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Beer, Open Online Learning, and Janux
May 21, 2014 - 9:00pm

Have you heard of Janux?  

If not, I encourage you to go check it out. Create an account (it is quick), and spend some time surfing around any of the 19 open online courses available on the platform.

Janux is a learning platform out of the University of Oklahoma. What is different about Janux is that the platform integrates free open online (non-credit) courses with the option of taking the course for credit (and paying).  

I got interested in Janux as it seems that the University of Oklahoma is trying to carve out a new path towards sustainability. By developing its own platform, in collaboration with the edtech company Next Thought, OU is able to control both what courses it releases and how those courses are experienced.  

The focus of the Janux platform seems to be more around collaborative learning as opposed to content dissemination, an approach that is a challenge for anyone involved in the open online course movement. The results look pretty cool, and I think Janux should nudge other open online platform providers to up their games.

To learn more about the Janux platform I connected with Mark Morvant, Executive Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and professor of Chemistry of Beer in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, at The University of Oklahoma. Below he talks about Janux and shares some insights into how the student learning experience is being enhanced both inside and outside the classroom.

Question 1: What is Janux? Why did the University of Oklahoma decide to create its own online learning platform?

Janux is an interactive learning community built on social learning. It integrates communication features found in social media with other tools that facilitate conversation, learning, and collaboration in ways not experienced in more standard online learning environments.

Originally we set out to create Janux because we wanted to implement tools that elevated OU students’ college experience and we couldn’t find a platform that did everything we wanted; however, we soon realized that Janux had applications for anyone seeking a high-quality education, which is why we decided to offer two versions of each course, either for-credit to OU students or as a free, open-enrollment, non-credit version. To create Janux, OU worked with technology leader NextThought to develop the platform.

Question 2: You mention that Janux is built on social learning. How does that impact the way courses are designed and developed? What about it better promotes learning? While you’re only two semesters in, what early differences are you seeing in student learning behavior with Janux courses compared with other online courses OU offers?

Similar to social media platforms, Janux makes it possible for students to interact virtually in real time and expand their learning communities by using each other as resources. We very quickly began to see increased collaboration and community among users.

Additionally, the platform allows different types of learners to thrive. Tactical learners can take textbook highlighting to the next level by adding notes to selected content. The search function allows you dig deep into course material and you can use search filters to pinpoint highly targeted information. Collaborative learners can also benefit from Janux. For example, as a student is watching the video, they have the ability to make public or private notes within the video transcripts. To further their collaboration, students can also create group chats to discuss the courses and share their thoughts, building community, and engagement.

For faculty developing courses, Janux enables them to incorporate a wider variety of tools to encourage collaboration, communication and community in a way that isn’t possible or as seamless in a traditional online environment.

Question 3: Janux courses cut across a variety of disciplines and topics – what drives the decision-making behind what courses to offer on the Janux platform? What has the response been from faculty?

Ultimately, we seek to offer courses that are unique, timely, and appealing to a diverse audience and that will elicit widespread discussions and make the best use of the tools within the platform.

The faculty has also driven course development, volunteering topics they’d like to see brought to life. The faculty sees the opportunity Janux offers to get creative with course content and push the boundaries of traditional online course design.

Question 4: All courses are offered both for-credit or as a free, open enrollment, non-credit MOOC. Why two paths? In what ways do students have a shared experience with the course regardless of if it is for credit or non-credit? Where do the paths diverge?

What was first a platform developed for OU students has evolved into a community of online learners and rich content available to the public. We offer two versions of each course because we recognize that some students are interested in credit, while others aren’t and we wanted all types of students to have an opportunity to access the courses.

What we find is that students, both enrolled and open, are able to collaborate regardless of classification and their experience is enriched because they are not only learning from the professors and content, but also from the unique perspectives that each student offers. OU created Janux this way because social interaction – from the innovative tools to the access to other students - plays a huge role in engagement and learning success. While enrolled students must obviously complete the requirements to earn credit, the overall learning experience is essentially the same between the two paths. 

Question 5: What has creating and using Janux taught OU about how students learn online? Were there any significant surprises? A eureka moment? What key learnings can other institutions take away from Janux to integrate into their online course delivery?

So far, we’ve observed that students really do grow and gain useful knowledge by engaging with one another and are using each other as information resources when given the opportunity. By opening up a community where students can get information and use tools and connect with others, they can get the most out of their education in a way that feels natural to them.

For example, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of engagement in my course, Chemistry of Beer. Students have created a community-within-community scenario by forming groups, similar to the idea of Google Circles, to discuss concepts further in a more intimate environment. Interactive whiteboards are buzzing with interactions between all types of students. For instance, beer brewers are seeking to improve recipes or understand the basics of beer chemistry and are reaching out for advice from chemistry experts. In fact, students became so engaged they expanded their discussions to Twitter. With the creation of a hashtag, users took control of the course and drew in a larger crowd to connect with other learners and gain more perspective. This evolution showed that Janux achieved what was intended – to broaden the learning environment through high-quality content, robust communication tools and a sense of community.

I think the main takeaway for other institutions is that students embrace social learning tools when given the opportunity, which not only increases engagement and collaboration, but can also improve the overall learning experience. Students become entrepreneurial and take initiative in a more interactive learning community environment.  

Question 6:  What’s next for Janux? 

Janux was developed to meet student needs and learning preferences. As these evolve, so will we. The goal of Janux is to be a tool, whatever form that may be, to enhance learning for OU students and offer educational resources publicly. 

Most immediately, since we just completed the semester, we’ll evaluate student feedback and incorporate input into the ongoing improvement of Janux. Last semester, students shared that they wanted to view all their course notes in one place, so we developed a dashboard for the spring 2014 platform where the students’ notes could be easily accessed. We’re excited to see what students request be developed for fall. Additionally, new functionality will be released this summer on both the iPad app and web version, which will make engagement easier for students and faculty.

 

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