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UQ joins MOOCs movement

With students already avoiding the lecture hall in favour of online class recordings, Australian universities are scrambling to improve online teaching capabilities. Danny Munnerley

The University of Queensland has become the latest institution to embrace open online learning, committing to offer up to 12 courses in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) format over the next two years.

UQ has also entered into discussions with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore the benefits of online education for campus-based students.

Many universities haven’t responded proactively to a student need for online education said Phil Long, director of UQ’s Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology, meaning class recordings have taken on a role not originally intended.

“Australia was a first mover in the development of lecture recordings…It has become an unfortunate and unintended substitute for more thoughtful creatively designed distributed content.”

Professor Long said the university was keen to leverage interest and enthusiasm around MOOCs, and share insights more broadly.

However he said that alone would not be enough for the university to take the step into open online learning.

“What is of interest is if we’ve put it online, how can we make learning pathways for campus based students more enriched.”

Professor Long said UQ is investigating MOOCs providers including Coursera, as well as new software platforms from Google (Course Builder) and Stanford.

Earlier this month Stanford launched Class2Go, an open-source non-profit platform for online classes.

Professor Long said now that the first-mover advantage had gone, institutions considering MOOCs needed to take a more considered approach.

“The people that are interested in moving in that direction now need to give this deeper, richer thought about how they will do it and why.”

Gilly Salmon, pro vice-chancellor of learning transformations at Swinburne University of Technology, agreed.

“I’ve been involved with learning technology and the impact of it on universities for more than 20 years … I’m still trying to work out why this particular issue has fired people up so much compared to all the other things that have happened.”

Dr Salmon said the huge numbers of participants that are possible with MOOCs and the marketing opportunities available to universities as a result were likely to be the major contributing factors.

But she added there was still a lot of work to do for universities to successfully harness open online learning.

“Releasing great knowledge doesn’t actually result in great learning.

"To believe if you release great video somehow people will learn is actually a great misnomer.”

Dr Salmon said there was a lot of work going on in all universities to effectively structure learning design with MOOCs.

“A lot of people are focusing on the release of knowledge and that access to knowledge, and rather less on the online pedagogy that has to go with this.”

Dr Salmon said there was a long list of issues for universities to address when considering MOOCs.

These included establishing the pathways from MOOCs to a real student in a real university, the management of intellectual property, professional development of staff to be able to teach online, and accreditation, or what Dr Salmon called the “So what?” factor.

“Are people going to be satisfied with a certificate of participation? This is a biggie. Am I going to put long run effort into this if I go to an employer and get laughed out of the room?”

Nevertheless she said the community was finally at the point where it could see the role of technology in delivering a cost-effective and high quality education experience.

“It is truly learning without boundaries and it’s pretty hard for any one institution to corral one bit of it.”

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