The FutureLearn is Already Here?

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FutureLearn has arrived at RMIT. Two subject areas, one in the School of Media and Communications and one in Global Urban and Social Studies, have been selected for the first two MOOCs. The first is appropriately, Design Futures  with Jeremy Yuille and Marius Foley, which evokes and includes as part of the design learning, the William Gibson quote: “The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed”. You can read more about Jeremy’s design approaches here and here. The other educator will be Brendan Barrett from Global Urban and Social Studies on Ethical Cities. He has written about this for United Nations University and The Conversation.

Have you done a FutureLearn MOOC? This is the question I often ask people when the topic of MOOCs arises. I have done two and my experience was that it was so well designed that the course was simply a pleasure to do. It is as if Apple had designed a MOOC with the same impact as acquiring the latest model of one of their phones.

There is more to MOOC design than meets the eye. Open Universities Australia’s Open2Study MOOCs are something of a design precursor to FutureLearn, which is owned by Open University in the UK. Open2Study began in 2013 with almost 50 xMOOCs with a number of attractive features. The courses themselves are served in bite size chunks of video that are mostly engaging in how they are presented. In the course you can always see an overview of the course and how you are progressing. After watching a series of 10 short videos you get a set of quizzes before moving to the next part in the course. Each course is no more than 40 short videos requiring no more than a couple of hours each week to complete, making it look and feel easy. And the results speak for themselves with almost a quarter of participants going through to completion, unheard of in the xMOOC world where the likes of Coursera were lucky to be achieving ten percent completion.

Open2Study also had a number of social features built into the platform, including profiles, the ability to connect not only with participants in your own course but other courses as well. The courses themselves had forums with voting and the ability to see social media activity related to the topic.

What I am guessing happened with the design of FutureLearn is that they took the Open2Study model and improved on it. There is a greater variety of media used to deliver learning. This includes videos as well as powerpoints, podcasts, and articles. The other impression was FutureLearn’s cleaning up of the overall visual ‘busyness’ in the O2S experience.

While O2S has had great success with numbers it was a one year project that has not produced any new subjects since the completion of the project 3 years ago. With high video production values, not to mention large amounts of video, comes high cost. While Open Universities Australia continues to promote the product it is unclear that such an approach has a future.

RMIT outsourced three MOOCs to O2S in Psychology, Photography and Entrepreneurship. The Psychology and Photography MOOCs are an outstanding success being the two most popular courses across the range of O2S offerings.

RMIT already has a track record of more open approaches to large scale online course activity. We arguably delivered Australia’s first MOOC (in more of a cMOOC style) when Tom Kovacs from Architecture and Design invited over 500 participants from 23 universities around the world to take part in a massive city redesign project as part of the Venice Biennale 2012. That project used the highly flexible Corus platform to bring together everyone into a social collaboration space that could also handle large numbers, and large file sizes for uploading and sharing. Over 2000 massive files were uploaded and collaboratively worked on during the event. Tom’s extraordinary pedagogical achievements in the open MOOC space this project created have yet to be documented.

More recently I have been working with Mark Smithers and Academic Tribe in developing, also for Architecture and Design, a flexible open online course, similar to a MOOC for the Creative Practice Research Symposia (CPRS). This is a phd level course that aims to be an online version of the current face to face symposia that occur regularly in Melbourne, Vietnam, Ghent and Barcelona. As part of this program design Phd students can now contribute part of their professional practice toward their Phd. At these events Students present their work to their peers twice a year. Everything is videoed, not just the students but also guest lectures and keynotes at this event. There is now a large collection of outstanding resources that can be shared for both those interested in creative practice research, but which can also form the basis of an online course.

The result is looking impressive. Now released as a Beta version you can view all the resources and see some of the first module structure emerging. The course emphasises a strong social presence with forums and groups. There is also a tagging taxonomy to which participants can continually contribute. The platform (Academic Tribe will have to give it a name) is also set up for the continually addition of these resources as the course activity both online and face to face creatively evolves.

So is FutureLearn the only way?

As with O2S, FutureLearn’s offerings from RMIT will presumably be low in numbers. Fortunately there are other options available, especially given the needs for diverse approaches at RMIT. One idea is that we could incorporate the Open Edx MOOC platform which is available as a free open source platform.

Already we are seeing increased usage in the College of Design and Social Context of Google Sites and Communities, as demonstrated by the Whatonearth project last year, and it is wonderful to see WordPress spreading rapidly through our college as a content management system. With WordPress we are seeing it’s capability for attractive presentation of design based material, such as with the recently developed CPRS platform and for design based eportfolios such as the BA Textile Design platform. From a recent project and survey of students in Art, it was clear that they follow a trajectory of beginning their eportfolio in Google Sites, moving to the slightly more sophisticated places such as Wix and Squarespace platforms, before moving into or for higher level exposure, design and functionality. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have something akin to the A Domain of One’s Own project at UMW?

In the mean time what do you think? Have you done a FutureLearn MOOC?

photo credit: International Maize and Wheat improvement centre, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence on Flickr.

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