MOOCs: alive and kicking it

Screen shot of the BBC drama, showing the MOOC production team in front of the FutureLearn page for the MOOC. Lots of rights in this pic. None of them mine. Used for educational purposes and comment.

Speaking of representations of learning technologists in the media. Did you spot the MOOC production team in the BBC Drama ‘Traces’ on the telly in January 2021?

Val McDermid’s drama was written alongside a MOOC developed by University of Dundee.

That MOOC is now dead. It’s an x-mooc.

But at Edinburgh MOOCs are alive and kicking.

Three new University of Edinburgh MOOC courses were launched in the first half of 2020 (Data Ethics, AI and Responsible Innovation; COVID-19 Critical Care: Understanding and Application; Making Blended Education Work), two are in their final stages of development (Christian-Muslim Relations: History, Scripture, Theology, Politics; Chronic Respiratory Diseases in Primary Care Settingsand will launch in early 2021.

As with other areas of University activity, Covid-19 has had an impact on our activities. Early in the pandemic Learning, Teaching, and Web Services were able to help the Critical Care team in MVM respond to a global shortage in health professionals trained to work in critical care settings by redeveloping teaching materials from an online masters degree into a MOOC delivered on FutureLearn. The course was launched in early April and rapidly achieved 46,138 enrolments worldwide, filling an essential gap in training for frontline workers. 

Over the summer, in response shift to hybrid teaching and the need to support new students with the information and study skills they would need for this new way of learning in higher education we delivered 5 new student-facing courses on Learn to help our new and returning students transition to hybrid teaching. These courses were designed to scale, making them available as cross-cutting, institution-wide courses for all students. 

We anticipate capacity to develop new courses in early 2021 and will work with the MOOC strategy group to align with emerging adaptation and renewal strategies. 

In the last year MOOCs have had direct links to University strategies including;  

  • Data Driven Innovation: offering pathways into using data for development and growth 
  • Sustainability: Tackling climate change and sustainable food production 
  • Public Engagement for Research: openly communicating research outputs, and 
  • Widening Participation: encouraging a culture of lifelong learning and offering accessible education

The global pandemic has shifted many of the University’s strategic plans and priorities, in April 2020 the MOOC “COVID-19 Critical Care: Understanding and Application” was rapidly produced to facilitate sharing of resources as part of the University’s response to the global pandemic. The fact that the materials have been developed in conjunction with the OER service in ISG ensures that we are able to support the university’s strategic goals in delivering open educational resources easily, across global platforms. 

Looking forward, the MOOC Strategy Group will be asked to consider how MOOCs can support the University’s adaption and renewal work. Recommendations will include 1) closer alignment between MOOCs and online masters programmes, 2) enabling opportunities for recruitment and sustainable repurposing of teaching materials and resources and 3) closer alignment of MOOC production to the work being done in curriculum review and valuesbased education in the Edinburgh offer, 4) contribution to the global demand for staff/faculty development support for online learning through the sharing of an Edinburgh model for online teaching. 

MOOCs continue to be a recruitment tools which gives the University a visible and high quality presence on global platforms where learners search for online courses. The numbers of people worldwide who have been searching for online learning during the global pandemic lockdown has increased hugely. This is an area of recruitment activity which is ripe for further investment. 

The LTW teams continue to work with academic colleagues to get the best value for money and return on investment from MOOC materials. The Fundamentals of Music Theory MOOC continues to be a popular course running on Coursera. The academic team have already repurposed the core materials of the course into a 20 credit level 7 foundation course for UG applicants to the music programme who do not have A pass marks at A-Level or Advanced Higher (or have passed the MOOC). The team also have a pending student experience grant application proposal to further repurpose the materials as an eBook. This is an excellent example of how the investment in high quality teaching materials can be maximized by ensuring activities are aligned. The course ‘Learning for Sustainability: Developing a Personal Ethic’, which has not run since 2015 is being updated and will be relaunched on FutureLearn soon. 

Globally there has been an increased interest in online education and the demand has continued for flexible lifelong learning that supports changes in the workplace. Discussions about microcredentialling continue at national level with in the SFC and internationally via UNA Europa. To enable this flexibility there is growing interest in both stand-alone for-credit courses and microcredentials. The idea of bundling short courses to provide micro-programmes and microcredentials is something each of our MOOC platform partners are working on, developing new products that work for both universities and the lifelong learner. We have been working with partners on a number of experiments in this area, keeping Edinburgh at the forefront of this innovation. 

We prioritised linguistic accessibility during the production of ‘Nitrogen: A Global Challenge’ MOOC on edX. To truly make an impact, the course would have to reach practitioners whose daily work is directly affected by nitrogen, such as farmers around the world. One of the goals of team is to create translations and it is currently available in seven languages (English, Hindi, Sinhalese, Urdu, Nepalese, Dari, and Hungarian) three more translations (Bengali, Maldivian and Dzonhgka) are on the way. In future, we plan to translate the course to several other major world languages such as Spanish and Chinese to cover the four most spoken languages of the world (English, Hindi, Spanish and Chinese). 

In 2019 the University’s Business School launched its first credited microcredential, a MicroMasters in Predictive Analytics, on edX. In October 2020 the Business School launched further Professional Certificate in Marketing Fundamentals, a not-for-credit, two course CPD programme also delivered on edX. We are currently working with the Vet School to bundle three existing MOOCs as a ‘Specialisation’ on Coursera (also not-for-credit), with a launch date early in the first half of next year. These experiments will provide valuable feedback on the demand for different types of microcredentials on our different partner platforms, helping the University to make informed decisions for targeted future activities. 

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