Archive for February, 2013

MOOC: Self-Service Education?

Monday, February 18th, 2013

As the IT director for Sainsburys pointed out at BETT a couple of weeks ago ‘self-service’ caused a revolution in retail during the 20th century. It allowed for greater choice, efficiency and of course scale. It put the ‘super’ in supermarket in the same way that the web has put the (potential) ‘massive’ into MOOC.

At first glance the current wave of publicity-garnering MOOCs appear to be the equivalent of self-service education. Big out-of-town locations for education with an increasing range of products that you are free to browse at leisure.

Pick a product and pay for accreditation as you pass through the tills…

Lost in the supermarket


This perhaps is a little disingenuous though as there is more effort required than simply putting a course in your basket to gain validation. Automated testing and peer assessment are legitimate ways of assessing levels of knowledge and, if properly designed, increasing understanding. This is the real challenge for MOOCs, as it is for any course; how can we encourage students to think? How do we best mix the ingredients we have available to increase the chances that those engaging with our courses will finish them with *both* increased knowledge and increased understanding? – I hope we can all agree that teaching with a view to increasing understanding is a large part of what higher education institutions are for(?)

I have heard teaching described as ‘what you have to do because there are more of them than there are of you’, it’s inherently about dealing with scale. In this sense many of the pedagogical challenges faced by the designers of MOOCs are the same as those to be found in face-to-face or non-massive courses. The danger though is that xMOOC style self-service education favours those who already equipped with the intellectual and academic techniques required to interrogate a subject. How do we encourage those who don’t have the necessary higher-education ‘literacies’ to wade through swathes of video lectures and online resources? One answer is already hiding in the MOOC format: the ‘event’.

MOOCs generally have a start and finish date which makes them a form of slow-burn event. Even though the web has an always-on, always-connected, constant-flow paradigm it is still largely event driven. We are drawn to specific moments in time which act as way-points in the ceaseless river of information and social noise. MOOCs are useful island in this river with a beginning, middle and end, a simple narrative we can organise around and hopefully contribute to even if we don’t choose to listen to the whole story. The principle of the event can be taken further though as I believe it is highly compelling, especially in an online context. This is what I’m focusing on with the new Oxford Connect format.

Educators and technologists have become adept at putting-the-curriculum-online but we have yet to master the nuances of the live event outside of the lecture theatre. Pi Day Live, the pilot event for Oxford Connect, is designed to be a moment in time where hundreds of participants gather online to take part in collective activity. It will be highly ‘Evented’ (an idea originally attached to ‘virtual worlds’ but which is broadly applicable), encouraging participants to be as Resident as possible for a short period. My hope is that in time this live format will become a valuable way of communicating ideas, concepts and research from Oxford. I envisage this format being used as part of large-scale online courses, incorporating the fellowship of live events to support communities of learners and to act as milestones in a larger pedagogical structure.

Perhaps the live event is what is missing from xMOOCs and the expertise of the connectivists is what’s needed to counter a self-service mentality which disenfranchises those without with the literacies required to go-it-alone in online learning?


Are we living in an employee owned universe?

Friday, February 15th, 2013


We have just finished launching our courses for Hilary term (well we are Oxford), which has seen over 1500 students take 60+ courses.  Now we can start thinking about Trinity, for which we have a fantastic selection of online courses for you to enjoy, with two new courses to tell you about here.

For those of you who are interested in economics and business you may want to explore our new course Employee Ownership for the 21st Century which will help you explore the concept of employee ownership or cooperative businesses, and decide for yourself whether the Employee Owned Company is the most significant development in corporate life for 150 years and offers the chance to address the destabilising ills of capitalism?  This course takes a truly global perspective with contributions from leaders in the field from the Netherlands,  Australia, and the USA and in developing it we were certainly convinced it is a contender!

For those of you who want to look even further away then our new course Exploring the Universe should satisfy your requirements.  Co-authored by Chris Lintott from The Sky at Night, this course aims to answer the questions How old is the Universe? How unusual is the Solar System? How will it all end? and so much more.  By the end you will be able to talk confidently about Goldilocks planets and will have plenty of chances to participate in real astronomical discovery by engaging with projects from and more.

As with all our courses,these give you a chance to study with a small cohort of students, supported by an expert tutor, with access to the best information and resources to be found across the  web, books, journals and more, making for a rich and engaging online learning experiences wherever you are in the world.

Live + Open + Online + Interactive = Pi Day Live

Friday, February 8th, 2013

On 14 March at 1.59pm GMT, Professor Marcus du Sautoy will host Pi Day Live, a free interactive online event that is open to all. The event is a hands-on exploration of pi, the number which has fascinated mathematicians throughout the ages.

Marcus du Sautoy and the Pi Day Live logo

This event has been designed by TALL and we’re pretty excited about it because:

1. It’s genuinely interactive. Participants will work together online to calculate pi using techniques from the pre-computer age. We want to discover if we can collectively calculate pi to one, two, three or more, decimal places using tools no more sophisticated than marbles, sticks and string.

2. It’s open. Just as long as your computer can run YouTube, (and your timezone doesn’t mean you’ll be up past your bedtime), you can take part.

3. It’s scalable. There’s no predicting how many people will join us on the day. There is an element of registration involved which will give us a rough idea in the run up to 14 March but we’ve designed an engagement model that will scale in response to the level of participation we get on the day.

Visit to find out more and to participate. Get live updates and all the pi facts you could ever want via Twitter  and Facebook.

Pi *Day* (?)

Mathematicians (and the American House of Representatives) have christened 14 March Pi Day because the date, when written in the US date format, is 3.14. Add the 1.59pm time of the Pi Day Live experiment and you get 3.14159, or pi at around the accuracy Archimedes calculated it over 2000 years ago using simple geometry.