Columbia Reruns Professor Eric Foner’s Popular Civil War and Reconstruction MOOC Series

by | Sep 17, 2015 | Announcements, For Faculty, For Graduate Students

On September 30, 2015, Columbia University will rerun the Civil War and Reconstruction (CWR) series on edX beginning with A House Divided: The Road to Civil War, 1850-1861.

After a high completion rate, and positive feedback from participants, Columbia University and edX will rerun the CWR series allowing the course design team to make improvements, and test new online learning techniques, based on survey results from the previous run of the course series that are outlined below.

To register for the first part of the CWR series rerun, visit:

On May 18, 2015, Columbia University celebrated the completion of Professor Eric Foner’s Civil War and Reconstruction MOOC series on ColumbiaX—a total of 27 weeks of video lectures, quizzes, and online discussions. Soon after, Columbia began receiving hundreds of end-of-course survey responses, many of which were from students who had participated in the entire series. Thanks to a robust evaluation effort, the results from all three courses can be examined, compared, and utilized to improve teaching and learning—online and in the Columbia classroom.

As of May 28, 777 responses to the end-of-course survey were received. The most compelling and gratifying finding of the survey was the overwhelming perception among participants having truly learned something. Only 16% rated their understanding of the Civil War “strong” before the course series, but nearly three-quarters (74%) rate it so after. “Strong” understanding of the Reconstruction era rose from 5% to 72%. Equally striking, the percentage of those who felt they had a “weak” understanding of the rarely-studied Reconstruction period fell from 74% to 0%. One of Foner’s goals with this MOOC series was to increase public understanding of these defining events in American history, but especially the Reconstruction.

How participants rated their understanding of the American Civil War


How participants rated their understanding of the Reconstruction


Another noted success was student retention throughout the series. In the third course, sustained activity among students active in the first week, set against students active in the final week, was calculated at a resounding 83%.

Statistics from edX

Total enrolled at end of course 7,024 5,878 5,459
Students active first week 2,805 2,584 1,931
Students active last week 1,723 1,942 1,609
Sustained activity (active students last week, as a percentage of first week) 61% 75% 83%

The course completion rates were higher than average. In an environment that reports an average of 5% completion rates (see report by Inside Higher Education), the Civil War and Reconstruction series boasts an average of 20% completion. 

Verified certificates issued 57 83 72
Honor code certificates issued 1,083 1,349 1,139
Total certificates issued 1,140 1,432 1,211
Certificate-earners as percentage of total enrolled 16% 22% 22%
Certificate-earners as percentage of students active in last week 66% 74% 75%

These statistics are a reflection of the compelling and engaging content that made up all three courses, as well as a strong partnership with Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML) that filled the course experience with exciting digital resources. Students were most pleased with the video lectures and weekly quizzes and felt that the online discussion forums presented the greatest room for improvement.

How students rated course activities and materials

1=Not at all effective; 5=Very effective.


Note: Ratings exclude “Not applicable” and non-responses.

Evaluation of Eric Foner’s Civil War and Reconstruction MOOC series allowed real-time adjustments to be made to the series, and will be an important resource for building future MOOCs on ColumbiaX. More importantly, this experience has provided a great amount of information on how K-12 teachers might incorporate new, “blended” methods to teach this part of American history in their classrooms. This course series has helped initiate valuable partnerships with the Columbia Alumni Association and a number of national organizations for educators, with plans to promote Columbia’s MOOCs as a resource for K-12 education and lifelong learning everywhere.

Editor’s Note: Laura Moustekarski is a freelance writer and editor. She has been working closely with CTL team throughout the development and production of Professor Foner’s courses.