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Friday, September 05, 2014

Don’t dismiss MOOCs – we are just starting to understand their true value

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Neil Morris, University of Leeds writes, "Over the past couple of years, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have taken the academic world by storm."

Despite much debate about whether the idea of running free online courses for everyone is both a good and cost-effective idea in the long-run, MOOCs are teaching universities valuable lessons about how students want to learn.

Photo: The Conversation

In a recent article for Times Higher Education that shocked many academics, Diane Laurillard claimed “free online courses that require no prior qualifications or fee are a wonderful idea but are not viable”.

I sincerely hope we are not already dismissing MOOCs as an expensive and unsuccessful experiment. As someone who leads and manages the MOOC project at the University of Leeds. I know that freely available online courses have enriched many people’s lives – both students and academics. They are also provoking real transformations in the way we think about learning and teaching on our campuses.

Costly, but long-lasting

Initial investment in designing, creating and delivering online courses is considerable – between £20,000 to £30,000 per course at Leeds. Filming academics giving a five minute introduction to their subject from a script using autocue, green screen, multiple cameras, professional microphones and lots of retakes is costly in time and resources.

But the learning materials live on. The end product, overlaid with animation and available as video in multiple formats, an audio podcast or a written transcript, can be repurposed, published and re-used in multiple contexts after the online course has finished.

While a proportion of academics are dismissive of MOOCs, there is evidence that others are taking some of the underpinnings of digital learning into their own academic practice. They are increasingly recognising the potential for digital approaches to support learning, increase flexibility and access to a range of multimedia and interactive materials and encourage active student engagement.

In many learning situations, “blended” learning – a mix between face-to-face and digital – may be best. In a recent survey of academic staff at Leeds, 70% said they would recommend a MOOC to their students to supplement their on-campus learning.

These courses offer students the opportunity to interact with and question world-leading authorities in their subject, at the same time as learning with their course leaders and peers in on-campus lectures, seminars, tutorials and workshops.
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Source: The Conversation

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