Worldwide MOOC for a Worldwide Issue

Worldwide MOOC for a Worldwide Issue

Instructor: Anne Firth Murray
Department/School: Human Biology , School of Humanities and Sciences
HumBio 129/FemGen 129: Critical Issues in International Women’s Health (on-campus course) & International Women's Health and Human Rights (MOOC)

Audience: In class: about 80 people each year.  Online in pilot: 5,600 people
Teaching and Learning ApproachOnline

GoalsThe MOOC on international women’s health and human rights has the following goals: 

  • disseminating knowledge;
  • convening engaged communities;
  • empowering participants and encouraging social responsibility;
  • enhancing the learning experience for students in the live classroom by encouraging them to participate in international forums;
  • creating a publicly available database of materials (videos, readings, news articles, etcetera) relating to women’s health and human rights

The fifth goal is served primarily by our companion community website at:

Through this MOOC experience, students will gain greater understanding of the role of women both as people whose rights have been abrogated over time and as people who are capable of contributing to a better world. The course highlights the importance of making positive change consonant with principles of compassion, mutual learning, respect, and trust. 

The reaction of people around the world to the pilot MOOC has been stunning: people are delighted by the existence of the MOOC. They enthusiastically interacted with each other, suggesting additional resources and generally becoming actively involved in the substance and the process of the pilot MOOC.

Approach: Lectures, interviews with scholars and activists, readings (including a text by the instructor), links to relevant sources from the United Nations and other agencies and organizations, participatory forums, small-group meetings (including opportunities to reflect on significant issues), and student projects. We also produced a weekly “Tea Time with Anne” video broadcast that responded to student questions from the forums.

Online or out-of-class strategies: Our goal was to build a community of learners, practitioners, experts and activists and to create means for them to interact, share knowledge, and bring what they learned from the online class back to their own societies. We accomplished this through a number of channels to engage students

Lessons Learned: The main lesson learned from the pilot version in January 2014 was that thousands of people worldwide are eagerly seeking information and perspectives about international women’s health and human rights. We had very positive feedback about this course, including many individuals who were inspired to take action in their community or to pursue further education in this field.

There was encouraging participation by people around the globe. The forums were active centers of interaction and mutual learning, and people used words like “brilliant,” “wonderful,” “very interesting,” and “enlightening” to describe the course.

We plan to expand the use of our discussion toolkits, which facilitated both in-person and online interaction. As part of this endeavor, we piloted the use of the Talkabout platform with an OpenEdX open online course.

Plans for Next Iteration of Course: The class will launch again in mid-July 2014, beginning on July 10th in both an English version, hosted at Stanford University, and a version with Chinese subtitles, hosted by Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. The Chinese version will probably go online again soon after this session concludes in August. The English version will probably happen again in January of 2015. A version with Spanish subtitles is in the planning stage. We plan to expand our use of the engagement tools discussed above.

About the Teaching Team

Anne Firth Murray

Instructor: Anne Firth Murray, Consulting Professor in Human Biology and Founding President of the Global Fund for Women

Kevin Hsu

Technical Director/Designer: Kevin Hsu, Lecturer in Urban Studies and Founder, Skyship Design

TAs and Volunteers: About fifteen people served as TAs for the pilot course, interacting with students on the forums as community managers and helping to develop the discussion toolkits. Since then, several people who took the course in January 2014 have joined us as volunteers to prepare transcripts and serve as community managers in the next session.  Please see our companion website at: for a list of people who worked with us to make this MOOC an engaging educational experience.