Innovations in online education that expand access

This post summarizes a set of my innovations in online education that may be grouped under the umbrella of expanding access—expanding the range of influences on the students’ learning and expanding access to the learning materials from courses.

1) technological and pedagogical arrangements to bring students from a distance into regular classroom sessions and make this mode of course delivery work equally well for face-to-face as well as students from a distance.

E.g., a) the five phase dialogue process ( gives equal voice to online and in-classroom students; b) use of a course blog (or, in earlier years, a wiki) for sharing and commenting on drafts (which then have to be revised and resubmitted) allows students to learn from each other, over and above discussion during the class sessions. (This helps build a learning community, which is more difficult when student submissions are read only by the instructors.)

2) initiating, refining, and sustaining a program of moderate size, open, online collaborative learning—Collaborative Explorations (CEs)—in a form that requires far less expenditure and is more attentive to best pedagogical practice than most MOOCs.


3) synchronizing the CEs with Project-Based Learning (PBL) units in regular courses so that students in those courses can learn from the products of the CEs and participants in CEs can have a similar experience as in a regular, for-credit course. and; and; and (which also supports a low-cost MOOC, using recording modes that can be readily replicated by other instructors)

4) fashioning suites of technology that students can adopt and adapt to use for free outside their studies, especially graduate students who will lead their own classes and training using online tools.

Originally wikispaces wikis and skype (with call recorder audio recordings); now wordpress blog and google hangout (with audacity for audio or youtube for audiovisual recordings).

5) maintaining since the mid-90s online documentation of syllabi, course evaluations, and course development so that others, including prospective students, can learn about and from the teaching approaches used.

6) documenting tools and processes online, which facilitated the publication in 2012 of Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement (with J. Szteiter).

7) creating an alternative to the modularized format of most online LMS courses, namely, a master syllabus that can be printed and read offline and in which any session can be seen in context, that is, as it contributes to the unfolding of the course.

The typical organization of the syllabus (e.g., has 5 sections: I. Quick access to key information and links to bookmark on your browser; II. Information to get started, orient yourself at the start of the course, and refer back to from time to time; III. Contract: Course requirements and assessment; IV. Schedule of classes: What is expected each session and why — how each session contributes to the unfolding of the course. (This section starts with links to specific sessions); V. Bibliography (with links to pdfs of readings)

8) accumulating resources and making them available (with permission) to future students (e.g., annotated bibliography entries and examples of student assignments).



About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012,

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