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WVU gives free course in online communication

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Elizabeth Cohen has always felt at home teaching, but she's nervous about an upcoming lesson. That's because her students could be anyone -- literally.

"There's a pit in my stomach because I'm so excited. I'm not used to teaching an audience I don't know, but the opportunity for feedback is limitless," said Cohen, an assistant professor of communication studies at West Virginia University.

Cohen is among a handful of WVU professors leading a recently launched online course that is free and open to the public. The Massive Open Online Course isn't graded and isn't for college credit, but instead is a way to engage everyone about the impact technology has on our everyday lives, Cohen said.

The MOOC is WVU's first and will last through the month of February focusing on a range of ways communication technology shapes people's social lives, examining online dating, cyber bullying and everything in between.

"This is for anyone in the entire world -- that's what's revolutionary about it. The whole point is to give people more opportunities. A free education -- how often do people have a chance at that?" Cohen said.

The group uses the Twitter hashtag #WVUCommMOOC to engage participants about the program and discussion is at the core of the lessons, Cohen said.

On Tuesday, someone using the hashtag said they were on a ventilator and can't get out much in the winter and showed their appreciation for the class.

Keeping up with technology is more important than ever, and programs like these allow experts to share their skills with people of all ages allover the world, Cohen said.

"Technology is accelerating at a faster and faster rate, but the faster we develop things, the quicker it is to fall behind and the harder it is to catch up. Media literacy is a woefully understudied topic in most curricula," she said. "With this, it doesn't matter what your level of comfort is. We start with the assumption that everyone is new, and you can jump in at anytime. All you need is an Internet connection.

"We're covering very hot topics, even if you don't immediately recognize the application to your own life."

Those topics include Cohen's lesson, starting Feb. 25, on understanding and conquering technology overload.

"Multitasking gets a lot of bad press, but on some level, we've evolved to do just that. We just need to be more aware of our limitations and conscious of what we're doing," she said. "I realized a long time ago that having Twitter and Facebook open at my desk may not be the most conducive thing. What we're doing is studying the cognitive mechanisms responsible for how much we can handle."

Anyone interested in participating can register at WVUCommMOOC.org.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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