University of New Mexico Vice President for Student Affairs Eliseo “Cheo” Torres is internationally acclaimed for his traditional medicine – curanderismo – course, that he teaches every summer. Not content to reach only those who can travel to Albuquerque, he is teaching both an online course and a MOOC (Massive Open Online Class): Curanderismo: Traditional Medicine, this semester. Only Cheo can do all that and run one of the busiest divisions on campus.

The summer course has appealed to people from Mexico, Central and South America, as well as to people from across the United States, Australia and Africa. Students get hands-on experience and lectures and presentations from renowned healers.

How Cheo can turn the program into a virtual course is only possible because he planned ahead. For the past few years, he commissioned video interviews with some of the healers. “The videos are now included in modules for both the MOOC and the online course,” he said. Students also view a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation, have readings and handouts. Each section features a short exam.

Students prepare for the day with stretching and breathing exercises.

With more than 30,000 students from 70 different countries in the MOOC, he surpasses his own expectations about how popular the course would be. “I’m excited about the number of students worldwide who are taking my class. Many are in discussion groups with students from other countries about different class topics. Discussion groups are even forming, according to country and language,” he said.

He added, “This course is different, unique. No one else is doing it.” He’s also received interest from other universities including universities in Texas, Colorado, Minnesota and California.  

Coursera, the platform through which the MOOCs are offered, reports a high dropout rate. “Although most students don’t complete MOOCs, I think they will with this one. The videos are professionally done. I think the students will be interested and engaged,” he said.

He’s heard some concerns that the MOOC and online course will deter people from traveling to UNM to take the summer course. “I think they will get a taste of it electronically and be motivated to come and learn hands on,” he said.

“Many of the MOOC students have expressed interest in coming to UNM for my annual two-week curanderismo course to see the live demonstrations and traditions as well as to meet many of the traditional healers they have seen on the MOOC videos,” he said.

Curanderas in meditation.

As with many of Cheo’s endeavors, it’s all about relationships. Cheo – author of Curandero: A Life in Mexican Folk Healing, and Healing with Herbs and Rituals – has worked for many years with a Mexican curandero: Arturo Ornelas. Ornelas, director of Centro de Desarrollo Humano hacia la Comunidad, has taught naturalpathic medicine for three decades. “Arturo is one of the instructors who was videotaped,” he said, adding that the students have the benefit of learning from several different healers representing a variety of traditions.

The notion that traditional medicine is fringe or unaccepted by Western medicine is false. "Molina Healthcare offers and covers traditional medical care,” he said. He’s working with family practice Dr. Janet Reeves on a planning grant to find out the need for community medicine and develop a model.

Cheo sees the course as another way to attract people to UNM. “The university gets exposure. Students will be drawn here because of the unique nature of Albuquerque and New Mexico, which are showcased in the videos. Individuals who do come here contribute to the economic vitality of the state,” he said.

Cheo has a main objective: To promote UNM through Coursera.