Introduction to the Quran

Background

Taught by Prof. Gabriel Said Reynolds, Introduction to the Quran was Notre Dame’s fifth MOOC and the second in the TH120x Theology series. Offering a response to the high level of interest today in understanding Islam and its relationship to other religions, particularly Christianity, this course sought to provide learners with an introduction to the Qurʾan with a focus on the Qurʾan’s relationship with the Bible and early Christian literature. In order to have a positive impact on Christians, Muslims, and people of other or no faith, Gabriel felt the course should reach as wide an audience as possible; thus, it was ideally suited for delivery as a MOOC.  By offering a serious academic introduction to the Qurʾan and the Bible, free of polemics and apologetics, the course was designed to help students move past simplistic representations of Islam and Muslim‐Christian relations often offered in global mass media. Instead, the course sought to encourage all students to think critically about the diverse interpretations of holy texts and to see how the Bible and the Qurʾan can be read profitably together.

The Challenge

As with a number of our online courses, Introduction to the Quran was based on a pre-existing residential course offering.  Like many other courses on campus, the traditional approach to teaching this content relied heavily upon in-class discussions.  Fostering productive discussions in an online course is a known challenge in the field, especially when it comes to an ungraded, free and open online course. This challenge was magnified in some ways due to the nature of the content and the range of emotions generally evoked by religious and faith-based conversations.

Our Solution

Gabriel and his two TAs worked closely with our learning design team to replicate cooperative discussion in the online version.  We focused on social presence and on giving attention to posts submitted by MOOC participants.  As the number of participants was much larger than a traditional course, the course team collaborated to respond to individuals to welcome them into the community of learning.

Additionally, Gabriel produced regular, weekly update videos where he addressed students’ inquiries and concerns about the prior week’s course material.  He was also featured in the lectures and interviews throughout, making him a consistent presence throughout the entire course.  The personalized communication and ongoing presence of a key expert in the field was instrumental in building a positive online community.

When the course went live in July 2015, it had an enrollment of over 9,000 students from 164 different countries. The course was extremely well received by students all around the world.  One of the unique features of this course was that there was such a diverse cohort of students involved; people living in traditionally Muslim countries, for example, would not typically interact with self-proclaimed atheists or “unbelievers” or even believers of other faiths.  This MOOC opened doors to make those connections that are extremely rare or absent in some of our learners’ experiences.  Course faculty and learners collaborated in this course to maintain and contribute civilly in discussions and each engaged meaningful, critical examinations of faith and the interrelationships of faiths and texts.  Overall, it was a remarkable accomplishment and a course that represents that making a human connection within this context is so important, especially in light of ongoing events and recent controversies across the globe.

Based on the positive reception of the online materials among the MOOC students, in summer 2016 the assets were utilized in the asynchronous layer of a for-credit, summer online offering of Introduction to the Quran. 

Testimonial:

“At the beginning of the planning process for my online course I was concerned that the whole project would become unwieldy.  Then I met the team from ODL.  They were organized, efficient and highly capable in technical matters.  Most importantly, they were sure to consult with me carefully during all phases of the project.  At the end of the project I was left deeply impressed by their professionalism.  The end product was excellent, in large part due to the ODL team!” 

-- Prof. Gabriel Said Reynolds