National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Honors in Practice, Volume 10 (2014)


Copyright 2013 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


“Did you know that you are the star of my favorite reality show?” an online auditor asked a University of Baltimore honors student at a reception in the spring semester of 2013. The student was one of twenty-one honors undergraduates who had enrolled for credit in The King Years, a weekly seminar taught by Taylor Branch, the scholar who won the Pulitzer Prize for the first volume of his trilogy on the Civil Rights era. The auditor was one of hundreds of remote learners who tuned in every week to the simultaneous webcast of the class. In UB’s alternative MOOC, Branch engaged the UB students in conversations about pivotal moments in the civil rights movement while a graduate student present in the classroom fielded online questions and comments from engaged web viewers. For days after the live broadcast, the conversation continued in cyberspace as auditors reviewed the web footage and chatted with each other and Branch about the issues that had come up in class. At the end of the semester, the online participants had a chance to meet Branch in person and rub elbows with the students at a reception, an event that encapsulated the two goals of the course: a face-to-face seminar for enrolled honors students and a massive yet interactive seminar experience for the general public. Our experiment with an alternative MOOC allowed the University of Baltimore to contribute to three conversations concerning educational innovation: (1) How can we define and deliver online education to large numbers of students in ways that support excellence? (2) How can digital advances add to an academic institution’s civic engagement? (3) How can honors shape the expectations for massive online experiences?