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All posts by Steven White

I'm a PhD student (Web Science) at the University of Southampton, focusing on e-learning. I'm currently researching the role of mentors in MOOCs, and the extent to which learning theory and learning design are consistent with elements of community and trust in MOOCs.

The impact of eMOOCs 2016

I recently attended the eMOOCs European Stakeholders Summit in the beautiful Austrian city of Graz. The conference attracted participants from a wide range of European universities, MOOC platform providers, and other educational organisations, and participants from further afield including Chile, the USA, and Malaysia.
I presented my ideas on researching the influence of MOOCs on educators and other stakeholders in higher education in one of the first sessions of the conference. After that, I was able to enjoy interesting talks, workshops and panel sessions on a huge range of MOOC-related subjects – you can already find the conference proceedings online here. In fact, the proceedings were conveniently published before the conference itself.
A number of talks addressed issues of the impact of MOOCs on higher education – including work on MOOCs at the Technical University of Munich, and evaluation of teaching and learning in MOOCs by the experienced learning design team from the University of Delft in the Netherlands. Another interesting and valuable presentation addressed the tricky issue of ensuring quality of testing in MOOCs – this focused on ways to improve the use of multiple choice tests in MOOCs and provided some useful checklists for doing so.
The conference closed with an entertaining and interesting plea for collaboration and cooperation in MOOC accreditation from Pierre Dillenbourg of the University of Lausanne. The event provided great opportunities to develop such cooperative and collaborative initiatives – and we look forward to future improvement to all our endeavours in MOOCs.

Digital tools and ethics in MOOC research

Futurelearn Academic Network Meeting on Livestream 2015-12-10 14-40-49
Adriana Wilde – “What is success anyway?/University of Southampton ©2015

Members of the MOOC observatory recently presented at the FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) meeting at the University of Southampton. The meeting was well attended by a number of FutureLearn partners, coming from the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Groningen, Keio, Lancaster, Leicester, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton, Warwick; and the British Council, the British Library, and the Open University.

The presentations covered a range of themes around SMART tools and approaches to researching MOOCs:

 *   Ayse Saliha Sunar presented Visualisation of Social Networks by using Gnuplot in the ‘PechaKucha‘ session. She shared her experience the tool to visualise learners’ interactions and the strength of their interactions in a 3D scatter-plot graph. She particularly focused on limitations of scatter-plots in identifying learners’ interactions in massive scale.  

 *   Adriana Wilde talked about “What is success anyway? : defining success in the context of FutureLearn MOOCs”. In her PechaKucha, she showed the tensions between satisfaction and completion in terms of MOOCs course design.  The measures of success as currently understood by the community are challenged.  Completion in MOOCs (in contrast to face-to-face instruction), is no longer a reliable measure in this context as much of it depends on the goals the learner had when joining.  An alternative measure is needed.

 *   Manuel León-Urrutia presented a Learning Analytics project called The UoS MOOC Dashboard (see slides here). The project consists of a MOOC data visualisation tool for institutional stakeholders such as learning designers, educators, and it is expected to be implemented within the framework of the Southampton University Web Observatory, as the project has received funding from the Web Science Institute.

 *   Tim O’Riordan outlined his use of digital tools to reveal and analyse patterns in MOOC discussion forum comments(slides, paper). These included MS Excel (spreadsheet and VBA), NVivo (qualitative data analysis), LIWC (text analysis), Socrative (audience response), SPSS (predictive analysis), Tableau (data visualisation) and Weka (machine learning). 

 *   Steve White discussed the use of Socio-Technical Interaction Networks to understand the socio-technical construction of MOOCs in HE. This approach seeks to balance concerns with social and technical factors in understanding the use of information systems in organisations, and avoid simplistic assumptions about the impact or effects of technologies.

* In addition to the above speakers from the MOOC Observatory, Leah Marks, from the University of Glasgow presented on “Plagiarism detection in MOOC peer review”, where she shared experiences on the FutureLearn MOOC “Cancer in the 21st Century: The Genomic Revolution”.

We also enjoyed discussions of ethics in MOOC research from Professor Mike Sharples and Dr Rebecca Ferguson from the O.U. (slides), and Dr Jocelyn Wisehart from the University of Bristol.

The day was rounded off with a panel discussion on the difference between practice and research in MOOCs with Dr Su White of Southampton’s Web and Internet Science Group (Director of the MOOC Observatory) and Dr Christian Bokhove of the University of Southampton Education School.

The livestream recording of the event can be watched here.

Adventures in MOOC mentoring – JTEL 2015 summer school



On Tuesday 7th July, Manuel and I gave a workshop presentation on mentor roles and coordination of mentors in MOOCs. The workshop was part of the Joint European Summer School on Technology Enhance Learning (JTEL) on the beautiful island of Ischia, Italy.

The workshop provided some background on the theories of online learning and mentoring (such as Salmon’s 5 step model of online learning) that we consider relevant for the FutureLearn MOOC platform.

Salmon’s (2000) 5 step model:


We drew on ideas from our paper Mentors as connectors at eMOOCs 2015 and our experiences as University of Southampton mentors and coordinators. Participants then split into groups to plan a mentoring strategy for a MOOC of their choice.

The participants were encouraged to consider a range of decisions for planning a mentoring strategy:

  • Selection of mentor types – content experts, teachers, technical experts
  • Mentor roles – managerial, social, pedagogical, technical
  • Training – familiarising mentors with MOOC content
  • Reporting processes – managing mentors and monitoring course activity

We had good feedback on the session, and really enjoyed the workshop, the summer school, and the great Italian summer weather!

Poster for FutureLearn Academic Network meeting

Here’s a poster representing my evolving research plan: MOOCs learning design and trust

I’ll be presenting this at an upcoming FutureLearn Academic Network meeting at the Open University in Milton Keynes on June 15th.

At least five of us from the MOOC observatory will be there to meet and exchange ideas with other academics, PhD students and FutureLearn staff. Looking forward to it!

Ayse’s presentation is available on Slideshare: