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Pioneering course’s final exam: charitable giving


The final exam for Northeastern’s massive open online course on effective char­i­table giving was not a tra­di­tional essay or a multiple-​​choice test. Instead, stu­dents made a social impact by selecting non­profits to receive grant funding to help sup­port their missions.

Grants totaling $150,000 will be awarded to 30 nonprofit orga­ni­za­tions from across the country.

The MOOC, titled “Giving With Purpose,” is the first-​​ever massive open online course focusing on phil­an­thropy and informed civic engagement, and it was offered for the second time ever this spring. It is the sig­na­ture pro­gram of Northeastern’s Social Impact Lab. The lab, which launched in January, is a hub of inno­v­a­tive expe­ri­en­tial curricula, pro­gram­ming, and events designed to empower social change and civic engagement across dis­ci­plines and around the world.

Stu­dents in the course gained valu­able insight and learned impor­tant lessons about phil­an­thropy and informed civic engage­ment from nom­i­nating and selecting the even­tual grant recip­i­ents, according to Rebecca Riccio, the Social Impact Lab’s director and course instructor.

“The money will make a dif­fer­ence for the non­profit orga­ni­za­tions,” said Riccio, who is also the founding program director of Northeastern Students4Giving, which is sup­ported by the Social Impact Lab and part of Northeastern’s Human Services program. “But we are also trying to cul­ti­vate informed civic engage­ment and teach stu­dents how civil society works.”

About 7,500 people world­wide reg­is­tered for the course.

At the begin­ning of the course, stu­dents nom­i­nated orga­ni­za­tions they believed worthy of grant funding. Over the six classes, stu­dents assessed each other’s nominations using effec­tive giving tools, strate­gies, and prin­ci­ples pre­sented by Riccio. The final exam was a com­pre­hen­sive review of the nominations that made it to the final round.

“When the final came around, stu­dents were very familiar with the cri­teria and had a vested interest in applying them well,” Riccio explained. “They knew their input mattered.”

Stu­dents awarded a total of $100,000 to 20 organizations—including St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, the New York Public Library, and Reading Partners—with funding from Northeastern, the Learning by Giving Foundation, and NYSE Euronext CEO Duncan Niederaurer.

Another 10 orga­ni­za­tions received a total of $50,000, thanks to team spon­sor­ships from Pos­i­tive Tracks, the American Public Health Asso­ci­a­tion, and the Red Sox Foundation.

The MOOC was created in part­ner­ship with the Learning by Giving Foun­da­tion, which was founded by Doris Buffett, sister of bil­lion­aire businessman and phil­an­thropist Warren Buffett. The foun­da­tion promotes phil­an­thropy at the under­grad­uate level with the hope of inspiring students to become leaders in their communities.

The MOOC was first offered in Spring 2013 to edu­cate the public about effec­tive char­i­table giving and it was relaunched this spring as part of the Social Impact Lab, which is housed within the College of Social Sciences and Humanities.

“This was the first time North­eastern Uni­ver­sity was a full partner in cre­ating and spon­soring the MOOC,” Riccio said. “It is a really exciting place for North­eastern to show­case its lead­er­ship in expe­ri­en­tial education.”

The impact of Giving With Pur­pose extends beyond the money invested in com­mu­ni­ties across the U.S., according to Riccio. “By giving stu­dents a mean­ingful stake in the grant making process, we have pro­vided a suc­cessful demon­stra­tion of how expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion can be inte­grated into MOOCs.”

– By Joe O’Connell

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