MOOCs and technology-enhanced learning: next steps and challenges

Last week, I gave a presentation at the Westminster Higher Education Forum Keynote Seminar, where I explored the opportunities MOOCs provide for UK universities to develop their brand internationally and to expand their international market through online learning. My slides and transcripts below:

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This diagram illustrates how MOOCs may offer a low-cost, flexible alternative for those ‘glocal‘ students, who choose to study in universities in their home countries but also gain an international experience (something that is highly valued) through studying courses online (MOOCs, the OU’s OpenLeran, etc.) that are integrated into their own university curriculum.

For institutions providing the free content, these courses can help universities to market their higher degree programmes and recruit new students who are better prepared to study on-campus in the UK, or through fully online degrees without leaving their own countries.   Untitled.png1

As an example, we looked at the Web Science MOOC created by the university of Southampton which has been integrated into a computer science course by Beijing Normal University (BNU). 87 first year undergraduate students who are studying an introduction to computer science have signed up for the course on Futurelearn. In addition to attending lessons offered by BNU, they also watch videos online and discuss the learning materials with their peers and the tutor face to face or online. Several online seminars are delivered by academics from the University of Southampton. Online facilitations and assessments are provided by the local tutor on the Wolearn platform in China during the MOOC study. Flipped and blended learning approaches are used to make online and face to face learning more effective and integrated between the BUN course and the Web Science MOOCs.

This experiment showed how we can use MOOCs to explore new paths and models for affordable, flexible and effective international education through online or blended provisions. Furthermore, to help us understand how MOOCs might be developed to enhance UK universities’ reputation internationally and to better market their courses to potential students through partnerships with universities in other countries.

Not surprisingly, one of the challenges mentioned again during the penal discussion session was business models for MOOCs. It is clear that some institutions have seen the new opportunities presented by MOOCs as a useful motivation for re-examining their current provision and think about ways in which they can change and diversify, and consider MOOCs as a part of new strategic direction for future online provision nationally and internationally.

 

Learning Analytics: not just measuring but engaging students

Last week, I ran a workshop for the Lace project on “Learning Analytics: seeking answers at a time of big questions?” at the ALT-C14. The workshop was designed to bring together educators, researchers and developers to explore the promises and the pitfalls of using learning analytics in education. A brief introduction to the workshop is available here.

At the workshop, participants were invited to work in groups to develop scenarios around learning analytics in institutions and the issues and concerns related to using data in education, teaching and learning. About 30 participants from HE institutions, commercial companies and other educational organisations shared their thoughts, experiences and current projects and work on learning analytics.

Although four groups worked independently, not surprisingly, a common theme emerged at the plenary session: using learning analytics as a means to engage students. Several scenarios were developed around building dashboards to track student engagement; monitoring student performance and supporting individual and group  online learning; and engaging international students, distance learners and students in MOOCs, etc.

Some questions around using analytics in institutions were discussed in the groups, such as:

  • What are the motivations for using learning analytics?
  • What systems, tools and data are available?
  • How reliable are the data?
  • How up to date are the data?
  • How can data from multiple sources (VLE, Facebook, twitter) be monitored and analysed?
  • How may we identify similar behaviours among high or low performance students?

General concerns were around privacy and data protection as well as accuracy of data collected about students and their online activities. Other concerns and suggestions included:

  • Don’t get bogged down with the numbers
  • Need better performance metrics and actual impact indicators;
  • Need to have the right data and the right human interpretation;
  • Danger of too much details that may discourage meaningful learning
  • Course should be designed with learning analytics in mind
  • Consider data formats and interoperability for data sharing

Due to the time constraints of the workshop, with participants from different types of organisations with various level of knowledge and skill on learning analytics, it was difficult to have a deep discussion around such broad and challenging topic. However, most participants thought that the workshop provided an opportunity for them to find out what other people and institutions are thinking and doing, and to share their ideas and experiences, in this case, how to engage students through learning analytics. If you would like to find out more about the Lace project and learning analytics, you can join the Lace community or participating in our future workshops.

UntitledThe LACE project workshop at the ALT-C14, 1st September 2014, Warwick, UK

Reflection on the “Open Education – a New World Order” session

At the Cetis conference 2014, Stephen and I facilitated a session on “Open Education and MOOCs”. We began with two very interesting presentations from Audrey Watters,  a journalist and author of Hack Education, and Amy Woodgate from The University of Edinburgh. They offered two different perspectives: MOOCs as teaching machines vs MOOCs as teaching experiments.

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Audrey shared some insights on how the ideas and principles developed by the founder of Udacity, Sebastian Thrun, and used to build Google’s self-driving car have been applied to MOOCs to make teaching and learning scalable and standardized. Audrey argued that with AI (artificial intelligence) mind-sets, MOOCs have been developed as teaching machines that use students’ data as the new oil that drives learners to automated education!,

A contrasting view developed in Amy’s presentation discussed how Edinburgh MOOCs have been used for experimenting with new online delivery methods and capability building. In this case, MOOCs can be seen as a vehicle for  exploring new online learning pedagogy, acting as a catalyst for institutional change.

In the second half of the session, participants discussed the opportunities, challenges, motivation and capacities required for developing open online learning in institutions. They worked in groups to develop business models for adopting MOOCs in different types of organisations, namely: a Research Focused University; a Teaching Focused University and a New Market Entrant. Business Model Canvas was used as a tool to facilitate their conversations with each group developing a model canvas:

1. The Research Focused University

Highlights: Although finance and revenues are not big concerns for this type of institution, good will, enthusiasm and spare time of academics will not sustain institutional MOOC provision in the long run.

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2. The Teaching Focused University

Highlights: Great opportunities for blended learning, flipped classrooms and experimenting with unbundling and rebundling. However, the new courses and models need to generate new revenue streams for institutions.

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3. The New Market Entrant

Highlights: new market was identified to meet the unmet needs, such as NEETS. But it is unclear who is going to pay for it.

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Overall, the session gave us lots of food for thought. After two years of MOOC hype, it is interesting to see that Udacity has moved towards corporate training and professional development and Coursera has also has shifted their focus away from impact on learners towards working with institutions.

The most significant contribution yet of MOOCs in higher education is that it has raised awareness of open education and raised the profile of open education resources (OERs) in teaching and learning practices in institutions. However, it emerged from discussions and the BMC exercises during the session that without vital financial support and a viable business model, the new wave of optimism around open online learning generated by MOOCs will gradually fade away.

A personal reflection on Open Education

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The third annual Open Education Week takes place from 10-15 March 2014. The purpose of Open Education Week is  “to raise awareness about the movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide“.

Cetis staff are supporting Open Education Week by publishing a series of blog posts about open education activities. The Cetis blog will provide access to the posts which will describe Cetis activities concerned with a range of open education activities. My contribution to the series covers:

A personal reflection on Open Education

Two years ago, Lou McGill developed an Open Educational Resources timeline which reflected on the involvement of Cetis with learning technology and OERs over the past ten years. I found it very interesting and thought provoking. In this Open Education week, I would like to share some thoughts and reflections on Open Education through my personal learning journey and some of the work that I have been involved in with OERs, Open Online Learning and MOOCs.

1. Back in 1985, I signed up for a Self Study Higher Education Programme when I worked as a school teacher in China. Since the 80’s, China has built the world’s largest Open Education system to meet the needs of people who are not be able to attend a college or a university face-to-face. The programme is open to everyone regardless of age, previous education or qualifications. They can choose to study any subject that they are interested in (from a total of 21 subjects), either self-taught or study with peers and tutors at local learning centres. Those who pass examinations gain qualifications equivalent to a college degree. More than 3-million Chinese students have obtained university degrees via this programme over the past two decades. When I was half way through the programme to gain the degree in Chinese, I was offered an opportunity to study at Beijing Normal University. As a result, I didn’t take all of the examinations, but the two years of self–study did add great value to my life at that time and it continues to this day. In this example, it is very clear to me that although the self-study programme would have advanced my career, the four years of study at Beijing Normal University changed my life and career direction completely.  Learning for the sake of learning is a luxury that few can afford.  In the case of MOOC students, research suggests that most of them are already well-educated professionals. For many learners undertaking tertiary education, gaining a degree qualification is the prime motivation as they believe it will enhance their career opportunities. Open education involves not only access to course materials, but also appropriate support and guidance. Therefore, how to make university education more accessible, valuable and meaningful to learners is a challenge that universities cannot ignore.

2. I have been very lucky to be involved in shaping and supporting the UK OER programme since I joined Cetis in 2008. This has given me a unique opportunity to work with UK institutions and the wider OER community to understand the opportunities and challenges of OERs from an institutional perspective. In the UK, more than 80 universities have been involved producing OERs and making teaching and learning material searchable, sharable and reusable globally. One question that all funders, institutions and educators would like to answer is: how might OERs be shared and reused by others? We can celebrate the success of funded OERs projects but we must also question the sustainability of these initiatives after their initial funding runs out. There are some individuals who are inspired by the global OER movement and who spend their time and efforts promoting OERs. These grassroots OER projects are, I think, more sustainable in the longer term. For example, here is an OER/Open Course collection created by Dr Ma, a scholar from a Chinese University. He and his students gathered a large number of OERs and Open Courses in educational technology produced by universities from the UK and US. At present, these courses have been translated into Chinese and reused by Chinese lecturers who teach relevant courses to students who are studying educational technology. Some lecturers from Chinese universities have also started to use this platform to make their courses open and to share with educators in other universities.

3. The rapid development of MOOCs, highlights the question about business models again and again. Commercial startups, such as Coursera and Udacity have been experimenting with various revenue streams and recently have focused on professional training, credit-bearing courses and international markets. It seems an obvious question for institutions: what is the business model if the course is free? In 2010, my colleagues and I at Institute for Educational Cybernetics developed an Open Online Course for Masters students, who were studying educational technology in China and delivered it in partnership with a Chinese university.  We used a blended learning approach with a local facilitator. This course helped us gain a better understanding of language, cultural, pedagogical and access issues in other education contexts. It also gave us an opportunity to explore some ideas on how to scale up to make open online courses financially viable for institutions. Institutions will need to identify a particular market niche that differentiates itself from its competition and makes the courses sustainable over the longer term. With expansions of MOOCs, students can start looking at different degree programs at different universities around the country or around the world. Institutions will need to think beyond MOOCs. They need to design and develop high quality open online courses to enable students to study online or blended courses in their home countries. These courses need to be affordable, accessible and flexible to meet the different needs of learners globally.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that a new Europe-wide initiative, “Open Education Challenge” has been launched to encourage innovations in education through funding educational startups in Europe. I am currently involved in preparing a bid to address some of challenges in open education and help institutions develop new models for sustainable open online courses. Hopefully, this initiative will give educational practitioners and innovators a new opportunity to work together and bring about a substantive change in education worldwide.

 

Cetis White Paper on ‘Beyond MOOCs: Sustainable Online Learning in Institutions’

It is now six years since the advent of the first MOOC course, and 2012 is widely identified as the year that the hype surrounding MOOCs reached its peak and in 2013 began its path into ‘trough of disillusionment’. The key questions for institutions are what lessons we might learn from the MOOC experiment and how this may help institutions to develop a more strategic approach to improve the quality of teaching and learning and open up access to higher education?

Following the well cited Cetis white paper ‘MOOCs and Open Education: Implications for Higher Education’ (BIS, UNESCO, Universities UK), this new report looks beyond the current debate on MOOCs to understand the potential of open online learning for learners, educators and institutions from pedagogical, financial and technological perspectives.

In this Beyond MOOCs white paper, we discuss key concepts emerging from the MOOC development that may have significant impact on future HE, these include openness, revenue models, and service disaggregation of HE provision. We also identify the areas that institutions may consider to explore with open online provision through the lenses of technology options, pedagogical opportunities and learner choices. In conclusion, we provide a decision-making framework to address questions of what form or forms of online learning provision would be appropriate to meet a particular organisation’s business needs.

Hopefully, this report will stimulate further discussions and debate on exploring the opportunities developed by MOOCs and to experiment with new forms of provision that go beyond HEI’s existing markets. We would welcome opportunities to continue discuss and explore ideas around open online learning in higher education in future workshops and seminars. If you are interested in discussing the implications of this paper for your institution, please contact Li Yuan at l.yuan@bolton.ac.uk, Stephen Powell at stephenp.powell@gmail.com or Bill Olivier at B.Olivier@bolton.ac.uk at Cetis (http://www.cetis.ac.uk).

MOOCs and Higher Education: What is next?

I gave a presentation on “MOOCs and Higher Education” at the SCONUL annual conference in Dublin last week. In the presentation, I examined the potential of MOOCs as a disruptive innovation and an emerging technology in higher education, and explored the concept, business model and trends of the MOOC phenomenon. The full presentation is available at here.

The Gartner Hype Cycle has been widely used to illustrate the processes of maturity, adoption and applications of emerging technologies in society. A question I posed in my presentation was, will MOOCs fall into this pattern of technology adoption?

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If we take the Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford in 2011 as the starting point for the hype cycle, then 2012 was, ‘The Year of the MOOC’! This was manifested by the rapid spread of media coverage and the elite institutions forming partnerships to launch online courses shown as the upward trend of the graph moving toward the “peak of inflated expectations.” In 2013, less optimistic news and research findings have been appearing, e.g. the recent announcement from Coursera, which deflated expectations of MOOCs shown as the downward trend of the graph line.

Some questions:

  • Are MOOCs beginning the short journey into the ‘trough of disillusionment’?
  • Is the time approaching for MOOCs providers and universities to figure out what works and what doesn’t work?
  • Sometime in the future, if and when MOOCs enter the ‘slope of enlightenment and plateau of productivities’, will they then have a real impact on the delivery of higher education?

The answers to these questions remain to be found in the future!

To MOOC or not to MOOC

The question to MOOC or not to MOOC has perhaps been discussed in many institutions’ committee meetings recently, such as this tongue-in-cheek one on Tony Bates’ blog! While some leading universities in North America and Europe have joined Coursera to offer MOOCs, a recently published report from Queen’s University in Canada, which made recommendations about the institution’s policy and strategic planning on online learning, suggested that “Queen’s does not become involved in MOOCs until and unless there is greater support for online learning (within the university)”. It has also been reported that some institutions have been denied the opportunity to offer MOOCs through Coursera because, as a company policy, it only works with ‘elite institutions’, e.g. the ‘top five’ universities in countries outside of North America. No doubt discussions on what institutions should do about MOOCs will continue until the hype cycle has passed.

Coursera recently announced that it made $220,000 profit in the first quarter of 2013 by charging for verified completion certificates and receiving revenue from Amazon through learners buying books suggested by the professors headlining MOOC courses. This ‘brand + content = revenue’ model seems a win-win business proposition. Students pay for certificates from elite universities and the professors sell more of the books they’ve published to a mass audience, publicised via recorded lectures on their MOOC courses. In this case, many would argue that online learning should be considered a pedagogical choice (e.g. cMOOCs) rather than a cynical money making approach to education.

Whether institutions have been involved in MOOCs or not, it is clear that the development of MOOCs has re-focused institutional attention on how to provide effective online learning in order to gain competitive advantages in a global educational market. As the Queen’s University report suggested, the university needs to have “a plan that sets clear goals for online learning, identifies the resources needed, and makes the necessary organizational and structural changes”. Institutions will need to rethink their organisational structures and business models to make teaching and learning more effective, pedagogically and financially, either via face-to-face or online. Following on from the recently published CETIS MOOCs report, we believe that there is a need to make sense of the new pedagogical approaches and business models around MOOCs and other forms of online courses, and produce an analysis to help inform about institutions’ policy and strategic planning with regard to online distance learning.

CETIS white paper on “ MOOCs and Open education: implications for higher education”

The rapid development of MOOCs has generated significant interest in the new form of online learning model from governments, venture capitalists and institutions, due to their key attractions of scaled up ‘massive’ open access to online courses for anyone, anywhere in the world. It has also created a great deal of debate around how MOOCs will have impact on conventional HE providers and whether it will disrupt existing business models in Higher Education.

The phenomena of MOOCs has surfaced many questions about the role of universities in society and has challenged traditional views about teaching, learning and assessment. A key question surrounds how institutions can develop a cohesive strategy in responding to the opportunities and challenges posed by MOOCs and other forms of openness in higher education.

The CETIS white paper on “MOOCs and Open Education” seeks to raise awareness of MOOCs in higher education institutions. It offers a framework for thinking about MOOCs issues and challenges as disruptive innovations and for stimulating future thinking on open education. This report was largely informed by various commentators’ and practitioners’ thinking on MOOCs from their blogs and press releases, with additional intelligence from openly available reports. It has also been shaped by various activities that CETIS have been involved in, for example in promoting openness and supporting innovation in UK institutions.

The report is written from a UK higher education perspective and takes into account current changes on funding and fee structures in the UK higher education and the desire for more accessible, cheaper and flexible HE provisions from traditional institutions and private providers. We hope this report will help decision makers in institutions gain both a better understanding of the phenomenon of MOOCs and trends towards greater openness in higher education and a framework to think about the implications for their institutions.

eBooks in HE institutions – are we ready yet?

eBooks is one of technologies that many believe will have significant impact on education; and indeed will change the way of teaching and learning in schools and universities. In essence, both eBooks and printed books are very similar in as much as they allow people to do the most important thing – read a book. However, compared to traditional books, eBooks offer new ways to distribute and interact with information. Take, for example, the eBook produced by the Oxford Internet Institute, “Geographies of the World’s Knowledge”, a research report on where and how knowledge is distributed across the world. Readers can select pieces of the pictures in this book to zoom in on and to glean further information as they wish. They can navigate to particular pages via interaction with the visualizations.

The rapid development of E-readers, tablets and mobile technology in recent years, such as Kindles, iPads and smartphones makes buying, downloading and reading eBooks more popular and easier. As a result, more and people are reading routinely on their electronic devices. In particular, the younger generation, reading is the tool for much social activity and experience through the sharing of notes and comments instantly. With these social networking developments, it is clear that there will be increased demand from learners for eBooks within academic contexts. Education will need to change to provide a more interactive learning experience and access to content anytime, anywhere as promised by using eBooks.

However, despite all the hype, eBooks have remained on the fringes of higher education. For institutions, eBook technology is still new. There are many questions needing to be answered in order to embed eBooks in teaching, learning and research. For example, is eBook technology mature enough for education? Is it time to invest heavily in e-textbooks in institutions? What are the technical and cultural challenges we are facing and how can eBooks be best used in academic contexts? We don’t know the answers to all of the questions, but it is clear that we need more information and knowledge about eBooks to make well informed decisions.

Hopefully, the newly published JISC Observatory TechWatch report on “Preparing for Effective Adoption and Use of Ebooks in Education” will help decision makers, IT managers, librarians and educators to gain a better understanding of current issues and challenges in adopting eBooks in institutions. In this report, the author, James Clay, introduces the history and key concepts of eBooks and discusses the technical, cultural and legal challenges that need to be addressed for the successful adoption of eBooks in education. Furthermore, it offers scenarios illustrating the effective use of eBooks in libraries and in teaching, learning and research in institutions. It also provides us with useful insights into the future directions of eBook development.

Will Analytics transform Education?

Effective use of data is vital for success in today’s business world. In education, Analytics (or Learning Analytics) is becoming a hot topic, promising to disrupt and transform education and learning. I have written an article to address some current trends and issues on analytics in education for TEL-Map, a European funded support action project, intended to help stakeholders develop roadmaps and work towards actually implementing desired future for TEL in Europe, in which CETIS has been involved. In this overview article, I did a short detour to the business world for some examples of analytics, then I looked at how education has approached the phenomenon, explored some practices, and raised some concerns about the downside of this trend. The full article is available at the TEL-Map project portal – Learning Frontiers.