March 28, 2014, by Helen Whitehead
All MOOC-ed Out!
Sarah Speight writes: The University of Nottingham’s inaugural MOOC for the FutureLearn partnership, ‘Sustainability, Society and You’ (SSY) finished a few weeks ago after what seemed like a mammoth 8 weeks. As I write, the second Nottingham MOOC, How to read a Mind, is coming to a close.
Sustainability, Society and You was both exciting and exhausting, and a new experience for the majority of the Nottingham team who put the course together. In this blog, I will reflect upon a few of the delivery challenges and sum up the contribution of some of my ‘MOOC Stars’.
We decided that we wanted to be visible in the course. We wanted to engage directly with our learners, to respond to comments, to ask questions, offer suggestions and summaries. Although ‘Sustainability, Society and You’ was based upon the ‘NOOC’, the tri-campus online Nottingham Advantage Award module that had first run in 2012-13, it required a major redesign to fit the FutureLearn platform. One of the key differences was that many of our readings had to be broken down into 2 or 3 separate articles in order to follow FutureLearn’s advice about the quantity of text on one page. This meant some careful editing to ensure that each article worked on its own (bearing in mind that learners might not read everything in order) and that the comments posted after it were given some direction by a blog prompt (or ‘Think About’) to avoid disrupting the formal discussions that followed articles. On the one hand the ‘Think About’ s worked superbly. They cut down on the potential for repetition in learner’s comments, and they did encourage peer to peer engagement. But the downside was that the number of ‘steps’ in each week of the course was increased significantly and therefore the workload of the team increased with it. We managed this by allocating ‘lead’ facilitators to each week and by using the ‘Follow’ function on the platform so that we could easily find out which team members had been responding to which section and avoid duplication of effort.
Neil Sinclair (Philosophy) bravely volunteered to host a ‘Hot Seat’ in week 2. The idea behind this was that learners would post questions for Neil that he would respond to between set dates. But he went further than this by committing to join in with the discussions in every step of the week, and spending up to 2-3 hours per day in the course. The timing of this was so important. Everyone had been proactive in week 1, fired up by the excitement of being part of Nottingham’s first MOOC. Neil’s decision meant that the momentum rolled over into week 2 and that difficult questions of moral obligation and ethics were handled with deep academic expertise.
With Simon Gosling (Geography) we tried a Google Hangout (an online seminar streamed live via YouTube). We rehearsed and rehearsed, ironing out technical issues and planning the sequence of events. Simon got everyone measuring their water footprint via an online calculator tool. It worked brilliantly and turned out to be one of the most significant activities in the course going by the number of people who subsequently pledged to reduce their consumption of red meat.
Mike Clifford (Engineering) popped up throughout the course. Appearing in 4 of the videos, he was a familiar face and voice, volunteering to answer questions highlighted for him by the facilitators. For our final event, another Google Hangout, we set up a ‘What’s in Mike’ Office’ quiz and invited learners to identify the materials and methods used to produce a range of objects. It was fun (no, that wasn’t Mike’s wig stand) but also served a serious purpose. It led nicely in to our ‘Question Time’ panel (where Mike was joined by Neil, Cecilia Goria from CLAS, Helen Whitehead from Learning Technology and our facilitators Eleanor Hadley Kershaw from Sociology and Social Policy and Thom Whiffen from Built Environment).
We chose to end the course with two devices to show our learners that we were on the same journey as they were. In week 3 we asked everyone to carry out a waste audit. In week 8, Sally Hibbert (Business School) audited us by rummaging through the waste that had been collected during our filming. And we too made our pledges for personal change, with a strong theme of healthier living and reduced carbon footprints.
So although Nottingham’s first MOOC has finished, and the second is coming to a close, the evaluations are still to come, and there is a mass of learning to digest and apply to future projects (and indeed the second run of Sustainability, Society and You starting 16 June). Why not join us?