Mariel Reed

On a bright December day, we at HKU were lucky to have two opportunities to meet and talk to Mariel Reed, Coursera Partnership Manager and Co-Founder of Lean In Beijing.

In the first session, Mariel led a discussion with HKU academic staff in which she shared insights into what motivates faculty members to produce Massive Open Online Courses, what Coursera as a MOOC provider learns from its academic collaborators and how it takes advantage of this knowledge to improve and innovate on its platform. While Mariel shared some fascinating examples of Faculty motivations relating to MOOCs, three main areas emerged. Firstly, Mariel talked about professors making a social impact – for example, teaching more learners on one MOOC than in a lifetime of face-to-face lectures. A second motivation stems from a desire to improve teaching and learning with one famous example provided by Andrew Ng, a co-founder of Coursera, whose own teaching benefitted enormously from preparing and delivering his groundbreaking Machine Learning MOOCs. The third and final motivation that Mariel highlighted was the role that delivering MOOCs can play in academic staff’s professional enhancement, with an example of an Ohio State professor whose tenure track progress benefitted from a higher post-MOOC profile.

Mariel Reed

Along with these insights from faculty, Mariel also shared upcoming Coursera innovations, the highlight being ‘courses on demand’ which seeks to disrupt the current MOOC paradigm – in which the majority of courses mirror their face-to-face counterparts in having defined start and end dates – and replace it with students setting their own pace for study, perhaps finally evidencing the ‘anytime, anywhere’ claim that is often made for the benefits of e-learning. This coupled with Coursera’s continued focus on mobile learning marks exciting times indeed for online learners.

Mariel’s second session of the day was very different but equally rewarding. In ‘My East-West Adventures’, a talk primarily designed for students but with much of interest for faculty too,  Mariel reflected on the things she cares about the most and spoke of the lessons learned from her experiences. One guiding and thought-provoking principle in Mariel’s life has been the idea that when considering your path in life, instead of focusing on what you want to do, focus on what problems you can solve. She applied this to her own life’s journey, firstly the leap from Washington D.C. to teaching English and Business at Shihezi University in Xinjiang, in which the issue that was at the forefront of Mariel’s thoughts was the importance of US-China relations. A second concern of Mariel is the development of people and she had a chance to work directly on this in her time in Beijing, co-founding Lean In Beijing which focuses on roles of professional women, and Beijing Commons, a volunteer organization that brings new ideas to life. The third guiding theme of Mariel’s life is that of universal access to quality education, which provides a link between previous teaching posts and her current work for Coursera back in Silicon Valley.

Mariel Reed

These ideas resonated with staff and students alike, who found Mariel’s vision inspiring and shared their own problems, thoughts and views on future growth. This session was much more ‘conversation’ than ‘presentation’ and was a perfect counterbalance to the previous information-rich seminar; here, participants had time to speak and reflect, and their willingness to share the personally-held beliefs is testament to the relaxed atmosphere that was created. Overall, two highly engaging talks from Mariel – we hope she comes back to visit HKU soon.

A post from the e-learning Pedagogical Support Unit (EPSU)