I spoke in Brussels this week about University of Edinburgh’s leading role in developing and delivering innovation in higher education. The LERU league of European research institutions is an unashamedly closed club of 21, but occasionally they have open-ish meetings and this one was packed, so it was an interesting and interactive session. This particular meeting was at Scotland House, so I felt like I was representing up.
The meeting was focussed around the briefing paper which was written while I was working at Oxford, so it was fun to respond to it on behalf of Edinburgh now that I work here.
I spoke mostly about the unique positions held by the research institutions in engagement with their communities near and far and about the channels for translating research with social relevance.
Earlier in the meeting there had been much conservative concern and warnings (from those not doing MOOCs) that doing MOOCs was not worthwhile. The presentations from Leiden and Edinburgh about our MOOC success and mission relevance perked everyone up again.
I spoke about how involvement in the emerging area of MOOCs is inline with our three- part core mission: teaching, research and innovation. Our teaching in our MOOCs is strongly influenced by research we do about our MOOCs, is innovative, and the platforms we work with are informed by knowledge transfer in educational technology development.
We are motivated to inspire the citizens and leaders of tomorrow to be curious, driven, responsible and capable of academic thinking. I spoke about the U21 Critical Thinking in Global Challenges shared online course (SOC) which builds upon and runs parallel to, our MOOC of the same name. We are taking the opportunity to strategically extend our online learning opportunities to learners or co-enquirers outside our university. Universitas 21 also has 21 members, and some of them are the same as the LERU 21 members, but many are not. Nice to see colleagues from Amsterdam and Lund.
I talked about how we strategically work collaboratively with other institutions, and with commercial partners in the delivery of online learning. I mentioned our increasing strategic closeness with SRUC and their contributions to our growing stable (or barnyard) of horse, animal and chicken MOOCs*. I mentioned our partnership work with national museums, the Scottish Government and the Edinburgh Festivals.
What struck me though, was that the hype is fading around MOOCs and the idea that this is going to transform the business of higher education by opening it up to all has passed. It increasingly becomes attractive to those big brands who are getting the strategic benefit of these international platforms to discourage other from getting into the same space. Colleagues from Leiden agreed.
Doing MOOCs well is very difficult and very expensive. Unless you have excellent teams, which we do, it won’t be a success.
In fact, if you work at any of the other LERU institutions you should certainly heed all the advice in the LERU paper and not rush into it.
*Leiden have chosen Sharia law and international terrorism as their MOOC topics. That makes ours look actually rather tame.