Category Archives: MOOCs

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The Howe brothers

How to choose your next MOOC

As MOOCs began to proliferate it was clear that services would emerge which would make it easier to find those of interest to potential learners. MOOC providers are now making data about their courses available through RSS feeds and APIs so it’s possible to harvest those and develop tools to allow people to find and review courses more easily.

But what if you want to build in MOOC study as part of your professional development? You might need your manager to allow you to take time off or your company to pay for the certification.

Last week I met with two brothers from South Africa, now based in London, who are developing a system to enable just that: Michael and Greg Howe from GroupMOOC. I was acting as a mentor for the Open Education Challenge – a European incubation programme offering mentoring, coaching and investment to some of the most innovative education start-ups worldwide.

The Howe brothersI’ve found that some of the most inspiring developments in educational technology come from small, young companies. The Start-up Alley at Educause for example is for me the most fascinating aspect of that conference. Back in London at the Open Education Challenge I was fortunate to meet with a range of enthusiastic entrepreneurs who’d given up secure jobs to pursue their business ideas.

10CourseEvent_1

GroupMOOC enables you to search for MOOCs you’re interested in, read reviews and plan your workload, exporting key events and deadlines to your calendar – particularly useful if you’re studying more than one at once. You can also create groups of friends and colleagues to share your experiences with. The product helps HR directors to develop an overview of what MOOCs their staff are doing and builds in workflow enabling managers to authorise time off (the default setting is “100% in your own time!”) or agree to pay for the final certificate.

11TapChartEvent_1GroupMOOC is well-designed and useful. Whatever MOOCs evolve into in the future, there will certainly remain a massive and growing market for “massive” and not-so-massive online education – and a need for tools which help organise the complexity of thousands of courses from multiple providers. Greg and Michael’s next challenge is to convince a panel of investors to provide funding to further expand the product’s functionality. They’ve made a great start.


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Dave Middleton

Can mass sychronous events work with MOOCs?

Dave MiddletonMOOCs tend to involve consuming online content, taking automated assessments and peer networking. While students may feel some connection to the academics who create the courses by watching recorded videos of them, the opportunities for synchronous connection with subject experts are limited.

Dave Middleton is a tutor manager with the Open University and has been training tutors to use Elluminate effectively for several years. When online tutorials were offered to students in Wales on Exploring Psychology, one of our most popular modules with around 4,000 participants each year, students elsewhere began to complain that providing the events only to the Welsh was unfair.

So Dave spotted an opportunity to try something new. He opened up an Elluminate room to the entire module population, advertised a two-hour event, sat back and hoped that 3,850 registered students wouldn’t all turn up at once. In the event 200 did. The received wisdom is that online tutorials become unworkable when numbers exceed 20 but clearly the way this was being handled didn’t result in the expected chaos. Dave was able to enable group work and problem-based learning rather than simply lecturing at the students. 75% of them responded that the session had met or exceeded their expectations.

Comments included:

“The tutorial exceeded my expectations! It was well organised, easy to understand and packed with useful information”

“This was truly amazing and inspirational. The concept is fantastic.”

“Very enjoyable – I initially thought 2 hours would seem a long time for an online tutorial but the time just flew by. Great to be taking part from the comfort of your own sofa! ”

“I think these tutorials should be available for all modules as many, like myself, cannot attend face to face ones for the same reason we cannot attend brick uni’s and have chosen to study with the OU. I would like to say well done to the tutors, the organisation and structure was a great improvement. I only wish there were more of them.”

Faculty policy on online tutorial provision was changed after Dave’s experiment. For the first time there was evidence not only that the tutorials could offer an excellent learning experience to large numbers of students but would also be highly popular with those who didn’t otherwise have the chance to attend face to face sessions.

The lesson for MOOCs is that mass synchronous online sessions with subject expects can be motivational and effective. The tools available in Elluminate (now Blackboard Collaborate) and similar systems enable effective interactive teaching with hundreds of students simultaneously. Such sessions have to be properly planned of course both logistically and technically to avoid a “MOOC mess” such as the one which happened on Georgia Institute of Technology’s module with Coursera which resulted in the course being withdrawn.

Is Dave’s experience of dealing with a couple of hundred students at once the limit?  I suspect someone somewhere some time soon is going to push the technology and the logistics to accommodate many thousands of students in an engaging synchronous session.


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whiteblock

Two paradoxes at the heart of MOOCs

Category : MOOCs

My thinking on MOOCs has been consolidated after doing a fair bit of reading, chatting and thinking recently.  Much has been written on the disruptive potential of MOOCs and also about the problems associated with them such as lack of quality, plagiarism and lack of tutor support.   I have no desire to add to the noise and hype but want to set down two paradoxes that it seems to me are at the heart of the MOOC movement.

Paradox 1:  Most MOOCs are offered by elite institutions which don’t need to expand their student base

So why are they developing MOOCs?  Are they basically caught up in the hype and working on the proven Amazon business principle of build fast and worry about money later? Maybe, but here are some other reasons why they may be launching into MOOCs:

  1. Some providers have argued that MOOCs are aimed at helping them accumulate data on how students learn online which will then allow them to enhance their teaching for regular students.
  2. MOOCs, like open educational resources, provide a genuine opportunity to spread an institution’s educational mission outside the campus.  Call me old-fashioned but I believe that people in education are still frequently driven by altruistic motivations such as knowledge creation and a desire to spread the love of learning – as well as economics.
  3. It may help boost the profile of an individual professor and develop his or her international reputation.  When it comes to promotion will saying you’ve successfully taught thousands of students via a MOOC boost your career prospects?
  4. It may provide additional revenue though for the foreseeable future this is likely to be minimal for the institution and is dependent on developing as yet undiscovered viable business models.

Putting aside issues such as quality assurance, plagiarism and lack of tutor support, let’s suppose that MOOCs develop coherent curricula, peer support mechanisms and robust assessment processes which lead to qualifications at very low cost from credible institutions – and employers begin to take them seriously.  That leads us to the next paradox.

Paradox 2: Highly successful MOOCs attack the core business of those who are offering them

Elite institutions offering MOOCs will therefore never allow them to become as credible as their regular fee-incurring provision.  If an equivalent experience can be had for free no-one will pay fees.  MOOCs therefore will by definition remain an inferior educational experience and have to be offered under a sub-brand or a completely different brand – presumably one reason why institutions are rushing to sign up to Udacity and Coursera so they can jump on the MOOC bandwagon without diluting their own brands.  But successful partnerships where institutions club together to offer modules which build up to full qualifications are fraught with difficulties and have led to some spectacular debacles such as the UK’s £62m e-university.

High quality assessed and accredited MOOCs from Ivy League institutions will not be allowed to disrupt their own core business but may ultimately provide viable alternatives to expensive qualifications from less prestigious institutions.  This is where MOOCs could begin to disrupt the higher education market.  Learners are becoming ever more discerning and there is further evidence that the higher education bubble in the US has burst particularly in the for-profit sector with recent announcements such as the University of Phoenix closing half of its campuses.  MOOC-based qualifications will have to be very good and much cheaper to gain ground in an increasingly competitive market.