Published: Feb. 12, 2018
online course

While social and emotional learning programs have been abuzz in schools for more than a decade, the majority of programs have largely emphasized students' learning with only a very few aimed at helping teachers explore their emotional well-being. A new CU Boulder, Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, underscores and explores the importance of the various facets of social and emotional learning for students and teachers.

The Teacher and Social & Emotional Learning Coursera Specialization, now enrolling students via the Coursera platform, was created under the premise that in order to facilitate students' social and emotional learning and well-being, a teacher must know the student as a person, and in turn, the teacher must strive to know themselves. 

MOOCs typically engage students in the hundreds and even thousands, and this course is aimed at engaging educators near and far and at any stage of their teaching career - from pre-service teachers to veteran educators. While social and emotional learning programs vary widely, most share common concerns for students' self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. It is important for teachers and parents to understand these programs as well.

Facilitated by CU Boulder Education Professors Dan Liston and Ben Kirshner, CU Boulder Instructor Emily Price, and Harvard Graduate School of Education Associate Director of PreK-16 Programs Randy Testa, the MOOC takes participants through five courses exploring traditional and alternative approaches to K-12 and teacher's social and emotional learning.

Liston has studied reflective teaching and the role of emotion in teaching, and he teamed up with colleagues to launch this effort. Together, the instructors' goals were to provide a thorough examination of K-12 social emotional learning programs while bringing a much-needed emphasis on the teachers' well being and incorporating cultural context. 

"Teaching is inherently emotional and intellectual work," he said. "All teachers want to connect with their students. The specialization will help teachers connect with their students, their community, and themselves."

Students "meet" the instructors through video introductions, but unlike some MOOCs, the video-lecture format is augmented with meaningful readings and opportunities for self reflection. The courses were designed to be reminiscent of an in-person, intimate graduate seminar.

"Dan set the goal for this program to be as engaging and rigorous as his graduate seminars." said Cory Pavicich, program manager for the strategic initiatives including many MOOCs at CU Boulder. "In many ways, this course is reimaging how we teach and pushing MOOC conventions in ways we haven't seen before. We are grateful to work with a team of such thoughtful and forward-thinking educators."

That's high praise considering CU Boulder currently offers 33 MOOCs on the Coursera platform, and there are plans to add more than 100 more MOOCs over the next two years.

Given the MOOC's high academic standards, participants have the option to pursue university credit at a very reasonable cost. Through the program's five-course path, educators can earn three university credits towards re-certification or professional development. 

The opportunity to support student social and emotional learning and teachers' professional and personal development was one of the reasons the Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Foundation facilitated the formation of the Teacher and Social Emotional Learning MOOC, said Brooke Jones, vice president of the RAK Foundation.

"This course is an innovative and deeply meaningful approach to support any educator who understands the balance of educating both the mind and the heart," she said. "Teachers will reconnect to the very reason they became educators in the first place - to create positive impact on the students they work with every day and empower them to be successful, kind, forward-thinking people."