By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

The first open online course offered at Syracuse University has concluded with positive outcomes for its host, the School of Information Studies (iSchool), and for its hundreds of student participants.  In addition, the excitement generated by the February trial is spinning off plans for additional iSchool open online offerings and informing faculty teaching models.

The iSchool’s first free course, “A Brief Introduction to Data Science with R,” drew interest levels more than three times the number of slots initially reserved for student enrollment. While 500 slots were planned, 1,731 requests to participate were received. Because of its inaugural nature, the iSchool opened the course to everyone who expressed interest.  Impressively, the opportunity provided an introduction to the iSchool and Syracuse University for hundreds. Approximately three-quarters of those who inquired about the course were brand new to Syracuse University, according to Peggy Brown, iSchool director of instructional design and an adjunct instructor.

Brown provided these enrollment, completion rate, and student outcome results:

  • 1,731 students  were invited to participate in the course
  • 856 students (just under 50%) officially accepted that invitation
  • Only 17 of that number formally dropped out

Of the 839 participating:

  • 429 were actively engaged from start to finish (a rate of 51.7% of the official total participants)
  • 410 others viewed and accessed course material intermittently
  •  91 students (as of early April) are receiving certificates for completing all course requirements. (That is 21.2% of the 429 actively engaged students and 10.8% of the 839 who signed up).  

“We’re very pleased with this result. This is slightly higher than what some other MOOCs have experienced. But beyond the numbers, the students in the course had some very rich and exciting conversations,” noted Professor and Senior Associate Dean Jeffrey Stanton.

The class demographics also showed these characteristics:

  • Location: Two-thirds of the students originated from North America; the next largest category (8%) were from South Asia
  • Language: For two-thirds, English is the primary/first language
  • Age ranges(of those responding): 15-24 (57 students); 25-34 (114); 35-44 (94); 45-54 (53); 55-64 (21)
  • Gender: 51%/49% female to male
  • Course objective: professional development (61%)
  • Participation: 47% intended to be active contributors
  • About three-quarters of those attracted to the class were all-new to SU
  • Of those SU-affiliated: Current students (15); Alumni (19); Admitted students (20); Applicants to SU (22); Faculty/Staff (9).

The class used the free open-source e-book authored by Stanton (“An Introduction to Data Science”) as a guide, and also examined the R statistical analysis and visualization system. Taught by Stanton in conjunction with iSchool adjunct instructor Gary Krudys,the course also incorporated the iSchool’s distinct perspective towards data science, which provides a full data lifecycle view that goes beyond what most discuss as data analytics, according to program manager Erin Bartolo.

Satisfying for Instructors

Stanton described how being an instructor for the course was “very satisfying on two levels.” He said, “First, as a professor, it was very powerful to connect with such a large group of students and to know that so many were getting benefits from course materials I had worked on. Second, it was refreshing to work as a team with a small group of instructional design specialists – their insights into what works for such a large group of students was very educational for me. Other professors who have taught MOOCs have reported that the experience has helped open their eyes to ways of improving their other courses, and I found this was true for me as well.”

Co-instructor Gary Krudys, who has taught at the iSchool for the past 12 years, described a similarly enjoyable experience. “In a classroom, you always get a few students who are very proactive in engaging in dialogue, but not a high percentage. In this situation, we had hundreds of students participating in a very rich and robust commentary on the subject matter, not only with the instructor, but amongst participants.  It was a broad collaborative effort in the exchange of ideas. The discussion boards were just loaded with great information. I was in awe that this effort can bring so many people, from all over the country, together on a particular topic.”

Tuition Awards

In addition to completion certificates, students who successfully finished the course are eligible for a special-offering merit scholarship valued at 20% of tuition costs in the iSchool’s Data Science Certificate of Advanced Studies program. The merit award is unique this year to celebrate the iSchool’s 20th anniversary of online education in 2013 and to commemorate the inaugural open online course.  It is available to new incoming CAS-Data Science students. To receive consideration, students must apply to and be admitted into the Data Science CAS program, and matriculated for attendance starting in the Summer or Fall of 2013. There is a June 1 deadline for application (or until program capacity has been reached). The CAS-DS is a 15-credit graduate program offered full-time or part-time and is delivered on campus, online or a combined mode.


Along with Stanton, Krudys, Brown, Bartolo, and Susan Corieri, assistant dean for Enrollment Management and Special Academic Program Initiatives, the MOOC development and presentation team consisted of these iSchool professionals: Charlotte Flynn, doctoral student;  Sarah Helson, graduate student; Jasy Liew Suet Yan, doctoral student; Roberta Segreti,  assistant to the Associate Deans; and Ankur Verma, ’12, IM alumnus.  

Maymester Data Course

The iSchool also is offering a special section of its data science course, IST 687, Applied Data Science, this Maymester. The one-week, in-person course is being offered May 13-17. The course typically is available only online and just in the spring semester. For more information, contact Bartolo at or see