It took a class or two to get used to it because it’s not like a typical lecture or discussion in a regular course. But then I got the feel of the class and got to know the other students. Michigan doesn’t offer courses on North Korean literature, so it was fantastic that I was able to take it.”

“Thanks to the e-School, we’re not only preserving specialized courses or widening our course offerings with technology,” says Do-Hee Morsman, Nam Center administrator. “We’re also able to give our students an academic community beyond Ann Arbor's borders.”

And when the subject is North Korean literature or art, or even the Korean peninsula itself, hearing another insight or perspective about a place a world away also opens up a world of possibilities.

“You had to learn a little differently—take a lot of notes and look things up later—but it was also kind of cool,” says senior Allison Reed. “I’m really glad I got to take it.”