A Department of Homeland Security Emeritus Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

START’s MOOC, Revised and Updated, Launches Successfully

START’s MOOC, Revised and Updated, Launches Successfully

January 29, 2015Charlotte Taylor

This month, START launched its newly updated Massive Online Open Content (MOOC) course “Understanding Terrorism and the Terrorist Threat.”

The course, which launched Jan. 12, has over 19,000 enrolled students, coming from 180 countries.

Led by START Director Gary LaFree and START Executive Director William Braniff and managed and facilitated by START Education Director Katherine Izsak and START Education Program Manager Jacqueline DeVore, the course explores the “who,” “what,” “why,” and “how” of terrorism studies by encouraging students to explore the terrorism phenomenon through lectures and readings on START research and guided, interactive discussions.  The course includes modules on individual radicalization, terrorist group dynamics, and terrorist operations, each with their own set of guest speakers from the consortium of START researchers, as well as a module featuring an in-depth investigation of Al Qa’ida. 




The course’s first module, “How Do We Study Terrorism?” concluded last week. Over 11,000 students accessed the course material, which addressed the challenges of studying terrorism, defined terrorism for the purposes of the course discussions, and dispelled some commonly held myths about terrorism.  The lectures in module 1 argued that multi-disciplinary and empirically based approaches to studying terrorism are critical for students to move beyond emotionally charged rhetoric to thoughtful and objective discourse.  

In addition to watching lectures and reading course materials based on START research, students interact on online discussion forums, with approximately 5,000 forum browsers each week. While unfortunate circumstances dictated the opportunity, START MOOC students were able to participate in a uniquely global forum as live details unfolded regarding the Charlie Hebdo attack in France and the Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria. Students discussed the media portrayal of these attacks in their countries with questions like: Why did an attack that killed 17 people in France dominate the headlines when some observers estimate that upwards of 2,000 Nigerians had been killed in and around Baga, Nigeria, by Boko Haram?

New this year, the module also included two spotlight lectures from experts in the terrorism studies field who discussed practical applications of concepts covered in the course. The first spotlight lecture featured Juliette Bird, Head of Counterterrorism within the Emerging Security Challenges Division at NATO. In the video, Bird addresses how definitional issues surrounding terrorism have impacted NATO. The second spotlight video featured experts from the Institute for Economics and Peace discussing how Global Terrorism Database data informed the creation of the Global Terrorism Index.

In the remaining modules, students can expect to hear from several other START researchers including Victor Asal, Arie Kruglanski, Gina Ligon, Amy Pate, Tony Lemieux and Peter Krause, as well as more from NATO’s Juliette Bird

The course is also offering its students a chance to discuss terrorism with their global peers. The discussion forum, “Reacting to the Terrorism Threat,” will host a series of dialogues intended to encourage cross-cultural communication. Facilitators Izsak, DeVore and START Educational Consultant Joe de Bernardo ask students to respond to several questions that aim to highlight the ways in which our varied histories and identities impact the way we understand terrorism:

  • What is your personal experience with terrorism or what is its prevalence in your region?
  • How would you rate the level of fear over the threat of terrorism in your daily life, in your community, within your region?
  • How do you think the rest of the world perceives the threat of terrorism in your region? Do you think there are misconceptions or generalizations?
  • What would you want to clarify or let someone unfamiliar with the problem know, in terms of how they associate terrorism with your region?

“Our goal is that these dialogues will provide students with a safe space to discuss personal experiences and interpretations of terrorism. The students’ discussions will also help reveal how different histories, personal experiences, and identities impact the way we understand terrorism” says Izsak.

“Understanding Terrorism and the Terrorist Threat” is still open for enrollment and will remain open until the conclusion of the course on March 8, 2015. Students wishing to earn a Verified Certificate, however, should sign up by February 2, 2015. Sign up here.