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Making MOOCs go further: utilising MOOCs in teaching and learning

18 Jan 2021 | Kate Borthwick For our January Connect Member Benefit theme, Rethinking Higher Education, Kate Borthwick, Principal Enterprise Fellow, University of Southampton, explores the value of MOOCs to enhance teaching and the student experience and contribution to other aspects of the University's core business, including research, enterprise, internationalisation.

At the University of Southampton (UoS), we have been creating Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) since 2012 and are proud to have been one of Futurelearn’s founding partners. From the outset of our involvement with MOOCs, we have sought to experiment with how they might support and contribute to all aspects of University life and business including research, enterprise, internationalisation, and of course, education.

When a new MOOC is proposed – usually as part of a strategy to engage a public audience with a particular topic of research and teaching – course teams are supported to think about how the MOOC might be utilised to serve other strategic purposes. It has become an integral part of the planning and approval process to explain how course materials will contribute to teaching and learning at UoS.

MOOCs in teaching and learning – what we do

We make use of the different MOOCs that we have created in a variety of ways to support teaching and learning. At a basic level, this entails the simple re-use of digital assets created for the MOOC (videos, multimedia activities etc) as resources in teaching. These are made available through our University VLE as embedded elements in relevant course programmes.

Supporting f2f learning in blended mode

Some MOOCs are embedded into module teaching either as a blended component aligning to the class-based curriculum or as a piece of extended learning. For example, the MOOC ‘Developing Your Research Project’ is blended into a 2nd Year, class-based research methods course for Archaeology students and has been used in the past with other cohorts. The MOOC ‘English as a Medium of Instruction for Academics’ (EMI) is run alongside a PGT module with the same topic and assessed tasks are linked to it.

Preparation for study

Our MOOCs are often recommended to prospective students as preparation for study at the University, e.g. ‘Exploring our Ocean’ is timed to align with University open days and applicants to relevant courses are encouraged to take it.

During the COVID pandemic, we have run one of our MOOCs (Understanding Language: learning and teaching) in a bespoke, adapted format for our incoming international PGT and iPHD students in Applied Linguistics. It is acting as a preparation course for the topic material and also for life at Southampton.

Training grounds for our students

Postgraduate students are involved in creating content for MOOCs and tutoring. Working on a MOOC offers opportunities to learn how to create open, digital content for a public audience and how to engage diverse online audiences with research ideas both through effective content presentation and through tutor presence.

Work with colleagues in other institutions

We work with colleagues in other educational settings to use our open courses and content. This is often a case of giving permission to download/use certain MOOC digital assets (e.g. videos etc). We also have a long-running relationship with colleagues at Coventry University to run the MOOC, ‘Understanding Language: learning and teaching’ alongside a PGT module in Applied Linguistics. It is used in teaching there as part of a project to blend MOOCs into English Language teacher training.

Why is this important to us?

While MOOCs are often conceived as primarily outreach and engagement activities, they also offer inspiring community learning experiences.

Benefits for teachers and institutions

Experimenting with different approaches to using MOOCs in teaching enables us to learn more about how the high quality digital content we create can be used in multiple different ways to support education. We seek to understand how to make our classrooms more open, international and inclusive – and MOOCs offer ways into realising this.

Embedding a MOOC brings a social, global dimension to the classroom while at the same time, allowing educators to scaffold and contextualise content and interactions in a way that suits their programme. The bite-sized course structure of a MOOC offers flexibility in enabling a variety of possible approaches for educators looking to develop a blended, global classroom.

Benefits for students

Opening the classroom walls to a MOOC enables students to become part of an online community of learning while retaining the focus and contextualisation of their programme of study. They can experience varied, international perspectives on the topics and ideas that they are studying and communicate with a much larger and more diverse group of fellow learners than they may find in the classroom.

Using MOOCs or open content within a programme of study encourages the development of digital skills for lifelong learning. The ability to discover, navigate and use open, free content effectively in knowledge development is an important skill. Similarly, encouraging students to work on the creation of a MOOC offers training in online content creation and delivery for the HE researchers and teachers of the future.

But there are challenges…

There are practical challenges with integrating MOOCs with f2f teaching. We create our MOOCs with high quality production values and this means we don’t produce many each year. The vast majority of our f2f courses do not have a suitable home-grown MOOC to embed! However, we do have control over when MOOCs run and a clear idea of how content might suit different educators’ purposes – and can advise accordingly. This is not necessarily the case if educators integrate MOOCs from other institutions. To do this requires an investment in time to understand the content of the course, assess its appropriateness, monitor it closely for changes and updates, and ensure it is scheduled to run alongside timetabled classes.

Our experience/feedback

Our MOOC-integrations have worked well when educators clearly explain the rationale behind doing this and set out expectations of engagement.

Student feedback on MOOC-integrations is generally positive: our students appreciate the contact with a broader community of learners and the use of high quality, relevant digital content. Staff appreciate the flexibility in using blended content in teaching:

“For me there were very few challenges to embedding the MOOC, because I had written and produced the MOOC myself and had full control over the module content…It provided a highly relevant, convenient and flexible-to-use resource that students much preferred to lectures.” – Dr. Nic Fair, Lead Educator ‘Learning in the Network Age MOOC’

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.

27 January Webinar – Higher education for the future – a digital perspective

As part of this theme, our three guest contributors Vangelis Tsiligkiris, Principal Lecturer, Nottingham Business School, Laura Czerniewicz, Professor, Cape Town University and Mark Birkin, Professor of Spatial Analysis and Policy, University of Leeds have recoded videos their thoughts and views on Reshaping higher education for the future.

This discursive webinar with will be shaped from questions and thoughts around these videos, which webinar attendees can submit beforehand. The videos can be found here, and the form to submit questions and thoughts can be found here. Additionally, a forum has been opened in Advance HE Connect for colleagues to discuss this topic further. Book your place on the webinar here.

Find out more about the other outputs for this theme and related products and services

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