Prior to joining edX, Teppo earned his Ph.D. in Physics from MIT. In addition to his many different responsibilities at edX, Teppo moonlights as a forum moderator for Effective Field Theory, a course he took as a student during his doctoral studies at MIT.
We sat down with him to learn a bit more about his experience as a forum moderator and how edX has developed over the past couple years.
How has edX grown over the past two years?
Teppo Jouttenus: There is the obvious growth in the number of courses. We have so many more courses across many different subjects and levels. We have many more partners and members, and of course, learners.
What has made that immense growth possible is that both the edX platform and the services that edX can provide have developed significantly. At the very beginning—when we just had 10 employees and no office space—everything was new. We created processes and features on the fly. It was an incredibly exciting time and a huge period of growth and learning. Now, we have a standardized set of tools and best practices that enable a broad range of courses to be created so much faster.
I remember in the early days coding HTML and XML to get a simple multiple-choice question up. Now, with edX Studio, you can do what would have taken 10 minutes in just 30 seconds. It’s incredible.
When I started at edX, I worked closely with Michael Cima and his team on the Introduction to Solid State Chemistrycourse. I helped moderate their course discussion forum, as well as 8.02x Electricity and Magnetism, and it’s tremendous to see how the discussion forum capabilities have evolved.
Can you describe your experience as a forum moderator?
TJ: During the first edX courses, what was exciting and also very challenging was the huge number of users on the forum. When you have a MOOC with tens of thousands of students – there are thousands of forum participants and posts. The student engagement in the discussion forum was incredibly exciting, but also very overwhelming at first.
At the beginning, nobody quite knew how to best use the discussion forums effectively. Everyone was coming up with and testing new ideas. There were strategies – create specific threads for student introductions for example – but they were not features that were automatically available.
Since then, we have made huge strides in the forum functionality. Students now have the ability to mark their own posts as questions. Then, as a moderator, you can look at all of the unanswered questions and easily see what needs to be addressed. We have other features – such as pagination and search – that make it a much better experience for both course staff and students.
The questions on the discussion forum now are also more work to answer! In the earlier courses, so many of the answers were logistical. DemoX now teaches students the platform basics, and so more questions are focused on course concepts and problem sets, which really elevates the conversation and learning outcomes.
I’m currently moderating Effective Field Theory, which has been a lot of fun. It was definitely the hardest course I took in my doctoral studies, and it’s been impressive to see how many students are taking such an advanced course. It has brought back a lot of good memories of the times I was sitting in a classroom three years ago taking the class. Since it’s been a few years, I’m stumped by many of the questions now, too!
Do you have any tips for course staff and learners on how to best use the discussion forums?
TJ: My top piece of advice for course teams is to set clear expectations and guidelines on how to use the forum. For example, setting up specific times for virtual Office Hours, or clarifying what types of questions will be answered by the course teams and what types of questions will be left for the community to address. I think that if you set those clear expectations in the beginning of the course, it’s quite lovely to see how willing people are to build a good community.
For students – use the search! We are constantly improving the search function of the forums, and you can easily look up to see if your question has already been addressed and benefit from the discussions of your classmates.
What about edX’s future excites you most?
TJ: I’m excited to offer learners more flexibility—offering a range of course topics, schedules and even breaking down larger courses into modules. We are finding ways to offer more options to suit the different needs of learners, so that they can customize their learning experience to whatever is most important to them.
We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Teppo for taking the time to talk with us, and for his hard work at edX. It is wonderful to see his Ph.D. studies coming full circle – from taking the course on campus at MIT, to supporting thousands of students from around the world in the MOOC learning the same material. Teppo has certainly brought his love of learning and teaching to being a strong advocate for both learners and course teams.
By Shelby Stack, Student Support, edX