In last decade, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have offered at least 35 courses related to architecture. Among these courses, the history of various kinds of architecture outnumbers greatly because of the quality of subject matters, which involves ancient or nonexistent buildings that hardly to see on sites. MOOCs make it easier to demonstrate and turn abstract descriptions into vivid images. The evidence is the fact that among these thirty courses, “History, criticism, and appreciation courses are the most common architecture-related subject, with twenty courses that we could find. These range from global architecture history surveys, to regional studies, to deep-dives on a single architect… or historical moment…. A few of these are art history courses that also cover architecture.” (Lian, 2015). Apart from the history of architecture, there are ten courses related to architectural design. Surprisingly, architecture-relevant digital topics and skills are just five out of thirty-five (Lian, 2015). I have expected that there were more courses 11directly related to digital topics before. The reason is probably because digital topics in architecture field have never been paid much attention to. In general, 57% of MOOCs in architecture are associated with the history of architecture, while others are related to architectural design and techniques. In terms of the history of architecture, with the help of videos, photos and 3D animation, students get much better sense of ancient or foreign buildings in MOOCs than in traditional classes. As a result, students get much more engagement in MOOCs. For example, a key element in traditional Chinese buildings is “Dougong”, a bracket set inserted between the top of a column and a crossbeam, is very hard to get picture by just descripti98067f2fc0fe0c99b6d5f80e22070ea1on for non-Chinese students, but they can easily understand the form, function and even construction by video demos with models and illustrations. Indeed, in traditional classes, we did bring models or videos and other vivid tools into classrooms, however, students have no autonomy to choose which and when they are like to watch them, but to wait for instructors showing for them. More importantly, the autonomy issue makes huge difference in terms of student engagement. A research revealed that “with passive video content, MOOC students have an attention span of 4 minutes… with our interactive personalized lessons, attention span is 22 minutes, a 450% increase over passive video.” (SchoolYourself, 2015) Let alone in no-choice traditional classes. In short, the courses about history of architecture in MOOCs open a door for instructors to display a vivid new world for their students. As an instructor of the history of architecture, I am glad that I could have a chance to demonstrate all of my collections of architecture in sites from more than ten countries at a MOOC someday. However, opportunities also mean challenges. The first challenge might be to satisfy the needs of various students as participants could be from anywhere in the world. It is really not enough just to show some façades of a building to feed newbies. The fact is that some of MOOCs students may have been there or even live around and they want to know more than that from the professional view. Therefore, what I should do is to narrow down my research and do deeper study instead of scanning everywhere but understand nothing. The second challenge might be to increase the awareness of various conflicts. Since students from all over the world, it would be subtle when explain historic backgrounds which always involve wars between different nations or different religions. I would try to use inclusive words in non-bias manner. The third challenge is to response to the survey of student engagement, which is how to deal with lesson planning in order to give students more options and then more student engagement. Usually, history is told chronologically, but in MOOCs, it might be good idea to demonstrate the materials by subjects or topics so that students could choose their own interesting issues to learn. And it would be easier for an instructor to lead students trace back the historical background when they get stuck somewhere. The last but not least challenge might be assessment and evaluate. There is no such thing as absolute right or wrong in a historical architecture. Then it must be hard to give feedback to the invisible students from various backgrounds in MOOCs than in traditional classes. I would try to put myself on students’ shoes and figure out where P1230139they were standing, and then give them appropriate comments and recommends. In summary, MOOCs involve more and more participants and instructors. What we do in MOOCs would impact on more people than ever before, so we should well prepare before we get started.


  1. Lian Chikako Chang. Architect Blogs. “How Many MOOCs Are Teaching Architecture?” accessed June16, 2015. http://archinect.com/blog/article/128946980/how-many-moocs-are-teaching-architecture
  2. SchoolYouself Blog. “MOOCs are getting personal, but also more engaging!” accessed June 10, 2015. http://blog.schoolyourself.org/2015/04/moocs-are-getting-personal-but-also.html