Massive Open Online Courses have allowed more than 30,000 people worldwide to enroll in a single University of Wisconsin class, which one professor said indicates students’ simple desire to learn for the sake of learning.

When a teacher sees a positive response to that kind model, they have to respond, learning sciences professor Kurt Squire said.

UW’s first MOOC class launched last week with the “Video Games and Learning” course. The class is about the kinds of thinking and learning that goes into video games, gaming culture and the benefits and drawbacks of digital gameplay, Constance Steinkuehler, UW associate professor of digital media, said.

Steinkuehler said she and Squire decided to distill “Video Games and Learning” into a MOOC because it is a course that fills up every year at UW and has a wait list. People interested in these ideas should have access to the content’s main concepts and ideas even if they are unable to get into the in-person course, she said.

More than 30,000 people from all over the world are enrolled in the MOOC, Squire said. It has been really “awe inspiring” to see thousands of people engaged in the content, and it is one way to see the global reach of the Internet, he said.

“It has been humbling to realize how many people are driven to learn and see that if the resources are made available, how many people will really clamor for it,” Squire said.

The capacity teachers have to influence and reach people reminds them why they started teaching in the first place, he said.

However, Steinkuehler said she has found it challenging to teach to such a large virtual audience.

“When you teach you’re used to seeing students and actually even in a large lecture class you really pay attention to how are they responding…you feel like you have a sort of connection to your students,” Steinkuehler said. “Not having that was hard.”

An advantage to MOOCs versus a classroom experience is the access provided to a large number of people, Squire said.

Trying to launch a course like this for the first time is challenging, Steinkuehler said. Many things could go wrong, she said. Teachers have to have patience and a good sense of humor, she said.

Steinkuehler said the MOOC platform UW decided to use, Coursera, lacks some features.

Steinkuehler said she and Squire wanted to make a class that was as interactive as possible, but the platform is designed for a broadcast model of video clips. Steinkuehler said she would have also preferred a platform that allowed participants to self-pace themselves.

Additionally, Steinkuehler said she and Squire opted to take a different route to evaluate student participation than Coursera’s simplistic multiple choice questions and assessments.

“We think about assessment and we think it should be diagnostic, where the assessment is a tool for learning. We replaced [Coursera’s] assessments with learning activities,” Steinkuehler said.

The platform company pushed back on this decision, but Steinkuehler said she and Squire held their ground.

Squire said he sees the potential for MOOCs to expand, but that they cannot serve as replacements for courses taught on a college campus.

“The real value of an undergraduate education is coming to the place where you are immersed in a culture, in a certain way of talking about things, approaching problems and a certain set of dispositions,” Squire said. “That is one of the real enduring values of undergraduate education.”

Steinkuehler said she is “knocking on wood” as the course enters its second week without experiencing any major technological glitches.

“I’m sure we’re going to. Whenever you innovate you take a lot of risk an so we just have to expect that things will be difficult, but so far the people enrolled have been pretty amazing and enthusiastic,” she said. “No glitches yet, which is very shocking and weird.”