Background to MOOCs

Thoughts from interview 

in which George Siemens and Dave Cormier are interviewed by Martin Weller, about a range of issues concerning MOOCs.

  • The basis of thinking about MOOCs are not necessarily to criticise the idea of MOOCs from a personal, or first world, perspective, as it seems many do, but instead to take the approach that if Universities around the world really are willing to publish courses open to students from everywhere then just this should be celebrated.
  • One of the major issues is the perception that a business model has to be attached to the MOOC. It seems, to the speakers, that as soon as this happens the MOOC loses its focus and purpose.
  • The technology and presentational methods of MOOCS need to continue to be innovated; it is not enough to throw another MOOC onto Coursera (or anywhere else) and consider the job done. (They all pointed to DS106 as an example of where this didn’t occur).
  • Burn out of staff delivering the course. Interesting idea that as staff energy flags, so does student participation and this can be mapped! They talk about around twenty people being an optimum number for a massive course. My experience certainly is that the Moodle MOOC I attended which had at least 10 people working solidly during the MOOCs window, was more successful than those where there was only one or two visible “leaders”.

Thoughts from Maturing the MOOC

Conflicting perspectives on MOOCs divide education communities

Split between “elite” universities (in the US) who are keen to explore the potential of MOOCs (and are able to do so financially) and smaller universities who don’t have the same kind of resources. 

But perhaps the criticisms that MOOCs are unable (currently) to help students with complex learning needs, though less visible, are more important.

Learning Practitioners disagree about the value of MOOCs

Though MOOCs could be innovative, they also can be seen as packaging over content. The format itself has many issues that are yet to be resolved.

Formal comprehensive analyses of MOOCs mostly concur that they are disruptive and possibly threatening to current HE models 

Dramatic change is imminent :), so say various government think tanks.

Reporting of MOOC learner experiences is positive

Even though many don’t complete the courses on offer this doesn’t mean that they are not positive about their experiences. Nevertheless there is little data to support this.

The MOOC is maturing – and engaging with its business and accreditation issues

Two biggies, sustainability and accreditation are both high on universities priority list for MOOCs and therefore these issues will be solved one way or another.

Could MOOCs be used in “my area”

One of my colleagues is very keen to produce a Computer Science MOOC for young people (K12). I think this would be a great idea. Now just to find someone to pay us to create it, run it, market it, host it……

An OER course

A digital skills course using OER

This is a short 5 week online course aimed at adult learners who want to improve their understanding of the digital skills necessary to engage with an increasingly digital world.
Excellent digital skills framework resource at the OU Library which students could use as self-assessment, but this skills course is aiming at adults who may not be quite at level 1 yet.We were only supposed to use the following OER banks, which meant not being able to use which, when I happened upon it following a link or two, turned out to be the very easiest to search:

The main conclusion I came to however, was that one needed to have a very clear idea of audience and structure before starting out. My choice was an adult online audience and it turned out that one resource was head and tails above all the others for this particular student group — OpenLearn.

A brief review of issues follows:

  • Ariadne: often broken links
  • Jorum : searching not easy, previews don’t work
  • MIT: too advanced for purpose
  • CNX: too difficult to use and many non-English texts without a way to filter these out.
  • Merlot: ratings useful, description of learning material also useful and search good, but out of date links.
  • OpenLearn: despite my criticisms in my earlier blog about this OER, I found this to provide excellent resources and ones that I could pick and chose from easily.
I would always look for existing suitable resources before deciding to create my own so I have no hesitation in using OER. However, ease of searching for and finding the right ones quickly would inevitably mean that I would end up on relying on those OER that were the easiest and quickest to use.
The course is not complete by any means but here is the beginning:
Week number
(G=good, M=medium, B=bad)
Week 1
Using a computer or mobile smartphone and getting connected
Software – Browsers and apps


Both of these were bad in terms of suitability.
Week 2
Creating and caring for your digital identity
Creating a profile
Creating accounts
Establish your icon
OpenLearn (Online Safety)


OpenLearn Identity online


Week 3
Searching and evaluating
Using search engines
Search terms
Evaluating results
Finding like-minded people


Week 4
Organising your digital things, offline and online
File storage
Cloud storage


Week 5
Communicating and collaborating
Web 2.0
Collaborative applications
From OpenLearn




Exploring OER issues

Activity 7: Exploring OER issues

From OER InfoKit  YouTube channel

The JISC report on OER discusses several issues in OER:

  • embedding sustainable practice
  • funding and resourcing
  • time involved in repurposing materials
  • widening engagement
  • licensing and locating license holders for permission
  • multiple OER models
  • institutional policies, practices and coherent strategies
  • technical infrastructures
  • staff skills, understanding and raising individuals’ digital literacies
  • “quality, institutional branding and marketisation” (p9), quality and trust of the materials
  • lack of awareness of OER and their benefits

But perhaps more importantly identifies that progress has been made in significant areas:

“Increased awareness, knowledge and expertise around issues to do with technical, quality, accessibility, and legal aspects have led to the development of systems, policies and procedures to support ongoing OER activities.” (Jisc, 2013, p11)

I have been exploring the OER Research Hub’s impact map and based on the results (though there are not many participants yet) explored the issue of widening participation more deeply. The impact map for Access is representing evidence gathered about the hypothesis that OER will widen participation in education. Without any evidence presented from K12 and most of the evidence originating from the USA, it would appear that there is more evidence to support the idea that access is not widened nevertheless there is a slight skew towards more broad access in higher education and at colleges but less in informal. In the HEFCE survey 55% of people who work with OERs found increased access for learners to be of most significance. As Emma Blake (2014) points out there is also a dearth of evidence from other regions than the first world. However, the Open Educational Resources Survey from Unesco (2012) shows promising responses from developing regions and also shows that OER activity is spread across the different educational sectors.

This same Unesco report also highlights the need for policies and funding to help support the establishment of OER. And here the impact map demonstrates clearly that once an OER policy is adopted then this bring financial benefits to institutions and student, particularly the open textbook movement. Where countries report that they do not have a policy, this is not necessarily the end of the story because many are in the process of creating one.

The third issue I want to address is that concerned with digital literacies, it seems from the review that although digital skills are improving amongst staff, when combined with the need for students to cooperate in the production of OER things get a little trickier. So perhaps although students are engaged with OER they are not necessarily getting the best out of them.

It seems as though sometimes we forget that in the fast paced technological era there are some things that always do take time. The impact map is a little disappointing in terms of the results that it displays, but this is due to the voluntary nature of how evidence is included but also that it depends on individuals proposing the evidence. This could certainly skew the perception of the information that it delivers. It is my experience in K12 that making a change and assessing its impact takes many years, for example, were I to propose a digital reading list to year 7’s the interesting result (their English GCSE results) would take five years to come through.

Identifying priorities for research

Identifying priorities for research

Advising a fundraising organisation on priorities for research in open education, choosing three from the following list:
  • Sustainability – many OER projects have received initial funding from organisations such as the Hewlett Foundation. How sustainable are they after the funding stops?
  • Pedagogy – are different ways of teaching required to make effective use of open education?
  • Barriers to uptake – what prevents individuals or institutions from either using or engaging with open education?
  • Learner support – how can learners best be supported in these open models?
  • Technology – what technologies are best suited to open approaches?
  • Quality – how can we assure the quality of open educational content?
  • Rights – how do we protect the intellectual property of individuals while encouraging wide distribution?
Instinctively I would recommend focussing on the following for research priorities, I would also suggest that a target type of student would also help to clarify some of these issues:
Learner support, primarily because although many people start open education courses, particularly MOOCs, far fewer finish. The make-up of the student body, i.e. people in the field of education and already well-educated, is also indicative that these initiatives are not reaching their intended audience. 
New Republic 
Pedagogy, it is only logical that in order to enable a system of open education, the method of teaching will have to change significantly. Is it enough to simply provide materials, some resources, a few computer quizzes and the occasional forum? Plainly not. But if not then what?
Barriers to uptake, this would go well with my first choice, partly because these are two sides of the same coin. 
Clow, D., (2013). MOOCs and the funnel of participation. Third Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK 2013) [online]. Available at (Accessed 21 March 2014)

Jordan, K., (nd) MOOC Completion Rates: The Data [online]. Available at (Accessed 21 March 2014)

Open Education – first scribbles

My experience with open education.

Open Education and the Future – TEDxNYED from David Wiley

This presentation isn’t really my experience of open education, though a couple of the things Wiley said struck a chord. “If you don’t want to share, why teach?” That was a good one, and another “Successful educators share most thoroughly with the most students“.

But I put this here just to get me started…. I, like one of my fellow MAODE students also first came across the concept of open as in open source software when I was studying at the Open University. I also was able to take advantage of the OU’s definition of open education, as in open entry, by completing my own Bachelors degree there, something I would have been unlikely to be able to do at any other university because of my dreadful A Level grades. Now as a tutor at the OU that open entry is something we continuously struggle with on level one courses. Students start out unprepared for university level study and yet when that one student succeeds, surpasses their own expectations and is able to progress with confidence onto higher levels it makes up for those who really can’t.

As a teacher I always used other teacher’s resources and also helped to establish a Moodle based website where whole courses could be freely exchanged, shared and updated. But this falls squarely into Open Education Resources (OERs) rather than open education. I see the OU as being the pioneer to allowing anyone access to education, provided they could find a way to pay for it, but that the definition of open education has changed more towards the idea of open as in free. But only free access to the resources, perhaps to a course structure, and if organised well, then also access to other students. A stumbling block is the notion of how a student feels successful, is it through assessment, certification, badgification?

I was very interested in the one laptop per child project and this felt to me like a project that had the potential to really change access to digital resources for the people who needed it the most. It was disappointing to discover that small use of this project wouldn’t work, my school wanted to buy a set, and server etc, for our link school in South Africa but couldn’t. The purchase was restricted to numbers over 12000 and this meant that it was governments who had to buy in. That ended up not feeling very open.

Wiley talks about people giving of their time in open education. I am trying hard not to see the irony of a professor on a six figure salary (just guessing) talking of teachers giving their time.

Over the last couple of years I have taken part in a few MOOCs and completed one. I also use resources shared under the creative commons licence in my studying and in my teaching.

And a Prezzi presentation to go with these musings:

Podcast: – how to find out if students are engaged


Beer, C. Clark, K., & Jones, D. (2010). Indicators of engagement. In C.H. Steel, M.J. Keppell, P. Gerbic & S. Housego (Eds.), Curriculum, technology & transformation for an unknown  future. Proceedings ascilite Sydney 2010 (pp.75-86). (accessed 20/11/2012)
Green R (2010). Incite Intentional Learning with Learning Management System Features (accessed 20/11/2012)
Educause (2011) Things you should know about… First-Generation learning analytics
Music: Grapes (2008), I dunno, ccMixter, licensed under


I am Mandy Honeyman, a student on H808,  and in this podcast for Unit 5 – I am going to talk about three aspects of evaluating engagement in online learning from both the perspective of the student and teacher.
The first one is monitoring which is more about systems simply because systems are beautifully set up to do this for us and that will involve looking a systems or systems methodology that provide access to that kind of data. Another thing I am going to look at is engagement from the perspective of how we think about designing activities that might help engage learners learners or will engage us as learners. Finally I want to talk about how ensuring engagement actually  remains the responsibility of the learner and this is where I will talk about keeping a journal or reflective log.
One of the things I have noticed as an OU tutor on the new version of the VLE is that we are able now to monitor access on the forums, this means that I can look very quickly and assess very early on whether students have engaged at all. All I want to see is that they have made one post at this early stage, but the problem in the past is that you had to go through every single thread on the forum and check against a list who has posted anything or not – it was time consuming and tedious. Whereas now, all I have to do is press one button and the information is there in front of me. The impact of that has been , in the course I am currently teaching, that I was able to tell in the first two weeks who had engaged more, who had engaged minimally but most importantly I could tell who had not engaged at all. And I was able to then address those issues really fast, I could speak to the students I was concerned about by email, on the phone and this meant that they felt that they had someone to talk to. Then I was able to efficiently assess whether they would be able to engage at the level necessary to be successful (i.e. simply complete the course). So that was absolutely fantastic. I am very aware that there are a number of systems where this is not available at all, and certainly not possible to apply against a database of a list of students or group of students. This is quite a simple area of learning analytics, and analytics certainly get far more complicated than this, but just this kind of small facility  would certainly be something very high in my list of criteria if I were evaluating different learning or course management systems would be 
Posting to a forum is quite a high-level online activity for a student, I wonder how to create material that is engaging for students that might also serve to assess whether there has been engagement. So I have already covered that a little bit in terms of being able to monitor, but I think there is probably something one can do with the design of activities on a course to monitor engagement as a student is working through material. And I am particularly thinking of that in compulsory education levels because teenagers are notoriously hard to keep focussed. How to you know in an online setting whether students have not only learnt the material  but what they thought of it as they went along, whether they found it interesting or boring. How could we get information from them that can help us to improve the course and course delivery. And I think that is especially important in an online setting, because in a classroom you can look around and see very quickly, usually, whether or not students are listening or bored and distracted, whereas if you are online you have absolutely no idea what the student is doing at the same time as trying to learn, concentrate or focus. It seems that at the moment the only way to discover this is by outcome, so you can only find out whether they have engaged by assessing what they have learnt. I would like to experience evaluation of whether or not they like what they have just experienced. For example, when we have used the elluminate sessions in this course or any other, one of the things that is really helpful is when people engage by clapping, using smilies, ticks, crosses, all of these kind of fast question/response things certainly helps me as a learner to focus on what is happening and if I am speaking, to find out how my audience is responding. So I think this needs to work from both perspectives, tutor and learner, as a learner I want to be helped to remain focussed and interested. This also applies to the length of time learning objects last for and how long a student is expected to remain focussed on something. There is significant amounts of research that have questioned the amount of time that people at different ages can concentrate, this is even more true when working at computers as health and safety issues also come into play.
Finally, I am going to talk about the use of learning journals, reflections and how to assess engagement from the point of view of the learner being responsible for it. How do you make reflective activity prove itself to be so worthwhile to the learner that they are motivated to engage with it. How do you convince that it is a powerful object other than being something that being assessed. I think it is probably an individual process that each learner has to go through for themselves, I don’t know that it can be forced. My own response to the blogging that we were encouraged to do at the outset was once I knew it was no longer for assessment I stopped, and I put my time and energy elsewhere. But of course I will go back now, because as I talk now I am horribly aware that I have been very lax. The reflective log is the proof of engagement and I think many learners would be able to figure out for themselves that this is a highly worthwhile activity. I wonder about how it can be made to be more engaging and more fun for students at other levels than HE? Surely those of us who have chosen to study at Higher levels, understand what we have got ourselves into, the commitment to learning itself and this can be said for any post-compulsory level, whereas those students in compulsory education do not have the same vision. They are, arguably, very focussed on summative assessment, and specifically final results, whether that be coursework or exams. So maybe the link between the activity of making notes and engaging in deeper reflective learning needs to be made earlier in order to improve the quality of the learning, the direct pay off being that they will get better results. Perhaps this would help younger people engage with reflection? This would be joined up thinking, I just don’t know if we are taught at an early enough age, that there is a payoff from reflecting more deeply on what you have learnt and therefore would be able to perform better in examination and assessment.