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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 Š2015

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.

Recently Participated in ICKM 2015

One of MOOC Observatory members , Ayse Saliha Sunar, participated in the 11th International Conference on Knowledge Management in Osaka. It was a valuable opportunity to see different perspectives of many researchers participated from different countries coming from Austria, Australia, China, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Turkey, UK and US.

She presented her recent analysis on learners’ recurrent interactions in a FutureLearn MOOC’s online discussions. It is shown by many researchers that MOOCs have usually funnel-pattern participation, which means the number of participant in the course as well as in online discussions are decreasing. Ayse shows that this is even lower in the number of recurrent interactions. However, she said that that recurrent interactions have a pattern. A peer usually interacts several times in the same week or consequitive weeks. She concluded that this result could help us predicting learners participation and intervene their activities on MOOCs. She received numbers of beneficial feedbacks on her research from the participants.


Her presentation is available on Slideshare.

MOBs at womENcourage 2015

ACM womENcourage is a scientific event which provides opportunites for networking with women in computer science and related disciplines.

Our 2 PhD students from MOBs and 2 undergraduates are going to join and present their posters at the event. All students have been awarded ACM-W scholarship and the University of Southampton ECS Athena Swan also supports us covering transportation and accommodation expenses.


Our participation in womENcourage 15 appeared in ECS’s website. Here is the link to the news:


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!

MOBs at CSEDU 2015, Lisbon, Portugal

Following on from the popular MOOC related keynote given by Hugh Davis at CSEDU 2014 in Barcelona, two papers from the group were presented at CSEDU 2015 in Lisbon.

Ayse Saliha Sunar was nominated for Best Student paper for her work entitled “Personalisation of MOOCs – The State of the Art“.

Manuel Leon Urrutia presented a paper analysing stakeholder perspectives in “MOOCs inside Universities – An Analysis of MOOC Discourse as Represented in HE Magazines”.

Ayse: Slides on slideshare

Manuel: Slides in slideshare

MOOC Data Visualisation Hackthon

Daily comment count.
Tableaux: Daily comment count.

Exploring and presenting our research data in a readily understandable visual form is an important aspect of communicating our work. Last week at our inaugural MOOC Data Visualisation Hackthon, members of the Web Observatory team and the Web and Internet Science research group at the University of Southampton get together to share and develop d3 skills, explore new datasets, and make meaningful visualisations.

Dendro visualistion of responses to comments.
d3: Dendro visualistion of responses to comments.

Datasets containing comment data from the University of Southampton’s Archaeology of Portus FutureLearn MOOC were made available on the day. Highlights of the event included Max Van Kleek‘s interactive Dendro visualisations, Paul Booth‘s Tableaux timeline, and Chris Gutteridge – Wikipedia‘s visualisation of domain-specific word occurrence. Many of the participants were new to d3 and spent much of the afternoon following Max’s useful guidelines and exploring the resulting visualisations.

We look forward to showcasing these and other outputs a Web Science Institute event at London’s Digital Catapult showcase next week.

Hackathon – visualising our MOOCs

In conjunction with SOCIAM we are hosting a local hackathon on Wednesday 27th May in Southampton. The meeting will take place from 12.00 in the WAIS building 32 Coffee Room.

The Hackathon is being co-ordinated by Tim O’Riordan.

Objectives include:

  • exploring the future learn datasets
  • visualisation sandpit
  • show and tell
  • skills exchange
  • makers meet researchers

The #SotonTel Technology Enhanced Conference at the University of Southampton

The #SotonTel Technology Enhanced Conference at the University of Southampton


The University of Southampton has an enhancement theme each year. This year the theme is Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), and this conference is one of the activities around this theme. The conference has been intense, with many high profile speakers and a wide range of TEL discussions have taken place. Fiona Harvey, @fionajharvey , one of the lead organisers, has also been the MC at the conference. In a theatrical setup with blue curtains behind her -how cool would have been to open them showing presenters on the stage after being introduced- she welcomed the audience. In her welcoming talk, she introduced Whova, an app designed for networking in events such as this conference. This app needs a bit of refining: I ended up sending friendly messages to all attendees in which apparently I was telling them that “we need to catch up”. The thing is I didn’t mean to do so!

Professor Alex Neill, @alexdneill finished the opening talk by explaining the width and importance of the TEL theme at the university. TEL encompasses MOOCs, VLEs, video recording of lectures, online learning programmes, and many other technologies and uses of technology. TEL can lead to an engaged community that makes learning more meaningful, and sharing ideas about TEL within the community is of paramount importance. This is the leitmotiv Alex was putting forward.


Julie Wintrup: To Blog or not to Blog


Julie Wintrup @juliewintrup started the presentations round by discussing the use of social media. More precisely, about the implications of publishing content through 2.0 technologies. It is now very easy to write for a wide audience, and this can be dangerous, as writing in social media is taken too lightly very often. Julie provides examples from the healthcare environment, her area of expertise. One is that girl who got in trouble for misusing facebook. This girl posted images from the hospital where she was being treated, and breached a series of policies and laws that brought dire consequences for her.

Julie continues discussing the use of social media by medical doctors. The use of social media breaks traditional boundaries between patients and doctors, doctors and colleagues, and other relationships. This is why she recommends doctors to explore social media, through a decalog of ten reasons why doctors should explore social media.

Julie also encourages doctors and medical students to read blogs, and to blog. For example, Alison blogs blogs about her experience in health care. One of the outcomes is the crowdsourcing that blogging can lead to for health recovery.

Social media can changes things. Gary and Lance have been working together, learning about each other´s world through Facebook.

Another example is Kate Granger. A doctor who suffered from cancer, she did not appreciate the impersonal and distant treatment from doctors. He then started  “Hi, my name is Kate”, in which she was encouraging identification for a more human treat to patients.

Russell Bentley: Technologies for Democracy. Our Ethical Challenge.


Through a metaphor from ancient Egipt, (how Thanos enhanced the human experience through the invention of writing), Russell explains how technology can transform humanity but can hinder human capabilities.

Writing can assist the powers of imagination, but can distort reality. Socrates didn´t write. Plato did. All we know about Socrates is through Plato, because he wrote. We can imagine the power Plato had at that moment, as he could have written what he wanted about Socrate´s teachings. These teachings have made modern civilisation as it is now.

If education is transformative, what transformation can we expect from TEL? Many technologies lend themselves to moral panics, such as the pocket calculator when it was introduced in schools. It scared many mathematical teachers who were afraid that pupils would lose the capacity to make arithmetic operations.

It has been said that all innovation is futile, because nothing really changes. Russell encourages to turn skepticism upside down, although emphasising the ethical point. That is, education is profoundly political. If we educate, we unavoidingly commit a political act. The transformation we want from learners is that that can make a difference towards educating a generation that can contribute to the improvement of the whole society.

Russell differentiates education with the development of personality. Our challenge is to harness cutting edge technology towards empowering students to contribute to the society we want to have.

Eleanor Quince: Harnessing Technology for Employability. Digital Literacy Skills in Student-led Career Activity


Elena runs the employability section of the faculty of Humanities. She often gets enquiries from students on ‘what to do’. She helps students to know what they want to do with their careers as early as possible. She created an employability module to this end. For this, she decided to get ideas from the students. Four interns  helped her develop the module. They created the ‘Mission: employable’ brand.

The way they harness technology to develop the module and their functionalities is the use of for knowing what other universities are doing. They also use Trello to visualise projects, and Eventbrite to organise events. Storify, ISurvey, Kahoot and other technologies were also part of the building process of the module content. All these technologies were used with the primary aim of engaging students to think about career paths. Eleanor believes that awareness and good use of these technologies can enhance students’ employability from early stages.

As part of the support network, they created a peer mentoring scheme. This scheme was displayed in a site embedded in the University webpage. This mentoring scheme was set up to work on distance, with technologies such as ISurvey and Facebook (there is a mentoring Facebook group for this purpose).

Eleanor believes that digital literacy and skills are of paramount importance to the employability of humanities students, and the employability programme she developed has got a clear technological focus.


Scott Border: A vision for teaching anatomy in the 21st century – reasons to be cheerful part 3


Anatomy studies have evolved. Initially, with Hypocrates, dissection was forbidden. In the renaissance, a lecturer would disect a body for passive students. Now, most universities want students to be actively involved in the study of anatomy. Medical education moved towards medical imaging. Now, many students are taught anatomy without the use of human tissue, using clinical imaging instead. There were concerns that students would never learn things about the human body without actually dissecting a human body. The cost of getting rid of anatomy laboratories with human tissues was reputational, rather than practical. In practical terms, TEL can really do job.

In Southampton, students learn anatomy through bespoke packages. They don´t have paper-based textbooks anymore. They have an electronic booklet instead. Stats show that the booklet is being used and students are engaging with it. What did not work so well is the use of the interactive elements of the booklet. Students’ favourite components were passive elements of the booklet.

Another success has been that the departments has managed to get students involved in the development and design of the learning packages. Through this collaboration, the department has developed the Virtual Anatomy Laboratory, a personalised tool that gathers each student´s learning materials in the same space, so that an individual storyline can be created out of the curations fo each of the studnets.

Debate: can BlackBoard revolutionise (higher) education?


Adam Warren: Yes, it can. It makes learning management easier. It only needs appropriate guidance. Actually, BB has already revolusionised education. The thing that only a tiny part of it has been exploited.


Hugh Davis: Blackboard cannot revolutionise education because it is not authentic and it has too many limitations. Many of the things you can do with BB, you can do them with any other piece of software with even more ease.


Christian Bokhove. Yes, it can. Blackboard has been underestimated, and many of the facilities that are already in Blackboard are unknown to the majority. The tools in blackboard can communicate together, whereas the isolated tools that you would use otherwise, don´t.


Rebecca @rkulidzan : BB looks obsolete. We (students) don´t use it for interaction. We use other cloud computing based technologies. Simply put, students don´t like it.


After the debate and final remarks


The debate finished at around 3PM and I had to leave, so I cannot report on what was going on after the debate. There is another blog post by Rachel Jones ‏@rlj1981 where this is explained very well.

This conference is the reflection that technology and innovation are unavoidable matters in universities. Experience on use of these technologies in all aspects of the teaching and learning experience has to be shared, challenged and discussed in order to be improved. Practitioners and researchers from all departments need to engage in events such as #sotonTEL. Educational change may not be exclusively driven by technology, but it would be unrealistic to ignore its role.