Education online en-masse: Lessons for teaching and learning through MOOCs by Clare Wright, Clare Furneaux and Liz Wilding

On 24 April, 2015: 40 academic educators from 19 institutions came together to discuss key issues in MOOC design and implementation. The one-day workshop, hosted and funded by the University of Reading, a leading member of the FutureLearn MOOC consortium, offered the opportunity to evaluate practical lessons in designing and delivering MOOCs, particularly in relation to academic skills development. The focus was on problem-based discussion of approaches to teaching and learning and of the extent to which MOOC learning outcomes can be defined, measured, or achieved.

Education online en-masse

There were four presentations, each of which explored a particular issue related to the central theme, followed by group discussion around questions suggested by the presenters.

 

 

  1. Dimensions of MOOCs: Shirley Williams (University of Reading) gave us an overview of some MOOC statistics and taxonomies, and highlighted some MOOC issues viewed from the ‘outside’ and from the provider’s view. As follow-up, she asked us to extend her list of MOOC dimensions, discuss how we should be measuring success, and consider whether and how we should compare courses.
  2. Pedagogy as a service: lessons and challenges from the perspective of the platform: David Major from FutureLearn led us through some key lessons – and challenges – and asked us to discuss two major questions: Are MOOCs platforms for content and courses, or platforms for learning and pedagogy? How can we coalesce individualism from the view of courses, platform, educators and learning?
  3. Repurposing MOOCs for language learning purposes: Liam Murray (University of Limerick) shared the results and recommendations of a team who evaluated a number of MOOCs to determine their potential to be repurposed for second language acquisition. Liam suggested that we consider two aspects of MOOCs in our groups: specialisation and adaptability.
  4. Designing assessed group work for MOOCs: Marion Waite, Elizabeth Lovegrove and Abigail Ball (Oxford Brookes University) shared their experience with group work on the TOOC15 MOOC. They proposed we discuss why we assess in a MOOC and how we should do it. They also had us consider the issues and practical challenges associated with grouping students and peer review.

It’s hard to summarise the lively and far-ranging discussions that took place, but the round-table at the end of the day (shown in the picture above) helped establish some key lessons learned, some useful tips, and challenges to explore further.

Some lessons learned:

  • There is a longish history of en-masse online learning behind MOOCS (starting with Usenet groups), so it’s important to avoid re-inventing the wheel.
  • Initial MOOC-hype is dying down, but interest is still growing, as seen in takeup of repeat MOOCs.
  • MOOC measurement is best avoided, especially if superficial, e.g. if they are only about numbers signing up
  • MOOCs are a good way of marketing – a shop window – so need institutional support.
  • The learners you get may not the ones you expected, so keep assessing your learning goals.

Best practice tips from the day:

  • Keep your eyes open , e.g. educators can benefit from enrolling on other MOOCs as learners.
  • Keep talking to each other. It’s important to have Communities of Practice.
  • MOOCS should draw on best practice in T&L. Let pedagogy lead!

MOOCs – where next?

  • ‘The walls of the institution are coming down to the level of the learners’ – there will be an opening up of practice in range and aims of MOOCs.
  • Types of MOOC will include:
    • Tasters for University courses
    • Retirees taking MOOCS for interest/enjoyment
    • MOOCs embedded in f2f courses (eg basic Maths)
  • A lot could be presented as REF case studies, so reliable research context is vital.
  • MOOCS will get more specific/specialised as the market place gets more crowded…
  • but there will still be value in ‘Introductions to….’ MOOCs.
  • There will be more mixed x- and c-MOOCs.
  • There will be more training/professional MOOCs, but many people will still do academic MOOCs for enjoyment.
  • MOOCS will get better at delivering pedagogic aims.
  • There will be a wider range of stakeholders (e.g. employers).
  • Do MOOCs need to be assessed? If so, assessment must be paid for.
  • How can participants demonstrate what they have learned in non-traditional forms of assessment?

Overall, the workshop allowed presenters and delegates to share questions and lessons learned, and to consider how to take forward best practice in online en-masse learning. We very much hope to keep the dialogue going in the future.

Feedback from delegates:

‘Inspiring!’  ‘Constructive.’

‘Definitely worth travelling 600 miles for.

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