The recent announcement that Reading has been selected as a partner in the Futurelearn project to provide free online courses is an exciting move towards new ways of engaging with a potentially massive cohort of students. However, concerns have been expressed about the lack of support for students studying the courses, especially those run by profit-seeking companies. The Times Higher Education Supplement (14 Feb 2013) reports Prof Josie Taylor of the Open University commenting that it is unethical to recruit large numbers of ‘inexperienced learners’ without providing them with support for their learning practices. Certainly if one of the aims of MOOCs is to act as a recruitment tool for future students by providing a taste of the teaching available at institutions, building in the probability of failure seems both wrong and commercially unwise.
Futurelearn’s webpage on MOOCs explained notes that ‘Due to the large number of students studying MOOCs, learning support comes from the online learning community rather than academic staff… MOOCs attempt to encourage students to be independent and self-motivating.’ Students will be encouraged to form online support networks using social media to build peer relationships. While peer learning and support is certainly a valuable and increasingly well-used strategy in universities, such initiatives involve peers already embedded in study at HE level, who are usually supported or mentored by trained staff. Independence and self-motivation are qualities we would all like to encourage in our students – but it’s equally important to recognise when expert guidance is more appropriate and have access to that guidance.
A project supported by the Annual Fund and carried out by the Study Advisers may have a potential answer to this problem. We have been developing a series of ‘bite-size’ screencasts on key aspects of learning practices, focusing on the issues most frequently discussed with students in Study Advice sessions. These avoid the traditional ‘talking head’ format, combining an explanatory spoken voicetrack with visual illustration of the ideas discussed, including animations and text extracts. Students can pause and re-watch parts of the presentations to build their understanding in ways that would be impossible during a lecture presentation.
We hope to launch the screencasts for access to Reading students via Blackboard later in the summer, as well as using them for a ‘flipped learning’ model for Study Advice workshops. If you would like to preview the resources developed so far and give us some feedback, please contact Michelle Reid (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Sonia Hood (email@example.com).