You may think you know all about online courses but chances are you have never been a part of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). That would be because right now there are only a hand full of universities in the entire world that offer them. In fact, the whole style of open online courses is still in its infancy, with a few innovators like MIT, Stanford, and now – the University of Amsterdam, leading the way. But what is the big deal about MOOC’s and why would they matter to student or non-students out there on the internet?
To find out more, we reached out to Elgin Blankwater, an IT specialist and developer on UvA’s MOOC team, who just yesterday helped launch the world’s first Introduction to Communication Science MOOC.
UA: In the past we’ve all probably made use of blackboard (type systems) for distance learning, online courses of different kinds go back to the late 90′s for some universities, but MOOC seems to break with all the previous systems. How and why?
EB: MOOCs are part of the long history of Open Educational Resources, but I think the big difference is that the MOOC courses are more all-encompassing than previous initiatives, they are supported by the heads of these institutions, and certificates are offered if you successfully finish the course.I also think a lot of MOOCs try to offer a little bit more than just a recorded talking head, for example, through illustrated video lectures, and they try to engage you with good quizzes, peer to peer assignments and forums. Another reason is the accessibility of the MOOCs: they are free, they don’t require any prerequisites, yet still offer high quality education.
UA: How resource intensive is setting up and running a MOOC? In terms of people, machines, and budget?
EB: Our project started with just four people and a small budget, but grew in the end to about fifteen people and a much larger budget. The biggest reason for this was that we decided to develop a completely new curriculum, make video clips with hand made illustrations, develop new multiple choice quiz questions, develop our own platform instead of joining a commercial platform, and consequently, had to do our own promotion, social media etc. Therefore, for us, it was (and still is) very resource intensive. We just started yesterday, so time will tell how much effort it takes to run a MOOC. In terms of budget it was quite an investment for our department and the university, but since both the platform and our learning materials can be reused in the future, other MOOCs will be cheaper and easier to set up.
UA: For an institution like UvA, is this development important for the future of how courses are run? Or simply an experiment, a public service project or a marketing/ recruitment tool? What departments are most interested in making use of or being involved in this?
EB: This MOOC is definitely an experiment. We don’t know yet how our MOOC will be received, whether people are actually learning something, who will join from which countries, or for what reason. Our department invested in our MOOC for three main reasons: promotion of our programs, offer an introductory course for people who are considering studying Communication Science, and maybe use the MOOC for people wanting to to a master’s program, but have a deficiency for entering it. The dean of the Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences is very excited about this iniative and sees a future in using MOOCs for bachelor education. Right now the Medical Faculty and the Faculty of Natural Sciences are interested in starting a MOOC.
UA: Besides being involved in the development of the program, you’ve also been a researcher in the world of technology and learning in the past, are developments like this making location-dependent education more obsolete than ever?
EB: I think academic education will always have a location-based component. Learning online is totally different from being together with other students in a class room. Online education will not replace this. But I do think that the two forms of education definitely complement each other. How cool is it that if you are a small university with a small budget, to be able to include high quality educational programs from other universities for free? For a lot of people who pursue a degree while working a full time job, MOOC’s might also their situation easier by decreasing the amount of hours they need to physically be at school.
More Information at: UVA MOOC
universiteit uva, uva mooc