As colleges and universities continue their commitment to increasing access to higher education through offering education online and at scale, attention on teaching open-ended subjects online and at scale, mainly the arts, humanities, and the social sciences, remains limited. While existing work in scaling open-ended courses primarily focuses on the evaluation and feedback of open-ended assignments, there is a lack of understanding of how to effectively teach open-ended, university-level courses at scale. To better understand the needs of teaching large-scale, open-ended courses online effectively in a university setting, we conducted a mixed-methods study with university instructors and students, using surveys and interviews, and identified five critical pedagogical elements that distinguish the teaching and learning experiences in an open-ended course from that in a non-open-ended course. An overarching theme for the five elements was the need to support students' self-expression. We further uncovered open challenges and opportunities when incorporating the five critical pedagogical elements into large-scale, open-ended courses online in a university setting, and suggested six future research directions: (1) facilitate in-depth conversations, (2) create a studio-friendly environment, (3) adapt to open-ended assessment, (4) scale individual open-ended feedback, (5) establish trust for self-expression, and (6) personalize instruction and harness the benefits of student diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number216
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Issue numberCSCW3
StatePublished - Jan 5 2021


  • arts
  • distance learning
  • humanities
  • learning at scale
  • mooc
  • online education
  • open-ended courses
  • social sciences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications


Dive into the research topics of 'It's all about conversation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this