Integrating accredited online courses with MOOCs

mooc cc0 cropThis week sees the launch of the second instance of the Introduction to Social Research Methods MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on the edX platform. Known as ‘SOCRMx’, this course is free and openly accessible to learners across the globe, and provides eight weeks of stimulating materials related to conducting social science research. The course has been designed and developed by the team at the Centre for Research in Digital Education, which also hosts the fully online MSc in Digital Education.

MOOCs have been one of the most talked about education technology projects in recent years, attracting considerable media attention and inciting a flood of academic research. The University of Edinburgh have been at the forefront of the MOOC movement, and the Digital Education team were pleased to be part of the first wave of courses, launching E-Learning and Digital Cultures (known as EDCMOOC) in 2013. While all kinds of MOOC offerings have been surfacing since, questions about how the ‘open’ format will integrate with more established, and accredited, higher education provision have been pervasive. It is in relation to these questions, perhaps the most important of those associated with MOOCs, that SOCRMx has sought to innovate, drawing once again on the research-led expertise of the Digital Education team.

SOCRMx is different to most other MOOCs because it is formally incorporated into a 20-credit SQF level 11 course: our enrolled University of Edinburgh students undertake a 12-week course on research methods training, and the 8-week MOOC serves as the middle section. During the MOOC, our students participate along with members of the public who may be students enrolled at other institutions, working professionals looking to update skills, lifelong learners interested in new topics, or even other teachers trying to find out what MOOCs are like. This variety creates a diverse, and busy, learning space, but hopefully also a productive one for our students as they are exposed to different people, perspectives, and ideas from across the globe. Following the successful and celebrated design of the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC, SOCRMx foregrounds group discussion rather than video lectures, and offers plenty of spaces and opportunities to ask questions in discussion fora, or write reflectively in a blog post. A bespoke blog aggregator – the ‘SOCRMx News’ – allows us to collect participant blog posts from across the web, and display them in a single web page. This puts our students at the centre of the learning process, and draws together the productive diversity of the distributed, global classroom of the MOOC.

So, if the MOOC is free, why would our students pay to participate? The answer is in the assessment. University of Edinburgh students need to complete 3 different assignments throughout the course, which prepare them for the next stage in their qualification; a Masters Dissertation. However, the public participants of the MOOC will have all kinds of different reasons for taking the course. Designing for this multiplicity of motivations is one of the key challenges of ‘open education’. SOCRMx includes two ‘light touch’ assessments that are linked closely with the formal MSc assessments, but they are principally designed to give people a taste of postgraduate study.

This should be the sensible way to talk about the future of ‘massive’ and ‘open’ higher education: not a simplistic story of ‘replacement’ or ‘disruption’, but rather thoughtful approaches to integrating MOOCs with established provision that amplify the ways people can engage with higher education, and also offer our students new ways to experience international perspectives.

Want to find out more about MOOCs and Digital Education? See these Teaching Matters blogs:

Technology Enhanced Learning is now at scale

Why does open matter?

Supporting student transitions into online learning

Jeremy Knox

Dr Jeremy Knox is a Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, working in the Centre for Research in Digital Education. His published work includes critical perspectives on Open Educational Resources and Massive Open Online Courses, and the recent Posthumanism and the MOOC: contaminating the subject of global education with Routledge. Jeremy is co-convenor of the Society for Research in Higher Education (SRHE) Digital University network.

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