4th April 2016
In visiting sixth form leaders on an almost a daily basis, I often allude to MOOCs and the potential benefits to their students. I get a mixed response, with the majority saying, “What’s a MOOC?” and, “What does it stand for again?!”
For those that didn’t know, MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course.
- MASSIVE because literally thousands worldwide can be participating at the same time. FutureLearn had 440,000 participants from over 150 countries for their ‘Understanding IELTS: Techniques for English Language Tests‘ from the British Council.
- OPEN because they are generally free and you don’t have to be a student at the university offering the MOOC. Anyone with internet access can get started. But they usually don’t allow you to re-use their material off their sites.
- ONLINE because the internet is all you need, and you can download some or even use an app with some providers like Coursera. You can stop and start them anytime and go at your own pace.
- COURSE because they have a beginning and an end unlike some educational resources where you pick and choose classes. However some can be chosen from a library of available courses and are self-paced, others have start and end dates.
The big question is, can they be used successfully in UK education?
When MOOCs first came onto the education scene in 2012 there was an initial burst of excitement, some speculating that MOOCs were, “the future of education”. A report by the DfE in June 2014 entitled ‘MOOCS: Opportunities for their use in compulsory-age education’, had some interesting conclusions. (1)
In its section, ‘Specific identified needs / challenges’, here are a few statements:
- It can be hard to satisfactorily stretch gifted & talented students
- It can be difficult for teachers to properly support the research process in relation to the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ)
- It can be difficult for widening participation programmes to reach students and convey understanding of higher education student life, requirements, opportunities etc.
- Students (especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds) often need preparation for higher education courses, but Foundation courses are expensive both financially and in terms of time
- There may be better ways to deliver professional development courses for teacher
The report included the results of a teacher survey, which were also interesting – here’s my pick of them:
- “Surely schools already prepare pupils for the transition to Higher Education.”
- “The only alternative I know of is a face-to face course, which I have taught. This, however, means that students take an extra year or number of months to do this course.“
- “Timing of this would have to be very carefully managed as young people have a lot of pressure with exams and UCAS applications as it is, without feeling more pressure to complete even more work.”
- “I would imagine all this stuff is easy to access on internet. I’m not sure “a course" is required for the majority of Uni applicants.”
- “We have one to one strategies to address this in Year 13.”
- “Much needed. Many students find university life challenging and drop out.”
- “With students already accepted they are most likely to have an interest/level of engagement already making these great ways to 'reach' students.”
- “Uni prep should I believe be taught in year 13 as a compulsory study-skills course for students applying for uni. I'm not convinced that students would actually do an online course in their own time.”
- “Maybe if it was timetabled into their school hours. Many A level students need more experience of independent study, which will be required at university.”
- “Life skills are gained by living life. Not through online courses.”
And finally the report concluded (and I don’t think I could have said this better myself):
- MOOCs, as an emerging component of the teaching toolkit, should be a component of teacher training. All teacher-trainees should experience a MOOC. This would not require very much in terms of development; there are many subject-specific MOOCs to choose from, including many that are short.
- Teachers should be encouraged to experience a MOOC as part of CPD. There are many MOOCs in the US and Europe that are focused on teacher development and the acquisition or sharpening of classroom skills, planning skills, content development skills etc. The vast majority of these are free at the point of use.
- Best practice and successes should be upheld and celebrated. The overwhelming majority of MOOC deployments are not looking to replace or undermine teachers, but to increase their effectiveness.
Convinced yet? Interestingly, UCAS announced in February 2016, that it had partnered with FutureLearn to release 2 courses:
There are two free courses – Smart Choices: Broadening your horizons and Smart Advice: Broadening your students’ horizons. Each takes two weeks to complete, and are intended to help learners understand the full breadth of courses available to them, and to make sure advisers and parents have the most comprehensive and up-to-date information.
Leeds University have also released a collection of bite-sized 2 week MOOCs aimed at 16-19 year olds. And the University of Southampton’s course, Developing your Research Project supports students with their EPQ, and builds on skills such as critical thinking and independent learning.
Julia Stiglitz, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Coursera, the world’s larges MOOCs platform, said recently:
“We see our platform, and the wider world of MOOCs, being used in a number of unexpected but exciting ways. We have seen high school teachers using MOOCs in an after-school model; we have seen MOOC-like tools for first year teachers to help them get hold of their classroom; we have seen lots of requests to use MOOC content in a blended learning mode, and research is underway to understand the impact of MOOCs in these settings.”
What do you need to know, before you throw yourself, and your students, into the world of MOOCs? Here are a few important points:
1. The minimum age is 13, like Facebook. It’s important to be aware that participants come into contact with potentially thousands of other students of all ages worldwide. There are less likely to be courses suitable for under 16’s unless they are gifted and talented.
2. Duration of courses is an issue, mostly for 16-19 ages, as a high percentage sign up and start but don’t finish. 2 week courses are best, with no more than 1-2 hours per week. FutureLearn has a collection for Going to University.
3. There are very few that offer formal qualifications such as UCAS points. However, most have a form of certificate that proves they participated in the course. Some have a University branded certificate. These usually cost about £30.
Finally, what are some of the benefits for UK education?
- Improving UCAS application forms and interviews (Universities are well aware of these courses; many have invested substantially in creating them)
- Getting a view on subjects they may wish to study in future
- Getting access to new ideas, topics and resources outside of their current scope
- Feeling more comfortable for the transition to University
- Improving learning techniques and styles, such as flipping the classroom
- Having courses set as summer work; bridging gaps that currently exist between GCSE and A Level, Years 12 and 13, A Level and University
By John Hillis
Unifrog Area Manager