MOOCs: A Learning Curve

Finalising our MOOCs feels like adding the last touches to a new home before settling into the new neighbourhood. Here at the eLearning Unit, over the last three months, we’ve been developing two MOOCs for the FutureLearn platform, ready to go live in September. This blog post is a summary of some of the things we’ve learnt on our MOOC creation journey-of-discovery. The University of Liverpool will have its first taste of running two Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), sitting alongside a range of other online course opportunities that have been created and designed by Universities throughout the UK and abroad. It’s the first of six MOOCs altogether and we’ll be progressing soon to start work with more academics, to design and develop more MOOC courses. We really want to hear your experiences of creating MOOCs. Please comment below.

leahmoocadvertA learning curve

MOOC development has been a significant Petermoocadvertlearning curve for us, especially when balancing the design and structure of course materials (lasting six weeks) alongside time restraints and technological drawbacks commonplace in the content development of any online course. That said, MOOCs tend to be multimedia intensive and the time heavy task of putting together a series of videos flagged the need for careful preparation. Certainly the fine tuning of video footage can be laborious, so we’ve featured this in our longer term MOOC development plans, building a more streamlined approach to our multimedia production workflow. This includes working closely with the academic lead of the MOOC, scripting out and story-boarding any video ideas to make sure they fit the flow of the course. We’ve realised that putting this time aside will allow us greater control when deciding which content should be filmed footage, in the form of videos, compared with content that should be displayed in a different formats (eg. images, text, audio).

Filming Dr Leah Ridgway n the High Power Lab

Taking time out, to plan, informed our decision making processes for content production and gave us the chance to integrate an important element to our courses – a sense of pace and the opportunity for reflection. We felt this pedagogical structure gives participants the chance to digest key bits of learning before moving through each section. This can be tricky to do. We had to constantly take a step back to view the bigger picture of the six week course whilst remembering that every resource created would be accessed online by an audience that does not necessarily have any direct access to the academic lead (as in traditional face-to-face learning). We find that we are in a constant process of assessing and re-assessing the interaction between course content and the learning objectives.

At the outset, engaging with MOOC creation in the eLearning Unit utilised skills we currently use in developing the online Continuing Professional Development (CPD), with a few obvious differences. Rather than using our familiar VLE Blackboard environment, we were using the clean cut FutureLearn platform. Rather than a small audience, we are facing a massive audience. It’s not so straightforward and despite the approach to MOOC production being largely similar to online CPD, the scale is bigger and the workload a lot heavier. Equally, with MOOCs being seen as part-marketing tools for institutions, issues surrounding branding were important to address. This led to the consideration of filming locations and getting away from simply filming a series of face-to-face lectures. The potential for a massive international audience had to be considered throughout, ensuring we painted a picture of campus life and the institution.

Core MOOC team: Rob Lindsay, Phil Walker & Matt O' Rourke with academic lead Dr Leah Ridgway.
Core MOOC team: Rob Lindsay, Phil Walker & Matt O’ Rourke with academic lead Dr Leah Ridgway.

To date, we’ve produced content from Professor Peter Kinderman’s ‘Psychology and Mental Health‘ course and Dr Leah Ridgway’s ‘Electrify‘ (an introduction to electrical engineering). Both MOOCs have a distinctive style that suits the approach of the academics involved. There’s always a big balancing act going on. First and foremost we were maintaining production whilst also fine tuning the educational experience. The core MOOC team is made up of three people. We’ve managed to draw on the wider expertise within the eLearning Unit to help with course design and web development. This has allowed us to enhance elements of the MOOC and integrate many of the face-to-face approaches used by the academic leads. The ‘Psychology and Mental Health’ is a good example, where we’ve worked with an expert Javasript web coder, building into the MOOC an interactive participant survey.

This blog has touched mainly on the multimedia elements of content creation. There’s much to learn however, specifically in terms of pedagogical design for MOOCs. Have you any experience to share on MOOCs and pedgagogy? Tell us about it in the comment boxes below. After all, the collaborative element between institutions and individuals, as well as the sharing of your ‘how-to’ for MOOC design, can only aid understanding of where all this is going. The learning curve continues!

Written by Philip K Walker