MOOCs at Reading – what, why and where next?

Dr Clare Wright, School of Literature and Languages
Year(s) of activity: 2014-15


MARThis project funded a small team of researchers and teaching practitioners from the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics to explore teaching and learning implications of the University of Reading’s pilot Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), A Beginner’s Guide to Writing in English for University Study, delivered on English language academic writing, designed and run by staff at the International Study and Language Institute (ISLI). The project team members focused on design, delivery and mentoring issues arising from the pilot, to be used to improve future MOOCs at Reading.


  • Create a mentoring training brief.
  • Complete two research outputs.
  • Host a national workshop to share best practice and set up a community of practice.


As the English language academic writing MOOC was in its initial piloting stage, and was an unusual combination-style MOOC (merging both content knowledge and skills in using knowledge), project team members were able to bring expertise in Applied Linguistics and Academic Writing to evaluate teaching and learning success and identify areas for improvement in future iterations.


Project team members conducted interviews with educators and mentors and evaluated data on student evaluations obtained from the MOOC platform team (Future Learn) in order to ensure that a rigorous and thorough evaluation of the pilot MOOC could be conducted. Building upon these findings, a national workshop for over 30 participants drawn from various institutions was held at the University of Reading, where presentations, group discussions and a concluding round-table discussion, considered a number of key issues surrounding MOOCs.


The data gained from interviews with educators and mentors led to ISLI staff creating a specialised induction training pack for incoming mentors in further iterations of the MOOC, which has been successful in helping new mentors avoid some of the pitfalls and challenges identified by the pilot.
The national workshop was successful in meeting its aims, attracting over 30 participants from the UK and Ireland. Following the workshop, a blog entry for the University of Reading’s Centre for Quality Support and Development (CQSD) Engage in Teaching and Learning blog was written, which was also adapted for an Association for Learning and Teaching (ALT) newsletter highlighting the tips on best practice which emerged from the workshop discussions.

An invitation-based website was also set up for those attending the final project workshop to host the speakers’ slides and space to maintain an ongoing community of practice.

Project team members have contributed a chapter to be published in a forthcoming book on educator and mentor experiences of the MOOC, and a journal article in preparation on student evaluations of the MOOC, for academic dissemination of the project’s research aims.


There was excellent teamwork between the three members of staff involved, with clear project aims and timely targeted support for the MOOC staff helping to ensure good buy-in from all stakeholders on the research part of the project. Good connections with the wider MOOC community ensured that the workshop was well planned, with good speakers, and ensured there was a good take up and as wide an impact as had been hoped.

The project did not have any evolving aims; given the success of the impact activities, however, especially the workshop, ongoing take-up within the online Community of Practice would be good, while better knowledge in how to set up and maintain such a network by project members and more time to keep momentum with the wider MOOC team at the University of Reading would further boost ongoing interest and further research impact and activities.

Education online en-masse: lessons for teaching and learning through MOOCs