A peak underneath the Swan like MOOC #moocscoted

Picture of a swan

(image: http://www.desktop-nature-wallpaper.com/birds/swan.html)

About a year ago I wrote a post called Preparing for the Second Wave after attending and presenting at an internal staff development event at Newcastle University.  At that time Newcastle hadn’t committed to MOOCs and was grappling with issues of being part of the second wave of MOOC activity. After the event I commented:

“I suspect that for a number of the UK institutions in the first wave of MOOC activity, the reputational benefits are the key driver. Many of them can afford to underwrite the costs of developing and running the courses in the short term without having to think too much about the longer term benefits/costs . . .Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing for those institutions not involved with MOOCS just now, to take a step back to consider the most beneficial aspect of MOOCs for their aims and objectives before trying to become part of the second wave.”

A year later and Newcastle is firmly part of that second wave along with a number of other UK institutions as part of FutureLearn. Now I now all the ed tech hipsters are “so-o over MOOCs” but the questions around the long term costs and benefits MOOCs have still to be answered. For an institution like mine who hasn’t been part of the first, second or third wave of MOOC activity, we are still very interested to see what we can learn from others to help us develop our own strategies which may or may not involve an element of MOOC-yness.

Yesterday the Jisc RSC Scotland and the University of Strathclyde hosted an event on MOOCs in Scottish Education. Teams from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde shared their experiences to-date with FutureLearn. And the team who just keep giving from the University of Edinburgh shared their experiences from their ever increasing experience and research of MOOCs on a variety of platforms including FutureLearn.

If you want anyone to convince you of the positive benefits of MOOCs, then look no further than Professor Niamh NicDaeid, University of Strathclyde. Hearing her speak about the the murder mystery themed introduction to forensic science course almost made even my MOOC weary self consider signing up if they run it again.  What a joy to hear someone continually emphasise the importance of fun in learning.

Niamh also talked about the experience of actually running the MOOC and the amount of work behind the scenes to keep its swan like appearance for the learners.  As anyone who has done any kind of online delivery will know once something is live and running there is a huge amount of world that needs to be done behind the scenes. With discussion boards getting around over 6000 posts a week the effect is multiplied beyond most peoples experience.

Staff time for both development of courses and running MOOCs is crucial.  We heard yesterday that Glasgow is committing £2.5 million to developing online learning, we know Edinburgh has a pot double that size, and although Strathclyde didn’t quote any figures it has obviously made a substantial commitment. Again for institutions like mine who maybe haven’t got such deep pockets, there are some fundamental investment questions that need to be addressed about where, what and how to invest and future developments. We aren’t in the MOOC club, unlike Glasgow we weren’t invited to the FutureLearn party, unlike Strathclyde we weren’t gallus enough to “chap on the door” and ask to be let in. And now do we even want to be in the club?  Maybe we are better off doing something in a different way.

FutureLearn (like many MOOCs, and courses) is pretty content driven, and there was lots in the presentations from both the Glasgow and Strathclyde teams about the development process. My colleague Linda Creanor and I did notice get a bit of a “them and us” division creeping in between academic staff and the learning technologists who seemed to be just doing the ‘techie’ stuff. I hope that this is just an impression and not the truth. Certainly the strengths of the skills of all members of teams was emphasised but there was just a bit of a niggle of LTs being put to the bottom of the pile.   I raise this issue in the hope that I will be shot down with evidence to the contrary.

In terms of institutional drivers and evaluation it still seems to be reputation,  staff development and wider engagement with online learning for campus based activities that are key.

Presentations from the day will be made available via the RSC website, and I just want to thank everyone involved for providing a very informative session.

2 thoughts on “A peak underneath the Swan like MOOC #moocscoted”

  1. Interesting post!

    I, too, think we are in a very interesting phase of MOOC developments: the hype is fading, and we’re starting to see what will remain as the tide goes out and we start climbing up to Gartner’s plateau of productivity (or not).

    (Sorry for the egregiously mixed metaphors there.)

    I love the idea of ed-tech hipsters, by the way. But I’m not sure I’d care to say who I think is one.

    I suspect I’m not one, or at least, not a proper hipster. Yeah, I was on the web before it was popular (!) but to be honest it really was rubbish then and is a lot better now it’s mainstream. Mobile phones are another example of a technology that got better when it stopped being exclusive – when I first had one my most-frequent contacts were other very-geeky people and you had to type an S by pressing 7 four times, but now I just use a virtual keyboard and my main contacts are my partner, my close friends, and my mother.

    1. Thanks Doug – I have a few people in mind re the hipsters and have been know to be one at times too. In relation to MOOCs for me it’s now about developing our approaches to open online learning –

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