MOOC-for-credit explores social science of wrongful convictions

Kate Miffitt
May 27, 2014

Penn State will offer its newest massive open online course (MOOC) "Presumed Innocent? The Social Science of Wrongful Convictions," produced by the College of the Liberal Arts. The MOOC employs the perspective of the social scientist to understand why and how wrongful convictions occur. The course will open to thousands of students for free on the Coursera platform in late June, and will also be offered for Penn State credit at a reduced tuition rate beginning July 2.

"We are interested in exploring the potential to deliver a high quality academic general education experience at scale for students seeking credit, while simultaneously providing an open learning experience to a general audience," said Chris Long, associate dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. “While learners will access lectures and videos in the Coursera MOOC, students in the credit portion of the course will complete more rigorous readings and assignments, and have their work evaluated by the instructor and teaching assistants. They will have the rich experience of interacting with the diverse learner population in the MOOC environment, while engaging in more rigorous academic work in Penn State's ANGEL learning management system. We are very excited to pilot a credit portion of the MOOC.”

Tim Robicheaux, course author and lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Criminology, developed the 14-lesson course to enable learners to examine the disparities in the criminal justice system, the factors in the justice system that might lead to a wrongful conviction and potential policy improvements to reduce the risk of such convictions. The video content will include lectures by Robicheaux and interviews with social scientists, legal scholars and individuals active in the criminal justice system. Lessons will include rich legal and social science content, as well as anecdotes of wrongful convictions.

"Wrongful convictions are a serious social ill that, while relatively rare, can erode trust in the criminal justice system,” Robicheaux explained. “I feel like many people are aware that innocent men and women serve prison time because they read about it on the news or see it in a docudrama. It's a topic that interests people, but it's also one that can teach students quite a bit about social science and public policy."

The 200-level for-credit general education course will be offered at a reduced tuition cost of $333 per credit.

"The reduced tuition is designed to make the course more accessible to MOOC participants and a wider public," said Long. "But making the course less expensive won't cheapen the educational experience. We've committed significant resources to ensure that the credit course is staffed with an excellent corps of teaching assistants committed to working directly with registered students."

Any individual who wants to earn Penn State credit for the course can register, and there will be a window of time in which users can preview the MOOC before deciding to enroll in the credit portion. To learn more, visit Criminology 201.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 05, 2014