Rationale for UCLeXtend; opening up UCL Moodle
By Matt Jenner, on 1 October 2014
For around 18 months UCL has been piloting something new called UCLeXtend. This is a platform for courses that are available to the public. The rationale was simple; getting a computer account for UCL was too heavy-going and cost-prohibitive BUT there were many circumstances where just access to Moodle was the only requirement. We sought to address that with UCLeXtend.
I am sure many of you out there would appreciate the challenge; you have an online university environment that’s slowly filling with loads of great things and you want to prise it open, just a bit, so other people can come in too. We were inundated with reasons to do this but generally speaking it was so short course participants can have access to something that resembles a course hub.
Sure there are many ways to achieve this. Any creative type person can build a webpage somewhere and host a load of content. But that’s not a course hub; it’s a webpage full of content. How can users interact? Social media might provide one way forward, but not completely; there are gaps. While many tools exist out there there remained the need for something more ‘UCL’. Luckily putting branding aside, there are be other reasons to run an externally-facing course hub on internally-facing environments.
We’ve been using Moodle for about 8 years at UCL and it’s firmly embedded. For UCLeXtend we checked (with some help) a selection of 160 e-learning environments available on the market; and we still settled for another Moodle. Some platforms came close, but with hindsight, they were not appropriate for all use-cases.
The original goal was to open Moodle to external audiences, and we have now done this. Additionally; UCLeXtend offers the opportunity to run a variety of courses, and what might seem like a small step-change in technical capability it has changed the landscape in which we can play in.
A public course means anyone can sign-up and become a part. It might be limited in terms of ‘seats’ (places available) but it generally means you attract a wide audience and have a variety of people in the cohort. We built a course catalogue so you can promote a course and direct anyone to UCLeXtend for registration. Private courses are the opposite; they are not listed, they are advertised to a selective group and they hold up barriers to stop just anyone getting in. There’s really valid reasons for both.
Free courses come with the glamour and appeal of Moocs but do not always have to be on such a scale. A free course may be just trying to reduce the payment barrier to entry, and have no interest in attracting thousands of people. For serious, niche subjects, this is an asset worth bearing in mind. Premium courses are probably on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s OK to make money and offer a good quality course. They cost money to make and are worth spending money to take. UCLeXtend takes credit cards and payment by invoices.
Open may be in terms of beer (see above) or as in speech. If an academic wants a completely open course, they can make this in UCLeXtend. Open comes in many flavours, and as long as it’s legal, we can try to support any wild idea that may exist in this space. On a lighter note; it means working with members of the public in an academic space can be supported by a UCLeXtend course. We think this is important. Closed courses are similar to private, they are not designed for everyone; professional CPD is one example, as would a project involving a vulnerable or specialist group. We don’t always want to open the doors to everyone when it’s not appropriate to do so.
Not everyone is building a course, we have resources, workshops and ‘spaces’ already. I am sure we’ll see more variety in the future. Sometimes we have to refer to each use-case as something (course is default) but we welcome the challenge of supporting the ideas of the UCL community, so watch this space.
We’ve got a modest growth happening in this public-facing e-learning environment aka UCLeXtend. It’s being used for a range of things from CPD and Executive Education to public-engagement and open Moocs. We’re looking at using it for disseminating research output (and building this into grant proposals from the outset) and supporting events and groups, UCL and beyond. We are also increasingly aware of the benefits of working in this space; they are proportional to the indirect benefits of being active in this area. We have identified 36 benefits of Moocs from observing and researching the scene and trying to get our heads around it all. We see UCLeXtend as an integral component to UCL’s Life Learning offering, where courses can be offered to people in a range of physical and virtual environments.
So, where next?
- More ‘courses’, users and ideas coming to life
- Enhance the platform
- Sustainable course development
- Share pedagogical experiments (and results)
- Evaluate and speculate
Take a look
UCLeXtend is available and you’re very welcome to look around, register for courses and see what it’s all about.
Internal members of staff may want to look at the UCLeXtend 101 space, which will uncover a lot about what’s needed to get started:
Get in touch
Best contact is firstname.lastname@example.org for all types of enquiries.