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Experiences of studying via an accredited MOOC

27 Jan 2021 | Cathy Stevens and Miranda Sims Cathy Stevens and Miranda Sims who are studying on the Graduate Certificate/ Masters in Digital Learning Leadership on the FutureLearn MOOC platform accredited by Deakin University, reflect on their learning experience.

This blog is part of January’s Connect Benefit Series – ‘Re-thinking delivery models for quality Higher Education for all.’

In our blog we share how our experiences have differed from both traditional on-campus and online degrees, stimulating engagement, developing learner communities and providing authentic assessment, and how we have been able to apply our learning to our own practice.

How a flexible and authentic approach to tertiary learning reinvigorated a passion for learning when working full time – Cathy Stevens

Seven years after graduating from my undergraduate degree, I completed a Masters via distance learning while employed full-time. I, like many others, had experienced the tension between the competing demands of work and study and, now exhausted and burnt out, I was done with higher education…or so I thought. However, with my role in education changing fundamentally – thanks COVID-19! – and despite being busier than ever designing, developing and implementing online learning solutions, I started a Graduate Certificate in Digital Learning Leadership at Deakin University. This decision was born from a desire to recognise the shift in my role and expertise and from a need to continue to develop the skills that I was beginning to self-cultivate.

Admittedly knowing very little about the course, and with an application only submitted on the closing date, I embarked on the next step of my tertiary education not realising it would reinvigorate a passion for learning.

A strange new world – is this a MOOC or university?

I enrolled in my first unit, ‘Digital Learning Design and Assessment’; and when I saw the unit page appear on my student profile, the memories of late night assignment writing came flooding back. Nevertheless, there was still a tinge of excitement that comes with learning something new. What greeted me was nothing like the standard learning management system course I was expecting. Instead, I had a ‘welcome’ video which led me to 10-12 topics for the fortnight. Each of these included a short video or article, links to more resources, prompts to stimulate my thinking and a community of learners and our facilitator alike – discussing, questioning and sharing ideas.

It looked like a MOOC and felt like a MOOC and I have to admit I triple checked my enrolment to make sure I was in the right place! It was vastly different to my previous experiences of extensive required reading lists, online lectures and a deserted unit page with almost no interaction between classmates or with the lecturer.

While it took some getting used to, the MOOC-like structure was also the greatest strength of the course. The ‘bite-size’ approach to content provided flexibility, allowing me to engage with content at times that suited me, like the five minutes I had spare between meetings during my day. I was free to invest my time in my topics of interest, rather than just churning through the syllabus.

The structure of the MOOC prioritised a sense of community and I quickly engaged with the online learning community – something which hadn’t been available in my previous online learning experience. The modules and prompts were structured in such a way that my course mates and I began to discuss the big ideas through the lens of our own personal and professional experience, guided by our facilitator. This interaction allowed us to connect and share our practice, ideas and resources and, on reflection, this was a valuable addition to the course – I think I learnt just as much from and through my peers as I did from actual course resources.

Assessment is not just an essay anymore…

Once I found my bearings and understood the structure of the unit, I began to interrogate the assessment requirements. I was greeted by two broad assessments – the development of a digital learning intervention concept and a professional practice plan. At first, they were frustratingly large and vague and the fact that we were, "encouraged to use formats unique to the web to experiment with alternative ways of presenting scholarly work in a digital environment” was terrifying and foreign given my background in, and preference for, essay and research paper writing.

As with the structure of the MOOC, this approach to assessment provided a novel learning experience. The flexibility built into the assessment design allowed me to explore and engage meaningfully with real-world problems and opportunities from my workplace.  While my previous study had encouraged this, I always found its execution problematic and somewhat contrived due to rigid and specific assessment requirements. With authenticity welcomed and encouraged, I realised synergies between the assessment and the key initiatives I was undertaking in my work. With the blurring of lines between assessments and work, study no longer felt like an after-hours burden.

I am yet to re-enrol on the final unit. Taking the trimester off has afforded me the time and space to consolidate, implement and extend my learning and this has been as valuable as the unit itself. I remember counting down the units and assignments of every other piece of study I have completed, whether tertiary or workplace professional development, and I do wonder if I am yet to enrol because I don’t want my journey with the Graduate Certificate in Digital Learning Leadership to be over just yet…

Online learning at the nexus of professional  practice, teaching and research - Miranda Sims

Why this, why now?

I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Culture in 2013, fully online, through Curtin University (Perth, Australia), whilst working full time as a teacher in vocational education. I am currently a designer and educator based in Melbourne. I also teach and consult in learning design in higher education and run community-based art and design courses. I can remember saying on several occasions that if I had something of significance to add, then I would complete a Masters in art or design. I now know that my heart lies in education, and that my teaching philosophy deeply aligns with my creative work and practice.

The realisation that I wanted to specialise in digital learning technologies for creative disciplines, prompted a search for online courses in learning design. I considered my application for the Master of Digital Learning Leadership with great care, I wanted to make sure I was clear about the learning outcomes and how they mapped to my career trajectory. This qualification is a unique offering, designed for experienced professionals already working in emerging technologies and digital learning in higher education. I chose this pathway as it provides the opportunity to receive recognition for my professional practice – assessed by an external industry panel – with the flexibility to build my capabilities as a cross-disciplinary researcher. The exciting aspect of this program is that I have been able to apply and test my learning in my professional practice, with one informing the other.

My experience of this unit was fantastic and highly rewarding; the learning design and delivery highlighted best practice in emerging technologies, social and cultural trends, and implications for digital assessment design. This program allows me to design my research and teaching practice to focus on this emerging field and apply it to creative disciplines to enhance connection and digital learning innovations that are meaningful and considered. I am comfortable with my decision to enrol on this program; the course plan is specific and professionally oriented with noticeably clear and practical aims. I am genuinely excited about my work and final thesis project and the future opportunities to follow!

The Connect Benefit Series is an Advance HE member benefit and is open to colleagues at Advance HE member institutions. 

January's theme 'Re-thinking delivery models for quality Higher Education for all' will look at the key issues of quality, flexibility and accessibility from the perspectives of the HEI and the student to understand the tensions between what is best for student success and how HEIs can meet changing needs of society and employer versus what is best for the sustainability of the institution.

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