Online learning at research-intensive universities Part 2
By Clive Young, on 9 February 2015
The LERU paper published last year has clearly had some impact. At the LERU seminar last week Adam Tyson, Head of the Unit for Higher Education at the European Commission’s DG Education and Culture noted that EU universities did not have a clear public presence or strategy in online learning, especially in comparison where the US where much high-profile activity is based on just two platforms. Although Futurelearn has emerged as the front-runner in the UK, Spain, France and Germany all run incompatible systems and overall activity remains quite low. Universities should take advantage of funding such as Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 and emerging notions such as the ‘digital single market’ to engage and form strategic partnerships – but no more platforms!
Prof Sally Mapstone, PVC Education at the University of Oxford and one of the report authors emphasised that universities should develop proactive and strategic leadership in the form of mainstream policies for online learning, based on global horizon scanning and local experimentation. Online learning is both here to stay and changing rapidly – a challenge for even the most agile university.
She noted however an increasingly mature and reflective approach to online learning across the sector. Prof Mapstone cited Kristin Ingolfsdottir’s Nov 2014 IEEE report Impact of MOOCs and Other Forms of Online Education, Philip Hunter’s Jan 15 EMBO report The virtual university and with a focus on quality and brand Chris Parr’s July 14 THE article ‘Reputations at risk as platforms fail to screen Moocs’ about quality (a recurring theme of the debate) and Stephen Jackson’s (Director of quality assurance, QAA) follow up letter. Other key discussion papers were the Oct 14 EU report New modes of learning and teaching in HE, and the OU Innovating Pedagogy 2014 report. Some really interesting questions are arising, such as who ‘owns’ the data in data analytics.
Oxford has launched a digital strategy and established working group including representatives from its museums and hospitals to promote high quality and encourage an evidence-based approach (i.e. comparing different modes). As she said “the technology tail should not wag the educational dog”; quality is essential but likewise we must not stifle creativity.
Prof Dirk Van Damme, Head of the Innovation and Measuring Progress Division (IMEP) at the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills approached online learning from the perspective of productivity. He discussed a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article The MOOC Hype Fades, in 3 Charts and pointed out that rising costs – a major worry – could be addressed by the very approaches said to be ‘fading’. He raised lot of fascinating issues that I may return to in a later post.
As if to counter the ‘fading interest’ narrative, the morning session was completed by Prof Simone Buitendijk, Vice Rector-Magnificus of Leiden University. Leiden has run five Coursera MOOCs, with others in preparation. She was very positive, for her MOOCs had changed the perception of what Leiden can do with online learning. Some of these issues reflected a post MOOCs as metaphors I wrote nearly two years ago. Leiden had targeted research and teaching areas where the university wanted global impact. The experience had encouraged evidence-based innovation, internationalisation of the classroom, impact and outreach but had also improved the experience, motivation and retention of on-campus students. They recently produced a report on this activity. The university has also established a Teachers Academy enabling teachers and practitioners to research their own work.
The afternoon session was dedicated to a fascinating set of case studies and again they may have to wait for another posting.