MOOCs – where next?

In a recent post we discussed the background to our MOOC work which has evolved from the Digital Economy Research Group’s emphasis on bringing inter-disciplinary research into education. This has been specifically progressed through curriculum innovation modules and a number of collaborative projects working with students as partners.

As the first running of the Portus MOOC comes to an end and the Digital Marketing MOOC starts production, it may be timely to pause and reflect on where all this creativity is heading. What are the implications for education, research and for the effective combination of the two going forwards? The clip below of Professor Simon Keay which was filmed at Portus the other day highlights his views on these issues:

So in terms of research we are seeing the forging of innovative collaborative partnerships with MOOC learners and/or the organisations they are associated with. For example, during the running of the MOOC a BBC documentary about Portus also ran, providing an insight into the much greater possibilities of second screening for MOOCs in the future. And rich data is being supplied by learners in answer to specific questions posed within the MOOCs. For example, the Portus MOOC included learners with modern day expertise in shipping or port infrastructure.

Data is collected automatically by the MOOC platform about learner engagement with the materials and with each other. This information is provided down to the level of individual exercises – allowing very specific course review and future development. In the next post we will share some statistics from the Portus MOOC which illustrate the value of this. We also plan to write up specific and evidence-based individual case studies of impact from experiences shared publicly on the MOOC platform or associated social media, and crucially the need for continuing transparency over the data gathered on MOOC platforms.

And what about the evolution of MOOCs themselves? We are starting to see much more integration of MOOCs with traditional classes, both retrospectively and in real time. The Web Science MOOC will run alongside a traditional module at the University in October 2014, with learners on both courses encouraged to interact and work collaboratively. Similar plans are in place for the Portus and Digital Marketing MOOCs with relevant classroom-based courses – in the case of Portus as a companion to interests in greater joining-up of face-to-face archaeology learners across years.

Plans are also afoot to make use of MOOCs provided by other institutions as part of a package of course materials that would also include locally produced, customised content. For example, a Research Methods course for campus-based students might include standard content such as introductory statistics sourced from existing MOOCs, supplemented with specific contributions from Faculty that relate to their own research projects.

There will be more strategic timing of related MOOCs to boost cross referrals – for example the Hadrian’s Wall MOOC offered by Newcastle University has obvious interest to learners from the Portus MOOC, and learners on Digital Marketing may also wish to take the Web Science MOOC. The Portus MOOC has already provided deep links form its content to other MOOCs and worked with MOOC designers from other institutions to create a coherent set of interconnected learning resources. Of course, building on the considerable track record in this within the Open Educational Resources community.

Looking to the future, it’s possible to envisage a scenario where content or assessment could be made available across MOOCs, allowing learners to “pick and mix” course materials and tasks to suit their interests and levels of expertise. For example, perhaps the exercise completed by Portus MOOC learners where they put themselves in the shoes of a visitor arriving at the port in its heyday, could be assessed on the Creative Writing MOOC? Or computer visualisations of Portus could be produced by learners on the Creative Coding MOOC.

Or what if learners could “build their own MOOC” by selecting content from a number of related courses? It’s not a big step from here to imagine learners building their own degree programmes from a range of institutions, perhaps with the institution of registration being the provider of a core structure to learning. This could provide even greater impetus to research-informed teaching, whilst still allowing educators the opportunity to step outside of their core research to teach collaboratively with experts from elsewhere.

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