Empowering People through Education

Fuqua's prestigious faculty leads the business and academic realms in engaging teaching styles, innovative research and unique experience.

To continue this tradition, Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics with appointments at the Fuqua School of Business, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the Department of Economics, and the School of Medicine, is experimenting in the sphere of worldwide online education through Coursera, a massive open online course (MOOC) provider Duke University partnered with in 2012. With the help of Aline Grüneisen, Lab Manager of the Center for Advanced Hindsight, and the Fuqua Multimedia Team, Dan offered "A Beginner's Guide to Irrationality"—a free six-week course which draws from the coursework he teaches at Fuqua—for the Coursera community.

"The material itself was not very different from the material I teach in my regular class on the Introduction to Behavioral Economics," Ariely said.

This course was an opportunity for online users to experience Ariely's engaging teaching style and to learn more about the topic without enrolling in a traditional university or college.

"While filming the Coursera lectures," Grüneisen said, "Dan would stand in front of the camera and, without hesitation, move from topic to topic with riveting examples. He has a knack for explaining complicated concepts in easily-digestible terms; his students often don't even realize the complexity of what they're learning!"

According to Grüneisen though, these video lectures are much more than a professor standing in front of a camera. Ariely and his team integrated expert speakers and skits to make the material more interesting and engaging. Ariely even used some of the video created for Coursera in on-campus classes.

"There's this notion of a 'free-verse' or 'flipped' classroom where students watch the lecture online, then come to the classroom to participate in a discussion," Ariely said. "I'm not going to switch my class to this model completely, but I switched a few sessions to see how it worked for the students. In many cases, it appeared helpful for students and seemed to elevate the quality of the discussion."

For Ariely, the hardest part was being unable to respond to students' reactions, as he is accustomed to in a traditional classroom setting.

"I can look at their eyes," Ariely said. "I can see when they nod, I can slow down, and I can repeat something… I get feedback. With Coursera, it's less conversational and harder for me to gauge what the students understand or don't understand."

Ariely and Duke are contributing to the evolving realm of online education, but Ariely also has used this opportunity to build upon his research. Students who participated in Ariely's Coursera course completed surveys that contributed to Ariely's growing collection of data while allowing the students to experience a study first-hand.

"Since research is such an important component of Dan's teaching, we decided to incorporate it in a way that benefits both Coursera students and the field of behavioral economics," Grüneisen said.

Because of the vast audience, Ariely gained unique insights for both his research and his personal teaching style.

"We took advantage of the fact that we had students from many places around the world," Ariely said. "They are from very diverse backgrounds, and we collected their insights."

Ariely noted that he does not think the model of online courses will ever replace traditional lectures and professor-student interactions. He believes in the possibility of a hybrid model of teaching. Mostly though, Ariely said he was happy to be part of this experimental pedagogy.

"It is a new way to reach students and teach," Ariely said. "I am always curious about learning how things will work out, so rather than waiting for other people to try it out, I decided to experiment with it myself and see if I could learn something."

While the inaugural live course has concluded, those interested in joining the watchlist for future sessions can do so here.