Problem Solving using Computational Thinking, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) launched by the University of Michigan in November of 2019, has already drawn more than 1,200 learners from around the globe. The Michigan Institute for Computational Discovery & Engineering (MICDE) and the University of Michigan Center for Academic Innovation partnered to create this course. The idea for this MOOC arose from the team’s recognition of the ubiquity of computation. However, the developers were equally keen to distinguish this offering from MOOCs on programming and to instead highlight how broader computational thinking also makes its presence felt in somewhat unexpected domains.

Using computational thinking, the MOOC challenges learners with a series of real-world examples, including how it is possible to help plan and prepare for a flu season–a subject that has gained particular relevance in the months following the launch of this MOOC, track human rights violations or monitor the safety of crowds.

While enrollment numbers are encouraging, the work being done by learners within the MOOC is most inspiring. For their final project, learners have applied the computational thinking strategies discussed throughout the MOOC to a wide array of noble social problems in hopes of finding cogent solutions.

Not surprisingly, there have been several projects that seek to address challenges related to COVID 19.

The MOOC’s Epidemiology Case Study walks the student through the process of building a communicable disease transmission model.

One learner wrote: “For the final project, I am assuming the role of a member of the team responsible to combat COVID-19 from India and I have to decide on what should be our strategy to fight coronavirus in India, be it the extension of a lockdown or any other important decision related to this pandemic.”

In another project, a learner assuming the role of a Wuhan pathologist wrote that they must “decide what the Chinese government’s strategy against coronaviruses” should be.

Learners addressing today’s most pressing societal concerns, such as COVID-19, exemplifies the transformative potential of open-access, digital, and distance education made possible by a MOOC.

Across the board, the MOOC has received tremendously positive reviews, with an overall course rating of 5 out of 5 stars. One learner, in particular, wrote in their course review: “I really enjoyed this course! It got me prepared to study for an entry into a career working with computers!!” Another learner simply stated: “Fantastic, loved it!”

The developers of this MOOC are drawn from the School of Public Health, the College of Engineering, the School of Education and MICDE. Problem Solving using Computational Thinking is available in Coursera through Michigan Online. To learn more please visit online.umich.edu/courses/problem-solving-using-computational-thinking/.

Mark your calendar for the MICDE SciFM 2024 Conference on April 2nd & 3rd, 2024!

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