Last week I attended this meeting promoted by Universities UK. The meeting was to launch the publication of “Massive open online courses: higher education’s digital moment?”
This is one of a number of posts based on my notes from the various speakers. In all cases, my thoughts are in italics.
David Willets (Minister of State for Universities and Science)
He was approaching this topic in the spirit of engagement and thinks that MOOCs are a big thing and significant in HE. He cited the Khan Academy who with 35 employees has now seen their 50millionth student. Venture capital investors think there will be one platform for delivering education, and Coursera want to be that worldwide platform, although it is likely there may be a range of platforms.
The Minster felt there were 4 areas of significance, each providing challenges and opportunities.
1 Quality of education. It is a big opportunity for improvement and enrichment for many people and may become more important part of educational process.
There is potential for educational analytics so that we can redesign process as needed in response to learner behaviour. This will harness skills of computer gaming industry particularly around engagement and flow. There is the possibility of more use of peer groups and peer learning. If peers assess fellow students, once 6 assessors are used, research shows that the peer marking reaches similar levels of accuracy as that by experienced educators.
2 Recruitment into more conventional courses. MOOCs could act as a form of disintermediation, removing the need for agents. Online courses could become a taster for students and we could see potential recruits for our programmes. Alternatively agents could be used, charging a fee to get student onto online course. This could be very powerful internationally.
3 Challenge of domestic skills gaps. The Minister cited comments from the IT industry where it is sometimes felt that graduates in computer science do not have the skills wanted by industry, Could industry therefore fill this gap themselves by providing the online courses for the skills that they need?
4 Credential or qualification for the award. Will employer recognise the outcomes of a MOOC? There are tech solutions for verification. Will we see credit emerging, maybe by educational system, or maybe by the industry. If the latter, then universities themselves will be disinter mediated. There is an opportunities for UK with its current HE reputation
The Minister stated that lots was happening and he was pleased about the development of FutureLearn. His unambiguous advice was to act now, as we needed a strong British presence and platforms.
I was pretty impressed with this introduction to the day – there was the usual amount of MOOC hubris, but David Willets had gone beyond many of the editorials produced by the venture capital companies and provided some clear thought of where and when MOOCs might be of use.
The reference to learning analytics is interesting – one thing that the current MOOC companies do is gather an awful lot of information about how their students are learning enabling them possibly to refine their models. This is an area that would be interesting for on campus students and their various engagements. The comments later from Wendy Purcell about building digital into all strategies echo this.
The comments around peer assessment are particularly interesting – in the online courses I have undertaken this year, peer assessment has been the only assessment While I would not recommend this as being the only way to assess a module, there’s a lot that could be learned from the Coursera model of anonymous online peer assessment which could be used to support on campus students in formative assessments. As we all know, once you have to deal with the marking criteria and engagee with other learners, you very quickly learn what the tutor is actually looking for.
Martin Bean (Vice Chancellor Open University)
Prof Bean presented a brief history of OER AND MOOCs and said that the combination of lots of money, lots of people and great brands creates an HE Napster moment.
He said the development of MOOCs was “scary as hell” but that there was nothing new about using technology of the day. The web lowers barrier to entry and let’s everybody play and means dramatically reduced delivery costs and allows for growth.
He also saw the opportunity to use MOOCs to change campus experience and the opportunity to for potential students to try out a university
Overall he said the debate is not between online and face to face teaching, , but great and bad teaching.
If a course is not credit bearing, who are we to say it doesn’t have value?
If you think this change is going away, you’re wrong. If you don’t want to play, then you need to predicate a strategy to cope
Drive value for free and drive value for fee and make sure you understand that boundary
Why are universities interested? To generate revenue, to gain additional students particularly transnational also level 0 programmes to fill skills gap, to fulfil university missions and expand impact, to build brand and to stimulate innovation.
Prof Bean was hugely enthusiastic and a great speaker – however much of what I heard seemed to be the usual MOOC hype, although in mitigation he is speaking from a real place of strength – if anyone understands what is happening and going to happen in online and distance learning it is the Open University!
The important takeaways here are the need for great teaching and the need for universities to make sure that their strategies reflect the changes brought about by technology
Mark Taylor (Dean Warwick Business School)
Started by stating that Warwck had pioneered a d/l MBA 25 yrs ago with 1500 students at any one time.
He then stated that Napster changed the music industry, not destroyed it, so it was a disruptive innovation but very positive.
MOOCs etc could lead to an unbundling the current university offer of
MOOCs are mainly about knowledge dissemination, so their impact could be that different types of universities may evolve, There was therefore a place for traditional university in providing the signalling.
He cited the benefits of MOOCs as: philanthropic; commercialisation; brand recognition; recruitment; accreditation of learning; licensing; sponsorship, and the impact on campus teaching
He saw that the benefits of e-learning were to: address WP agenda; possible year zero and to withstand variations in visa policies
The emerging issues were: effects on structure of university; effect on traditional delivery- use a MOOC instead of lecture; who does the student develop relationship with- provider or uni; will one platform develop and is it real learning or edutainment. And finally, why would an academic need to be at a university to deliver a MOOC?
Interesting– this was not the only time that MOOCs were proposed as a possible solution for year zero or foundation programmes. I can see that working, if, and only if, significant face to face teaching is also provided – we are talking here about the students who are least well prepared for higher education, and the pedagogies that are used in the MOOCs I have seen are not going to be at all suitable for the nervous or inexperienced learner.
Wendy Purcell VC of Plymouth University
She questioned how universities could respond, noting that tech developments usually follow a cycle of enthusiast to projects to embedded practice.
In 2008 Plymouth included digital in the University strategy. For the 2020 strategy, digital is completely embedded, which meant that they needed to view everything across institution in terms of digital strategies and questioning: what it is doing for student offer; what is it doing for the academic offer, and what about top team?
Student offer- what does tomorrow’s student want/need/value? Students of 2020 are 11 today. The new normal is personalised and experiential, enabling talent to express itself, producing digital graduates for a digital society.
Academic offer- recognising students as partners, and moving from transaction to transformation, leading to an enriched experience and engaged learners using accessible blended learning environments and communities. Good teachers will use all the tools available to them. Real positioning of teaching and pedagogy as key activity
Senior team- digital strategy, appointed a CIO, digital built into academic review and curriulum enrichment.
Plymouth viewed disruption as positive and that it was not an either/or, but a both/and agenda and was seen as critical to success as an edgeless university.
This was an enjoyable presentations – the main takeaway here is – digital HAS to be at the centre of all of a university’s strategies.
Professor Don Nutbeam Vice-Chancellor, University of Southampton
Prof Nutbeam started by asking “Clicks not bricks – is this the end of the campus? If content is free who would pay £9k?”
Smart universities will use MOOCs to add to options for on campus and will use them to advance innovations in teaching and to expand markets. The Challenge is to optimise campus experience by embracing digital and freeing up timetable to give higher quality contact time so this is a process of acceleration of evolving change, not the seismic revolution promised by some.
However it is possibly the end of the lecture. Universities can release time to develop highly prized transferable skills and provide more time for lab and practical work
Southampton see it as more choice and flexibility for students, with greater choice of access to modules and choice of modules to personalise education. This might accelerate change to major/minor structure.
He foresaw the possible development of federations of universities providing articulated degrees and providing different modules. This will lead to continued change in evolution of campuses and learning and social spaces and will need a review of the definition of a contact hour!!
This talk picked up on some of my views of how MOOCs and other online systems could be used. There is scope for redefining what we do for on campus learners, and a resultant impact on the estate needed by universities. It was interesting to see the comment on definition of contact hours, particullary in the light of the recent HEPI report which picked this up as an issue.
Interestingly, my final essay for the online course I have just completed was on the impact of MOOCs as a disruptive technology on a UK university. Many of my essay ideas are similar to those of Prof Nutbeam, so I am in good company!