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Curtin University MOOCs: Thinking, Content, Platform, Partnerships

By Lynette Marks 7 February 2013 Teaching & Learning 6 Comments »

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In response to the proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) from institutions around the world, Curtin is taking a strategic approach to defining our position and an appropriate course of action.

What are MOOCs?

As the name suggests, MOOCs are Courses (or units in the Australian taxonomy), that are Open to anyone, delivered via the Internet or Online, and have the capacity to be Massive by reaching an unlimited number of learners.

In understanding MOOCs, it is helpful to consider both the student’s and institution’s perspective.

student’s perspective institution’s perspective
  • Provide access to educational content with very low entry barriers,
  • Have simple and straight forward registration processes,
  • Are low cost or free,
  • Do not require transcripts or formalised enrolment processes,
  • Bring some pedagogical advantages related to information modularisation, focus on mastery before advancing to the next topic, customised repetition and tailored feedback based on quiz results,
  • Enable non-linear delivery, and
  • Emphasise automation and peer-to-peer feedback and support with limited or no interaction with the instructor or faculty member.
  • Have a massive scale that forces more efficient educational delivery which requires building automation, replication, and scalability built into offerings,
  • Bring new roles for the instructor with a shift away from “one instructor per unit” to “units as products for distribution”,
  • Are effective for brand positioning,
  • Demonstrate how the tertiary education sector can be exposed to global competition including increasing threats from global brands, and
  • Drive the creation of approaches, tools, and techniques for personalised unit delivery that also present exciting opportunities to transform conventional educational delivery, through learning analytics.

MOOCs bring both opportunities and threats for Curtin to consider. The most significant threat being how the tertiary education sector could be exposed to global competition. Conversely, the most significant opportunity is that Curtin can leverage MOOC tools, techniques, and approaches to drive down delivery costs while accessing new markets for our educational offerings.

We have recognised the need to act. We have also recognised that our response must focus on both mitigating risks and seizing opportunities, and that it must be rapid.

Simply offering MOOCs will not mitigate all of the threats indicated above. Our response must not only include offering MOOCs, but also applying MOOC tools, techniques, and approaches (including automation and learning analytics) to a range of existing educational offerings, as appropriate.

The different MOOC platforms

There are many MOOC platforms and partnerships currently in the market. The well-publicised ones are Coursera, Udacity, and edX. There are also many others.

The different MOOC Platforms

Given the sheer number of MOOC alternatives and the immature nature of the market overall, we have developed a framework to bring order to the landscape.

MOOCs Plaforms Categorised

A description of each category is provided here .

Curtin’s Proposed Strategic Position on MOOCs

1.  Apply MOOC-thinking to conventional offerings

In order for Curtin to capitalise on opportunities and mitigate threats, we need to rapidly incorporate MOOC approaches, tools, and techniques (or MOOC-thinking – a Curtin coined term) into some of our conventional offerings. This will allow us to drive down costs by maximising automation, and to reinvest savings into developing exceptional educational experiences for our students. To achieve this, we need to build MOOC-style instructional design and unit development know-how. We also need to increase automation and use of learning analytics. In the short-term, we should apply MOOC-thinking to units that attract high numbers of students and that have content that lends itself to MOOC approaches and is persistent and stable over time.

2.  Commence developing and offering MOOCs

In order for our MOOC offerings to be successful and sought-after, we need to select subject matter that has high levels of public interest and can be delivered in innovative and highly-engaging ways. We should focus on developing a small number of top-quality MOOCs that will demonstrate a return on investment through enhancing our global brand, driving enrolment of highly-desirable students, and opening options for new products and services. Lessons learned from developing and delivering these MOOCs can also feed back into our conventional offering.

3.  A multi-platform MOOC strategy

Acknowledging a clear winner has yet to emerge in the race to develop applications for offering MOOCs, we will pursue a multi-platform approach. We will select and implement platforms that are readily available, require little up-front investment, and are ideally interoperable with other key Curtin information systems. Once Curtin gains more experience with MOOCs, and the platform market matures, we may standardise on a single platform that ideally supports its conventional offerings as well.

4.  Explore strategic partnerships

Partnerships bring the risk of diluting Curtin’s control over our brand. Therefore, we will carefully consider potential partners that offer access to effective marketing and distribution mechanisms while enhancing visibility and desirability of Curtin’s brand. There may be other benefits from partnerships such as access to a superior platform not otherwise available, sharing development costs, or leveraging complementary expertise. However, it is more important in the long-term for Curtin to focus on academic partnerships that support delivery in new markets than technology partnerships to support MOOCs.

Where to from here

As a next step, we will develop a plan to advance our MOOCs strategy with clear definitions of scope, schedule, risks and mitigation strategies, and resource requirements. This will be facilitated through a series of sessions with staff from across the University, led by AMBiT over the next few weeks.

As we define our approach to MOOCs, there are two separate but interrelated tracks of activity. The first is applying MOOC-thinking to some of our conventional offerings. The second is offering actual MOOCs.  Selection of content, platforms, and partners will happen in parallel.

MOOCs Defined

Your comments and feedback on the summary provided here are also encouraged either via the comments section below, or direct email to Professor Jill Downie, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education.

MOOCs Landscape Framework

Open/Online Specialists: These are the institutions that have specialised in traditional open and/or online education for several years. They have not historically offered MOOCs, but are moving in that direction. They bring certain expertise in offering open content online to distributed students. Some also specialise in consolidating open learning resources from many institutions around the world.

“University 2.0” Institutions: These are new organisations that describe themselves as a new type of university focusing only on delivery of MOOCs. They tend to differentiate themselves by distancing their delivery model from the traditional university delivery model or by offering all MOOCs from source institutions under one brand.

Publishing Companies: These are companies that tertiary education institutions can use to publish their MOOCs to a catalogue alongside others. Individual MOOC units retain the delivering institution’s brand, but all units are available side-by-side from a wide variety of institutions, including elite universities.

Platform Companies: These are companies that offer MOOC platforms in a “software as a service” model. They provide the platform, hosting services, and support for the institution, instructors, and students.

Do It Yourself (DIY) Platform Tools: These are platforms made available online that institutions and instructors can use to upload and deliver their MOOC content.

Open Source Groups: These are communities that have developed open source software that can be obtained for free by an institution, but generally, the software has to be hosted and supported by the institution. In addition, institutions are often expected to contribute to software development.

  1. Jackie Weinman February 8, 2013 4:12pm

    It’s important that accessibility for students and staff with disabilities is considered from the outset when selecting a platform for MOOCs, particulary the ability to access the units using screen reader programs (used by people with vision impairment). Additional considerations are captions for iLectures and videos/Youtube clips, and that linked information and resources are also accessible. Guidelines must also be provided for academic staff to ensure that when creating an on-line unit the accessibility standards are adhered to. If accessibility is a built-in to the system this will be an easy task.

  2. Jonathan Paxman February 8, 2013 4:25pm

    I have very serious concerns about Curtin’s consultant-driven strategy to combat the threats posed by the proliferation of MOOCs.

    The strategy described above seems to be primarily about offering our own MOOCs, and making our existing offerings more like MOOCs. In my view, this is almost the exact opposite of what we should be doing. The more our offerings look like MOOCs, the more difficult it will be for us to combat the competition from MOOCs linked to more prestigious institutions like Harvard, Stanford, MIT and the like. To beat the competition of MOOCs, we must differentiate our offerings from MOOCs, not make them more alike.

    The best way forward must surely include identifying, protecting and highlighting the essential face-to-face teaching which occurs in our courses. Many, many Curtin offerings feature excellent and indispensible face-to-face teaching: laboratory work, clinical practice, field work, project work, industry placements, workshops. It is these elements which cannot be reproduced effectively online, and therefore it is these elements which *differentiate* our offerings from MOOCs.

    • Lynette Marks February 20, 2013 11:09am

      Thank you Jonathan and others for your comments and for raising your concerns. The MOOCs Strategy is only one part of the overarching Educational Technology Strategy for Curtin Converged along with the Face-2-Face Flipped Classroom; Enriched Online; and Distributed Learning. This will transform traditional teaching and distance education to provide an engaging education anytime, anywhere, on any device that will drive student and employer satisfaction – the ultimate goal.

      Yes, the MOOCs strategy is about how we offer MOOCs as we need a strategic approach to the way we target and implement Curtin MOOCs. You are exactly right Curtin must differentiate our offerings and the approach to do this will be to focus on courses that are protectable through niche expertise and industry relationships. The Faculties will determine these potential opportunities. However in doing this we can apply a more engaging student approach to our courses and combine this with those indispensable elements of face-to-face teaching.

      The launch of Transforming Learning @ Curtin tomorrow will provide more detail on the overall approach.
      For and on behalf of Jill Downie

  3. David Cooper February 10, 2013 9:18am

    I tend to agree with Jonathan, and I’ll append my own thoughts.

    By viewing MOOCs as an urgent threat, we risk *creating* a problem where there otherwise wouldn’t be one. “MOOC thinking” needs to put more emphasis on the thinking, and less on reaction.

    It is surely unrealistic to expect to remodel, rapidly or otherwise, Curtin courses and units into MOOC form. We don’t yet have the expertise to do that competently, let alone out-compete existing global players. We’ve already been beaten to it, and anything we could do now would be too little too late.

    Instead of viewing MOOCs as a threat, and trying in vain to duplicate them, we ought to view them simply as a potential additional learning resource for existing units. If we use MOOCs at all, they should be suggested or recommended to students alongside textbooks, and never used to replace face-to-face teaching.

  4. Keith Gregg February 11, 2013 10:29am

    Jonathan Paxman’s comment reflects my own first reaction. The highly prestigeous universities of the world became that way because their graduates were worked harder, with intense input from professionals in their field, and could do things better than those of “lesser” institutions. Student numbers were whittled down fairly quickly by the intellectual and practical demands of their education. The result was to create high demand that allowed highly selective processes to retain the most promising students.
    The Ivy League universities are now able to trade on their names, which are valuable in themselves, making online offerings from those institutions highly attractive.
    However, even for these institutions, this raises the question of quality. Is the MOOC phenomenon just the bargain basement of a major prestigeous store (Harrods of London are doing similar things with souvenirs)
    Curtin is not in the situation of having an ivy league reputation and needs to consider precisely which parts of its educational offerings would benefit from a MOOC approach. It should also consider carefully whether many of it’s currently successful and important offerings might be impoverished by the process.
    Can a “let’s do what everyone else is doing” approach really raise Curtin to a place among the top universities of Asia? Or has that ambition been sidelined by the possibility of making big profits from offering very cheap education to very large numbers of people?
    Selling the idea through hyperbole about the fabulous numbers possible and the minimal input required will raise similar questions for many members of the laboratory-based sciences. Some very specific plans need to be put forward for how (and whether) MOOCs can possibly be applied to create real capabilities among their students.

  5. Kristen Barker February 11, 2013 1:27pm

    I completely agree with Jonathan’s comments above. I think we need to be looking at what Curtin’s unique offering is, rather than trying to keep up with the latest trend. Why are we trying to compete with much larger Ivy League universities, when we should be focussing on what we can provide that can’t be replicated online? Lets invest in building our campus community, providing practical and engaging face-to-face classes and helping students develop their professional experience, networks and leadership potential while on campus. We should be talking about how to improve the student experience and create more engaged learners.

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