Making MOOCs

Steve Hull
JISC Digital Media

If anything has become clear about MOOCs in the stampede to get on the Massive Open Online Course bandwagon, it’s that no-one agrees just what a MOOC is. This is due to a number of reasons:

  • the relatively sudden appearance of the term to describe some things that have arguably existed for a number of years, evolving out of a variety of similar learning materials,
  • the uncertainty about what the key elements of a MOOC are (i.e. what aspects of a MOOC are actually important) and
  • the not uncommon practice of retroactively rebranding a variety of learning materials as MOOCs in the hopes of cashing in on the craze.

For a craze is what it has become. Since the Stanford AI course received an enrollment of 160,000 in the autumn of 2011 (although not the first usage of the term MOOC, it was the first to attract the attention of the mass media), universities have been falling over themselves to sign up to some organisation or consortium to produce MOOCs. Everywhere there is talk of the revolution in post-secondary education, the breakdown of the centuries-old university model and the freeing of learning from the confines of conventional education. Given the impact that is ascribed to MOOCs, it is surprising that there is no consensus about the resource.

One thing that all MOOCs do have in common is their use of video. Where a lot of the variation in MOOCs occurs is in just how that video is used. What we attempt to do in this paper is first, to survey the different ways in which video is utilised in MOOCs and second, to look at how that video is created. This has two goals in mind. First, by classifying video usage we hope to accomplish the greater task of classifying MOOCs themselves. In doing so we hope to gain a greater understanding of the salient elements of MOOCs.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, we wish to present to the reader with strategies, tools and procedures to assist them in making MOOCs of their own. A number of different methods have been employed in existing MOOCs, including screen capture, videoing of whiteboards and/or desktops, talking heads, more elaborate demonstrations and even borrowing existing materials from other sources. The tools involved include not just conventional video hardware and software, but also screen capture software, graphics tablets, maths visualisation packages and bespoke presentation, quizzing and evaluation software. None of these is particularly complex and all are within the abilities and budgets of anyone wishing to create a MOOC.

It is clear that behind all the hype heaped upon MOOCs there is something useful and powerful that can be utilised, if not to transform education then at least to bring it to many more people in an accessible and affordable manner. It is hoped that by classifying and analysing the way that MOOCs are made we can contribute towards their demystification, stripping off the exaggeration and confusion that inevitably accompany the attention that the media has focused on them and revealing a useful resource which can be produced by anyone with a little effort and even less equipment.

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