MOOCs – why bother?

INTO has just entered into an agreement with the University of East Anglia to produce jointly a massive open online course (MOOC) aimed at helping international students succeed in their transition to UK universities. So why is INTO, or indeed any institution, bothering to invest in creating a course that’s given away free?

The INTO UEA MOOC being developed by Debbie Price and Mathew Perry of the INTO UEA joint venture will run three times from spring 2014 to September 2014.

So far, more than 4 million students [i] globally have opted to study on MOOCs.These courses are, by definition, free and are open to anyone, anywhere in the world. The courses are flexible (requiring 3 to5 hours of study a week), short (they last from five to 10 weeks) and are generally based around videos or animations. In addition, they have no synchronous tutor interaction and depend on automated correspondence and peer to peer interaction to sustain student motivation and interest.

In the UK, Edinburgh University ran its first six MOOC courses on the US Coursera platform and has now signed up to the UK’s Futurelearn to deliver six more. Professor Jeff Haywood, Edinburgh’s vice-principal said: “It’s an investment in pedagogic research. How am I going to teach introductory philosophy to 100,000 people? That’s what I call educational R&D. If you look ahead 10 years, you would expect all students graduating to have taken some online courses, so you’ve got to research that.”

309,000 students signed up to the Edinburgh MOOC courses and 34,850 statements of accomplishment were issued to students who completed courses – and Edinburgh claims that 98% of respondents to an exit survey, “felt they got out of the course(s) what they wanted.”

From a global perspective, the opportunity for students to have access to world class professors and learning is seen by many as potentially transformational. In October 2013 the World Bank Group and Coursera announced a new collaboration whereby MOOC courses will be offered as part of a new Open Learning Campus being built by the World Bank, “where practitioners, development partners and the general public can more systematically access real-time, relevant and world-class learning.”

All of which adds up to an unrivalled opportunity to participate in a global experiment that is transforming access to higher education. Through taking part in this, INTO will be able to make our name known to thousands more students, and provide help and learning on a scale that dwarfs what we are currently able to achieve in our classrooms. We will be able to get access to Big Data and learning analytics to help inform the way we design our courses and influence how we deliver our programmes.

As Dr Jeff Borden, VP of Instruction and Academic Strategy and Lead of the Center for Online Learning at Pearson said: “At the end of the day, these MOOCs may just be another way that any student can learn at any time. The neo-millennial student portfolio may include a course on campus, a traditional eCourse, and a massive eCourse, too. And they may be taking 2 for credit and 1 broken up into badges so as to… oh wait – that’s another blog.” 

I agree, that’s another blog.

[i] The Economist May 2013

Nick Tellwright

Author: Nick Tellwright

Director of Online Development at INTO University Partnerships

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