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Newt and a MOOC

August 31, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. -- Newt Gingrich taught a massive open online course (MOOC) from this week’s Republican National Convention. And the classes, dubbed Newt U., were the first hosted by KAPx, a new MOOC platform from Kaplan Inc.

During his campaign for the GOP’s presidential nomination, Gingrich pledged to teach a free online course from the White House if elected, a twist on presidential fireside chats from the golden age of radio. He didn’t get the nod in the primary campaign, in which he ruffled more than a few of his fellow Republicans' feathers. But Gingrich made good on his online professorial promise.

He hosted four two-hour courses on various policy issues from various spots here around Tampa, the convention site, drawing help from other “instructors” in panel discussion formats. During Thursday’s class, for example, Gingrich tackled “Obamacare” with the help of two Republican Congressmen.

Turnout was light at the events, usually consisting of 200 or fewer delegates and journalists, some of whom noted how far Gingrich’s fortunes had slipped since his early successes in the campaign. But Gingrich, who is the only major presidential candidate in recent history to hold a Ph.D. (in modern European history, from Tulane University), drew a much bigger crowd on the Internet.

About 2,000 people tuned into some portion of the eight hours of live-streamed content, said Edward Hanapole, Kaplan Inc.’s chief information officer. And he said KAPx can handle many more students.

“We’re just essentially scratching the surface with this platform,” Hanapole said.

Kaplan is owned by The Washington Post Co. and operates Kaplan University, a major for-profit chain, which has had a steep enrollment decline over the last year, some of it self-inflicted. Kaplan is relatively diversified, and is pushing into several emerging areas in higher education. For example, it recently started a prior-learning assessment portfolio service, dubbed KNEXT.

The company’s plan is to market KAPx schools, businesses and other organizations, so they can get up and running with what Kaplan describes as a nimble, sophisticated MOOC platform, without having to do the heavy lifting themselves.

Hanapole said the MOOC tool’s strengths are that it is designed to operate live, with real-time feeds on participation for instructors and their assistants. It also features social capabilities for students, like chat rooms. Kaplan partnered with Google to develop KAPx, which uses Google+ Hangouts and YouTube videos.

The company has no plans to corner the market on politicians-turned-professors, said Hanapole.

“We will be going to lots of outside partners,” he said, “including our own units.”

The deal with Gingrich was put together quickly, according to Hanapole, after the Republican National Committee, which helped sponsor Newt U., contacted the company. “Saying a month would be a stretch,” Hanapole said of the prep time.

A Gingrich spokesman did not respond to requests for an interview. But Gingrich, who taught history at the University of West Georgia, on Wednesday told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “For me, this is an extension of what I’ve done my whole life. If I had won the presidency, I would have been a teaching president.”

Hanapole said the former speaker of the U.S. House voiced no complaints about KAPx.

“Technology didn’t get in the way,” he said. “We helped him do what he does.”

 

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