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What are MOOCs?

A few years ago, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were touted as “the next big thing”. They have developed since then and are part of the current education landscape. Who are they aimed at? Can university faculty members take an existing MOOC and use it in their own courses? How open are MOOCs? Where can you find them?

A MOOC is a course (teaching a specific subject or topic) available online via the Internet, aimed at unlimited participation (hence massive) and open in so far as anyone can enrol (no formal admission process and normally no charge). They are produced by universities, companies (Microsoft, Linux, Canvas, Blackboard) and non-profit initiatives (edX), and are aimed at anyone who wishes to learn about the subjects covered. Most MOOCs are distributed via course providers such as Coursera and Udacity. The extent to which they are considered ‘open’ has changed over time, but also depends on how they are presented online. When they first emerged, MOOCs were typically open in two ways: in enrolment and the fact that their constituent materials were openly licensed. By about 2012, many MOOCs no longer had openly licensed materials available, so their open-ness had diminished (Vollmer, 2012). As most MOOCs available now are not openly licensed, you cannot simply take one (or part of it) and use it in your own course. We suggest other ways in which you might use MOOCs below.

In a previous post, we discussed OpenCourseWare (OCW) as a ‘subset’ of Open Educational Resources (OER). We contrasted OCW with MOOCs, and here we provide a table showing the differences between these two educational tools:

 

Adapted from Martinez, 2014

A common criticism of MOOCs is their very low completion rate: often as low as 5 to 15%. Critics suggest that such a low rate indicates that learning from MOOCs is usually minimal. However, some specialists are beginning to refer to MOOCs as one of many forms of digital content, proposing that they should be compared with podcasts or educational news sites on the Internet instead of facilitated educational experiences similar to university courses (Ahearn, 2018). Other educationists note that MOOCs could help to widen global access to higher education, but they need careful research to assess the learning experiences that MOOCs can offer (Laurillard & Kennedy, 2017).

How can academic staff best use MOOCs?

Despite being not fully open, university academics can still make use of MOOCs as part of an interactive mix of educational experiences. They can be useful in various ways:

  • As professional development for you: you might find that enrolling on a MOOC provides you with recent developments in your own field, which you can later incorporate into your courses.
  • As a refresher for your own courses: High quality MOOCs often include recent research or cover topics in innovative ways. By enrolling on a MOOC, you can rethink your own courses, making them more relevant and enriching for your students.
  • As a supplement to student learning: You can review MOOCs in your subject areas, and encourage your students to enrol, even if it’s only for a section of the course. You can get them to engage fully and critique the MOOC as part of the learning experience.

The open access article Twelve tips for integrating massive open online course content into classroom teaching suggests various innovative ways in which you might incorporate MOOCs into your teaching.

Where can you find MOOCs?

MOOCs in English are produced mostly by universities in the US, Europe, and Australia. They can be found on some university websites, but the better place to search is through course providers, which collaborate with universities and other organisations. These providers are now marketing themselves as online learning platforms, and some of them charge for the courses – this is another way in which the open-ness of MOOCs has changed. Examples of such platforms are CourseraedX, and Udacity. If you want to find a MOOC relevant to one of your own courses, the best way is to use a browser and enter “MOOCs in <subject>”. You can then choose from your search results to examine them further.

Relatively few universities in Africa run MOOCs. Exceptions to this include the University of Cape TownUniversity of the Witwatersrand, and the African Leadership Institution. More institutions are likely to run courses as MOOCs or using online learning platforms in the future. The OER Africa website hosts some MOOC-related resources, such as:

In summary, MOOCs appear to have become less open since their original inception before 2012. They can be used by academics in higher education as a form of professional development, and as a supplement to the courses they offer. MOOCs can also assist students wishing to access courses within higher education that otherwise might not be available to them. 


References

Ahearn, A. (2018). Stop Asking About Completion Rates: Better Questions to Ask About MOOCs in 2019. Available online at https://www.edsurge.com/news/2018-11-28-stop-asking-about-completion-rates-better-questions-to-ask-about-moocs-in-2019

de Jong, P., Pickering, J., Hendriks, R., Swinnerton, B., Goshtasbpour, F. & Reinders, M. (2020) Twelve tips for integrating massive open online course content into classroom teaching, Medical Teacher, 42:4, 393-397, DOI: 10.1080/0142159X.2019.1571569 (Open Access)

Laurillard, D., & Kennedy, E. (2017). The potential of MOOCs for learning at scale in the Global South. Centre for Global Higher Education, working paper series, Lancaster, UK, 42

Martinez, S. (2014). OCW (OpenCourseWare) and MOOC (Open Course Where?). In Proceedings of OpenCourseWare Consortium Global 2014: Open Education for a Multicultural World.

Vollmer, T. (2012). Keeping MOOCs Open. Available online at https://creativecommons.org/2012/11/01/keeping-moocs-open/


For more articles in this series, click on the links below.

What's New

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa. OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education.

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa, with an increasing number of OER initiatives focusing on areas such as OER advocacy, practice, and research. Today, the concept has been mainstreamed around the world, as exemplified through the unanimous adoption of the UNESCO Recommendation on OER in 2019.

OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education. This work explored their effectiveness and identified lessons to enable better development and support of OER practices. It also helped to deepen OER Africa’s understanding of professional development needs amongst African academics to enable more effective OER practices.

To do this, we developed case studies on eleven African OER initiatives in higher education to gain an understanding of the effectiveness of each initiative, followed by an analytical summary report. The report collates the findings from the OER initiatives , highlighting the implications of the findings for better development and support for effective OER practices.

Access the case studies and report here.


Related articles:

 Access the OER Africa communications archive here

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. They continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles.

Image courtesy of Abdullah Elhariry, Unsplash (Unsplash licence)

Museums continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles. Museums are joining the open access movement by, for example, providing high-resolution downloadable images free of charge to maximise the ability of people to interact with, share, and reuse their collections.  

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. All museums support education as they provide unique prospects and platforms to engage students in their spaces and through their exhibitions, presentations, lectures, and discussion sessions on history, science, mathematics, technology, medicine, arts, politics, religion, humanities and social sciences, among others.

The Shenzhen Declaration on Museums and Collections of the UNESCO High-Level Forum on Museums from 2016 promoted the educational role of museums and the adaptation of museums' contents to provide a variety of formal, non-formal, and lifelong open learning experiences through universal accessibility for various audiences and removal of barriers to disadvantaged groups and persons with specific needs and capacities.

Learning about history and culture includes learning about all the aspects of the human ‘being’ and their day-to-day life. For example, if a student visits a museum and explores an exhibition dealing with historical figures or events involving aviation, the student is likely to be intrigued to want to learn more about flying which may not have been introduced as a vocation in the classroom. In such a case, the museum experience could well be an initial influence on future life choices of the students.

Museums are adopting open access to increase public engagement with their collections, introduce news areas of operation, and collaborate with creators and other institutions of learning, including universities, colleges, and schools.

The challenges of COVID-19 lockdowns in the past two years left museums without visitors, prompting them to accelerate digitization of their collections and adopt open licences for learners and academics to access their holdings as part of their learning or academic research. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 1,000 cultural heritage institutions around the world have adopted open licences to provide virtual access to their collections and resources.

Open access for museums refers to efforts made by museums to digitise their collections allowing for the creation of virtual exhibitions and databases or libraries, which are accessible online, containing high-resolution downloadable collections of digitised images of artefacts and information resources, including text, photos, movies, audio files, maps, graphs, and links to other sites.

Some of the digitised museum collections for Africa and African resources include the following:

African Online Digital Library (AODL) – AODL is an open access digital library of African cultural heritage materials created by Michigan State University in collaboration with museums, archives, scholars, and communities globally.

Smithsonian Open Access National Museum of African American History & Culture – The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 21 museums and the National Zoo—shaping the future by preserving heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing resources with the world. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is exclusively devoted to the documentation of the African American life, history, and culture. The museum has collected more than 40,000 artefacts. The images and data are in the public domain under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licence, allowing use, transformation, and sharing of the open access assets without asking permission from the Smithsonian.

COM Library - African Art – This hub of open access resources for African art features Google Arts and Culture content from over 1,000 leading museum and archives that have partnered with Google Cultural Institute to bring the world’s treasures online. 

Adoption of open access and OER principles by museums increases the diffusion of knowledge for both education and information. It helps students, researchers, and education providers access unique material locked up in museums all over the world. Open access can also help provide the education sector in Africa access to some of Africa’s artefacts in many museums in the global north collected during colonialism.


Related articles:

OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER.

Advocates of Open Educational Resources (OER) often promote their perceived benefits, such as increasing access to educational materials; improving scalability and circulation of resources; and providing opportunities to adapt resources to suit learners’ needs and contexts. However, the past five years alone have seen significant shifts in education systems. Transformative forces such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leaps in technology development, and global economic reconfiguration mean that now more than ever, education systems need to remain dynamic and responsive.

Key to this responsiveness is ensuring that there is ongoing research on the actual benefits of using OER, so that we can gain a comprehensive, measured understanding of its implementation, benefits, challenges, and lessons. Such research can provide insight on how to most effectively implement the goals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation.

Within this context, OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER. The summaries were then analysed to extract key findings, which were presented in a short report.

The Network aims to make such analyses an ongoing activity to remain abreast of OER implementation around the world. Ultimately, this will assist in realising the goals of the OER Recommendation.

Access the case studies and summary report here.