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7 things about MOOCs & UK HE

Report from the UUK May 2013 event: Open and online learning: Making the most of Moocs and other models.

Bologna University Students by micurs

Bologna University Students by micurs

This Universities UK event was aimed at senior staff in Higher Education (VCs, Pro-VCs, Registrars, Deans, Directors & the like). The delegates were mixed. I’d say around 50 UK HEIs were represented, by some of the above, but also a decent number of learning technology folk.  The presenters included 4 VCs & the Universities Minister, David Willetts.

1) A significant moment?

The UUK published MOOCs: Higher education’s digital moment? to coincide with the event and several of the speakers referred to the 2012 growth of MOOCs as a Napster moment or Amazon moment for HE (ie game-changing). This comes hot-on-the-heels of the IPPR / Pearson report An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead which talks of ‘disruption’ & the ‘unbundling’ of HE. It’s sensible to question the motives behind some of the rhetoric, but at the event, there seemed to be acceptance that significant change is underway.

2) To MOOC or not to MOOC… that is not the question

I think the day’s central question was not whether to MOOC, but how to respond to MOOCs & the changes they may bring. What’s your institution’s strategy going to be to deal with the changes ahead?

  • Will you look to optimise the campus experience by embracing digital & increasing quality contact time (Don Nutbeam, VC, University of Southampton)?
  • Will you develop a broad portfolio of on-campus/off-campus/no-campus offerings (Jeff Hayward, VP Knowledge Management & CIO, University of Edinburgh)?
  • And of course, will you offer MOOCs? If yes, then is ‘which courses?’ a strategic decision or whoever fancies it?

3) Reasons to MOOC

Martin Bean (VC, Open University) suggested a number of reasons an institution might want to engage with MOOCs:

  • Profile raising
  • Student recruitment
  • Expanding impact
  • Stimulating innovation (see 4)
  • Revenue

The University of Edinburgh, the only HEI to have already delivered a MOOC on one of the big US platforms describe their objectives as: gaining outreach to new audiences; experimentation with online delivery methods at large scale; reinforcing our position as a leader in the use of educational technology in HE. More on this & lots of statistics in their report published earlier this week: MOOCs @ Edinburgh 2013: Report #1

4) Teaching Innovation

While there has been wide criticism of the pedagogical quality of the new MOOCs, Wendy Purcell (VC, Plymouth University) suggested that digital developments are putting teaching upfront & central. She sees an opportunity for a positive repositioning of the value of teaching and development of new pedagogies. Sian Bayne (Associate Dean, University of Edinburgh), the only speaker to have taught a MOOC, commented that her Edinburgh Digital Cultures MOOC had offered a space for pedagogical innovation and that teaching it was invigorating.

5) Partners

The world of MOOCs is full of partners. Universities are partnering with delivery & marketing platforms such as Coursera & Udacity. Companies such as Pearson are partnering with them to proctor in-person exams (eg find a test centre for your edX MOOC). The sponsors of the UUK event were Academic Partnerships & 2U. Slightly different services, but both working with universities to develop & deliver online courses. David Willetts hopes that MOOC & industry partnerships will develop & potentially help with the UK skills gap (such as computer science).

6) Future (Learn)

Futurelearn is the under-development UK MOOC platform owned by the OU. It includes 20 university partners as well as the British Library, the British Council and the British Museum.

I was really looking forward to hearing more about Futurelearn with both Martin Bean & the launch CEO, Simon Nelson speaking. We didn’t learn much. Despite their claim that ‘this is not simply re-purposing existing content’ we heard little about building on the OU’s experience of learner support or delivering ‘teacher presence'; a challenge that speakers from Edinburgh & 2U had highlighted. Nor did we learn anything about the new platform. However, Stephen Jackson from QAA, did appear to confirm that FutureLearn will offer proctored exams.

7) Future (Unknown)

Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun has predicted that within 10-years job applicants will be touting Udacity degrees. Emma Leech (Director of Marketing & Recruitment, University of Nottingham) reminded us that Thrun’s claims go further; he has suggested that in 50 years there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them.

Update 20/05/13 – Thrun under-estimated: Georgia Tech, Udacity and AT&T launch online CompSci Masters aiming for 10,000 students in 3-years

Crystal balls aside, it’s an exciting & challenging time ahead with new players, new partnerships & business models starting to emerge. One thing is clear, whether it’s MOOCs or enhancing campus courses, learning technologies & technologists have a central role to play.

Update 20/05/13 – Presenters’ slides availble on UUK website

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  1. May 19, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    Good summary Matt. You’re right to point towards the real issue being online learning in HE in general and not just MOOCs. However, I also thought that some of the speakers were well behind the curve. Curious presentation from Simon Nelson, largely about the BBC and tight lipped on Futurelearn, Sorry about getting my question in first.

  2. June 6, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Reblogged this on Moocs UK and commented:
    Interesting article with a focus on the UK…

  1. May 20, 2013 at 7:23 am

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