Thursday, 9 May 2013

The ScHARR MOOC Diaries - Part VIII: Developing a template for structuring weekly MOOC content


'Where MOOCs and online dating sites collide' by Luke Miller
Last week, members of the ScHARR MOOCs team met to decide on how we could best deliver the content for each of our MOOCs. If you have been fortunate enough to participate in a MOOC already, then the chances are you will be aware of the many differing modes of delivery available (see Jenny’s post for more information on xMOOCs vs cMOOCs).

Traditional formats appear commonplace in the current MOOC offering, for example, having delivered content, the course leader will sit behind a desk and discuss some of the concepts and debates raised by MOOC participants that week. Indeed there are approaches which are even more ‘hands-off ‘ than this!


The MOOC mob all agreed that we wanted to be innovative and offer something that would differ from this traditional approach. We wanted to foster a greater degree of interactivity and engagement. The challenge here of course is that like everyone else we don’t have an unlimited resource of tutor time to plough into it.


Recent discourses in online learning have offered a replacement to the concept of the ‘sage on the stage’, and the notion of a ‘guide on the side’ has emerged as one alternative for the role of the tutor in online distance learning.  Again, this notion didn’t quite capture our vision for the dynamic we were hoping to foster with our MOOC participants. We spent some time playing with words which encapsulated our fresh approach to MOOC hosting, and we have arrived at the following mission statement: 'the architects who project, collect, dissect and connect’


To expand on this:


  • project (broadcasting / presenting content to stimulate the discussion),
  • collect (collating resources, responses and discourse)
  • dissect (unpick the discourse and identify the key issues of importance to the subject and our participants)
  • connect (we are all about connections - building and fostering links with and between participants and areas of interest to further the subject understanding)



The notion of subject expertise is, for many, becoming less widely held. Certainly, having completed four years of research into a particular field, culminating in a thesis , one is likely to have a greater understanding and knowledge of their specific subject than the average person. However in this age of ‘information overload’ it never fails to amaze me just how informed and engaged the ‘average’ person is on food issues – even if sometimes the information obtained is not so accurate. Combine this with the global context of student populations (we have participants enrolling on our MOOC from all corners of the globe), and the often specific cultural focus of academic research and it soon becomes apparent that as course leaders there is the opportunity for vital information exchange. For a subject area like healthy and sustainable diets, this provides a learning experience  for us as course tutors, but also between our MOOC participants, and could enable new links to be forged, providing a platform to connect interested parties for future research projects.Therefore arguably the research field is developed as our global understanding of how scenarios impact on different communities in different ways is built upon through participant discourse.


So back to our meeting. The big question of how we were going to deliver our content loomed and we talked about the different options, the tools at our disposal and the pedagogical benefits or different avenues. We settled upon a template which we could apply to each MOOC’s weekly content. Having such a template would hopefully mean the students would quickly become orientated with the structure and how to study each week. It also meant that staff working on developing the MOOCs had a ready made mould into which they could poor materials and so on. Being the first MOOC offered by the university, we wanted to keep the outline format as simple as possible, and not commit ourselves to anything we wouldn’t be confident in delivering, or which may overburden our participants. We finally settled on a weekly template, shown below:




Our Weekly template:


We will be presenting weekly content in the following format.


1. First of all the week’s intended learning outcomes will be shared with the participants just to formalise what we’re hoping the achieve during the week.


2. We will then provide a short video (approximately 2 minutes) which will take the form of a talking head from one or more of the MOOC leaders. The video will introduce the key course content for each week, and highlight any other significant tasks or exercises so the participants will know exactly the scope of their week’s learning and what is being expected from them.


3. We will then provide a series of pages of content which will be varied and may include one or more of following:


  • Pages of guided reading (either onscreen or by pointing to openly available articles and reports online)
  • Screencasts or videos (pointing to resources such as youtube, vimeo, echo360 and screencast-o-matic)
  • Weblinks to interesting and relevant website or policy documents etc.
  • Opinions from multiple academic staff or subject experts
  • Self-assessment questionnaires to check as participants progress through the week that they are understanding.
  • Formative “reveal box” activities whereby participants are asked a question and invited to type an answer before being provided with a ‘model’ answer with which they can compare to their own response.
  • Images, diagrams and tables of information



4. We will provide weekly topic areas giving participants the opportunity to post reflective blog entries. These will be shared with the cohort. Participants will be encouraged to engage in the ‘community spirit’ by reading and responding to each other’s reflections.


5. A synchronous “live” Blackboard Collaborate session will be scheduled at the end of each week in which the MOOC tutors will present consolidatory slides on the week’s learning, discuss the blog topic area and pull out interesting posts and comments. These sessions will participatory (we will use the chat window for comments during the session) and will also seek to answer any questions that the MOOC team have received during the week and also give a preview of what will be covered in the following week.


6. In addition to the Collaborate session, we will be opening a weekly discussion forum where conversations can be continued outside of the live session. Due to the potential volume of posts in these forums, we will be offering a ‘loose’ moderation style, ie the MOOC team will monitor posts for appropriateness however will not guarantee that tutors will respond to threads.


Alongside all of the above, we will be encouraging participants to engage with the MOOC tutors in tweeting using the hashtags we are associating with the MOOCs. For the diets MOOC we will be using #dietsmooc. The MOOC welcome pages will contain an embedded twitter feed filtering in all tweets which use this hashtag. Participants are welcome to start tweeting amongst themselves prior to the course commencing, and indeed to respond to Tweets posted by course leaders.


All in all this is an exciting prospect for us as course leaders, but also for all our participants who have enrolled on one of the ScHARR MOOCS. The prospect of being part of such an exciting project which combines learning, participation and research all in one is waiting to be embraced, and we encourage everybody to get on board!


Angie and Luke


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