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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Call for Participants

By Samantha Ahern, on 19 November 2018

Participants required for the following study:

What synergies or conflicts exist between current Higher Education Institution Learning Analytics and student wellbeing polices?

As part of an ongoing response to increasing concerns around student wellbeing and mental health UUK, in their September 2017 #StepChange report, recommended the alignment of learning analytics with student wellbeing. However, is it currently possible for these to be aligned?

The aim of this study is to identify the key characteristics of existing policies relating to student wellbeing and learning analytics across the UK Higher Education sector, and the synergies or conflicts that exist between them. This will help to establish whether, at present, learning analytics and student wellbeing initiatives are sufficiently aligned, and if amendments are required to aid alignment.

The study is looking to recruit HEIs who would be willing to share their institutional policies related to student support and wellbeing, and where applicable learning analytics.

For details of the study please view the study’s Information Sheet.

If you would like your institution to participate in the study please complete and return the Registration Form by Monday 21st January 2019.

Participating institutions will be requested to share their policies by Monday 21st January 2019.

Please return competed registration forms either via email (s.ahern@ucl.ac.uk) or by post to the address below:

Ms S. Ahern

ISD –  Digital Education

UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

This project is registered under, reference No Z6364106/2018/11/55 social research in line with UCL’s Data Protection Policy.

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Reflections before UCL’s first Mooc

By Matt Jenner, on 26 February 2016

Why We Post: Anthropology of Social Media

Why We Post: Anthropology of Social Media

UCL’s first Mooc – Why We Post: The Anthropology of Social Media launches on Monday on FutureLearn. It’s not actually our first Mooc – it’s not even one Mooc, it’s 9! Eight other versions are simultaneously launching on UCLeXtend in the following languages: Chinese, English, Italian, Hindi, Portuguese, Spanish, Tamil and Turkish. If that’s not enough  we seem to have quite a few under the banner of UCL:

(quite a few of these deserve title of ‘first’ – but who’s counting…)

Extended Learning Landscape - UCL 2015

Extended Learning Landscape – UCL 2015

UCL is quite unique for some of these – we have multiple platforms which form a part of our Extended Learning Landscape. This maps out areas of activity such as CPD, short courses, Moocs, Public Engagement, Summer Schools (and many more) and tries to understand how we can utilise digital education / e-learning with these (and what happens when we do).


Justification for Moocs

We’ve not launched our first Mooc (apparently) but we also need to develop a mid term plan too – so we can do more. Can we justify the ones we’ve done so far? Well a strong evaluation will certainly help but we also need an answer to the most pertinent pending question:

How much did all this cost and was it worth it? 

It’s a really good question, one we started asking a while ago, and still the answer feels no better than educated guesswork. Internally we’re working on merging a Costing and Pricing tool (not published, sorry) and the IoE / UCL Knowledge Lab Course Resource Appraisal Modeller (CRAM) tool. The goal is to have a tool which takes the design of a Mooc and outputs a realistic cost. It’s pretty close already – but we need to feed in some localisations from our internal Costing and Pricing tool such as Estates cost, staff wages, Full Economic Costings, digital infrastructure, support etc. The real cost of all this is important. But the value? Well…


We’ve had a lot of ideas and thoughts about evaluation; what is the value of running Moocs for the university? It feels right to mention public engagement, the spirit of giving back and developing really good resources that people can enjoy. There’s the golden carrot being dangled of student recruitment but I can’t see that balancing any Profit/Loss sheets. I do not think it’s about pedagogical innovation, let’s get real here: most Moocs are still a bulk of organised expert videos and text. I don’t think this does a disservice to our Moocs, or those of others, I’d wager that people really like organised expert videos and text (YouTube and Wikipedia being stable Top 10 Global Websites hints at this). But there are other reasons – building Moocs is an new way to engage a lot of people with your topic of interest. Dilution of the common corpus of subjects is a good thing; they are open to anyone who can access them. The next logical step is subjects of fascination, niche, specialist, bespoke – all apply to the future of Moocs.

For evaluation, some obvious things to measure are:

  • Time from people spend on developing the Mooc – we’ve got a breakdown document which tries to list each part of making / running a Mooc so we can estimate time spent.
  • Money spent on media production – this one tends to be easy
  • Registration, survey, quiz, platform usage and associated learner data
  • Feedback from course teams on their experience
  • Outcomes from running a Mooc (book chapters, conference talks, awards won, research instigated)
  • Teaching and learning augmentation (i.e. using the Mooc in a course/module/programme)
  • Developing digital learning objects which can be shared / re-used
  • Student recruitment from the Mooc
  • Pathways to impact – for research-informed Moocs (and we’re working on refining what this means)
  • How much we enjoyed the process – this does matter!

Developing a Mooc – lessons learned


Designing a course for FutureLearn involves a lot of communication; both internally and to external Partners, mostly our partner manager at FutureLearn but there are others too. This is mostly a serious number of emails – 1503 (so far) to be exact. How? If I knew I’d be rich or loaded with oodles of time. It’s another new years resolution: Stop: Think: Do you really need to send / read / keep that email? Likely not! I tried to get us on Trello early, as to avoid this but I didn’t do so well and as the number of people involved grew adding all these people to a humungous Trello board just seemed, well, unlikely. Email; I shall understand you one day, but for now, I surrender.

Making videos

From a bystander’s viewpoint I think the course teams all enjoyed making their videos (see final evaluation point). The Why We Post team had years to make their videos in-situ from their research across the world. This is a great opportunity to capture real people in the own context; I don’t think video gets much better than this. They had permission from the outset to use the video for educational purposes (good call) and wove them right into the fabric of the course – and you can tell. Making Babies in the 21st Century has captured some of the best minds in the field of reproduction; Dan Reisel (lead educator) knows the people he wants, he’s well connected and has captured and collated experts in the field – a unique and challenging achievement. Tim Shakespeare, The Many Faces of Dementia, was keener to capture three core groups for his course: people with Dementia, their carers / family and the experts who are working to improve the lives for people with Dementia. This triangle of people makes it a rounded experience for any learner, you’ll connect with at least one of these groups. Genius.


  • Audio matters the most – bad audio = not watching
  • Explain and show concepts – use the visual element of video to show what you mean, not a chin waggling around
  • Keep it short – it’s not an attention span issue, it’s an ideal course structuring exercise.
  • Show your face – people still want to see who’s talking at some point
  • Do not record what can be read – it’s slower to listen than it is to read, if your video cam be replaced with an article, you may want to.
  • Captions and transcripts are important – do as many as you can. Bonus: videos can then be translated.

Using third party works

Remains as tricky as it ever has been. Moocs are murky (commercial? educational? for-profit?) but you’ll need to ask permission for every single third-party piece of work you want to use. Best advice: try not to or be prepared to have no response! Images are the worst, it’s a challenge to find lots of great images that you’re allowed to use, and a course without images isn’t very visually compelling. Set aside some time for this.

Designing social courses that can also be skim-read

FutureLearn, in particular, is a socially-oriented learning platform – you’ll need to design a course around peer-to-peer discussion. Some is breaking thresholds – you’re trying to teach them something important, enabling rich discussion will help. You’re also trying to keep them engaged – so you can’t ask for a deep, thoughtful, intervention every 2 minutes. Find the balance between asking important questions – raising provocative points – and enjoying the fruits of the discussion with the reality of ‘respond if you want’ type discussion prompts.

Connect course teams together

While they might not hold one another’s hair when things get rough – the course teams will benefit from sharing their experiences with one another. We’ve held monthly meetings since the beginning, encouraging each team to attend and share their updates, challenges, show content, see examples from other courses and generally make it a more social experience. Some did share their dropboxes with one another – which I hadn’t expected but am enjoying the level of transparency. I am guilty of thinking at scale at the moment, so while I was guiding and pseudo ‘project-managing’ the courses, I was keen to promote independence and agency within the course teams. It’s their course, they’ll be the ones working into the night on it, I can’t have them relying on me and my dreaded inbox. The outcome is they build their own ideas and shape them in their own style; maybe we’re lucky but this is important. We do intervene at critical stages, recommending approaches and methods as appropriate.

Plan, design and then build

Few online learning environments make good drafting tools. We encouraged a three-stage development process:

  1. Proposals, expanded into Excel-based documents. Outlines each week, the headline for each step/component and critical elements like discussion starters.
  2. Design in documents – Word/Google Docs (whatever) – expand each week; what’s in each step. Great for editorial and refinement.
  3. Build in the platform.

The reason for this is the outlines are usually quick to fix when there’s a glaring structural omission or error. The document-based design then means content can be written, refined and steps planned out in a loose, familiar tool. Finally the platform needs to be played with, understood and then the documents translated into real courses. It’s not a solid process and some courses had an ABC (Arena Blended Connected) Curriculum Design stage, just to be sure a storyboard of the course made sense.


  • It’s hard work – for the course teams – you can just see they’ll underestimate the amount of time needed.
  • The value shows once you go live and people start registering, sharing early comments on the Week 0 discussion areas.
  • These courses look good and work well as examples for others, Mooc or credit-bearing blended/online courses
  • Courses don’t need to be big – 1/2 hours a week, 2-4 weeks is enough. I’d like to see more smaller Moocs
  • Integrating your Moocs into taught programmes, modules, CPD courses makes a lot of sense

As a final observation before we go live with the first course: Why We Post: The Anthropology of Social Media, on Monday there was one thing that caught my eye early:

Every course team leader for our Moocs is primarily a researcher and their Moocs are produced, largely, from their research activity. UCL is research intensive, so this isn’t too crazy, but we’re also running an institutional initiative the Connected Curriculum which is designed to fully integrate research and teaching. The Digital Education team is keen to see how we build e-learning into research from the outset. This leads us to a new project in UCL entitled: Pathways to Impact: Research Outputs as Digital Education (ROADE) where we’re exploring research dissemination and e-learning objects and courses origins and value. More soon on that one – but our Mooc activity has really initiated this activity.

Coming soon – I hope – Reflections after UCL’s first Mooc 🙂 


Nature: Learning styles are rubbish and bad science. Stop it.

By Matt Jenner, on 16 December 2015

Pulped books – only those pimping VAK though!

Finally – learning styles, the notion that one person learns better from visual materials and another from auditory responses, is rubbished by Nature. So can we finally stop using these? Please. I’m not going to write much except that it’s well featured in an article in Nature called ‘The science myths that will not die’ and is followed with ‘False beliefs and wishful thinking about the human experience are common. They are hurting people — and holding back science.’

Myth 4: Individuals learn best when taught in their preferred learning style

“Learning styles has got it all going for it: a seed of fact, emotional biases and wishful thinking,” says Howard-Jones. Yet just like sugar, pornography and television, “what you prefer is not always good for you or right for you,” says Paul Kirschner, an educational psychologist at the Open University of the Netherlands.

Source – The science myths that will not die

If that’s not enough, then I guess I protest best using visual materials and SHOUTING. *sigh*, on with the show… 🙂 

Benefits of MOOCS? Some sources to chew over

By Matt Jenner, on 11 August 2014

You can’t get away with poor academic practice for long, so before anyone picks me up on it – here’s the original (unpublished) excerpts I had planned to write a paper on. I appreciate it’s rough (and not ready) but this is a decaying document, so in the spirit of openness, please reuse and remix as much of this as you can:

Benefits of MOOCs?

The hypothesis is that an institution which develops (a small number of) Moocs using a vendor using an established platform, can acquire skills and knowledge through this process which can be beneficially applied to other areas.  For instance to improve blended learning for on-campus students and also distance learning CPD courses.  This would probably only happen where an institution has integrated its technical and support staff into the Mooc development process so they acquire knowledge and skills rather than just taking a turnkey package where the institution provides the Mooc platform provider with the current content which they then convert with little involvement from the institution


Pedagogy & teaching approach

“We can use MOOCs to create a successful flipped classroom. We can use our “previous classroom time” for meaningful conversations. As Mazur and Beicher have demonstrated, this can be done even in large lectures by having students work in small groups.” Martin, F.G. (2012)

“One of the choices made by Fox and Patterson in designing their campus course was to give students a quick introduction to their chosen software development process and tools at the start of the course. This enables students to start practicing software development after only a few hours of instruction” Pre-enrolment exercises for their on-campus students Ardis, M.A., & Henderson, P.B. (2012).

“The bitter truth, however, is that academic pedagogy has never been very good. It is well established that a professorial soliloquy is an ineffective way of teaching. We do know what works and what does not work when it comes to teaching. Much has been written in the last few years about “active learning,” “peer learning,” “flipping the lecture,” and the like, yet much of academic teaching still consists of professors monologuing to large classes. We could undoubtedly improve our teaching, but MOOCs are not the answer to our pedagogical shortcomings.” Vardi, M. Y. (2012).

“MITx, and all such similar initiatives, are still delivering a Learning 1.0 product in a Web 2.0 world” Butin, D.W. (2012).

“MITx has stumbled into is the opportunity to create a never-tiring, self-regulating, self-improving system that supports learning through formative on-demand feedback. Formative “just in time” feedback (rather than summative “end of course” testing) is the holy grail for learning theorists because it turns unidirectional teaching concerned mainly with delivering knowledge into a recursive guide and springboard for learning.” Butin, D.W. (2012).

“MITx will offer new opportunities to study how people learn best online – whether those learners are our on-campus students, university students elsewhere, or non-university learners – and how virtual communities of learners are built” Reif, L.R. (2012).

“President Reif, then Provost Reif, announced MITx on 19 December 2011. Many are getting on board, while others remain skeptical, but one happy consequence is unquestionable: we discuss how we teach more now than ever before.” King, J., Orlin J., Verghese, G., Winston P.H. (2013).

“Maybe the big benefit is a great chain of teaching. Instead of faculty and TAs, everyone is a TA, helping, at the low end, to teach a subject just learned, and at the high end, to provide the big picture and access to what is new and exciting.…Many say they learn a subject best when they teach it, so why not have everyone solidify their learning by teaching…Electronically facilitated, every MIT student could spend time teaching material just learned to those just learning, deepening understanding on both sides.” King, J., Orlin J., Verghese, G., Winston P.H. (2013).

“Maybe the big benefit is the inverted / flipped classroom” King, J., Orlin J., Verghese, G., Winston P.H. (2013).

  • “Asynchronicity is a defining feature of open online learning, with implications for how we study it. Open enrolment periods and unrestricted use of course resources raise important questions for analysis and design” Ho et. al. (2014)
  • “HSPH students, for the first time this fall, have the option to take blended versions of the biostatistics and epidemiology introductory courses that are taking advantage of the existing courseware available in HarvardX, making  more  time  available  in  class  for  more  interactive  learning.  This “flipped” approach represents one way that HarvardX is encouraging experiments in online learning on campus. Reich et al (2014b).
    •  “One new innovation to bring all three groups together is the Discussion Circle. In the residential setting  facilitated  by  Professor  Nagy,  a  group  of  students  are  invited  each  week  to hold  a “fishbowl discussion” in front of the rest of the class, a mechanism to invite a smaller group of students from a large class into a more focused dialogue. These discussants are then required to act  as  provocateurs  in  a  forum  discussion  thread,  where learners from  beyond  the  college  are invited to engage in a dialogue on the issues of the week. This is one example of the ways that HarvardX can connect students in Cambridge to learners in the wider world.“ Reich et al (2014b)
    • some  of  the edX  teaching  fellows  were  current  students  in  the  Harvard  Law  School course.    One  of  the  principal  hypotheses  underlying  the  course  was  that  this  would  generate pedagogic  benefits –  most  importantly,  that  the  quality  and  durability  of  the  HLS  students’ understanding of copyright law would be enhanced by teaching the material to others. Reich et al (2014c)
    • Creating A permanent community – Several  of  the  graduates  of  the  2013  version  of  the  course  expressed  interest  in  continuing  to participate in discussions about recent developments in copyright law.  Our tentative plan is to try to satisfy their interest in two related ways.  First, we plan to invite all alumni of CopyrightX 2013  to  engage  in  the  plenary  synchronous  discussion  forum  (“the  forest”)  associated  with CopyrightX 2014.   Second, if that forum proves vibrant, we plan to continue to host it after the conclusion of the 2014 version of the course. Reich et al (2014c)

“what happens when we take the learning elements that are created for online courses, using new technology, and bring them in to change the way teaching takes place in Harvard via the inverted or flipped classroom?” Bol, P. & Reich, J. (2014).

  • “As course development teams get more confidence in what they are doing, or as courses come into their second or third run they can question what are the most important issues they are dealing with and how can we do design research that helps us try out new pedagogies that help us explore new ideas that help us develop new tools? Another challenge is thinking about how can we design these kinds of studies that are asking how can we do ChinaX better, how can we make the teaching of Chinese culture and history better, at Harvard, among historians, at Harvard, and across the world. Bol, P. & Reich, J. (2014).
  • “We improved on the classroom experience in several ways” Mitros et. al. (2013)
  • The massive scale of the classroom has participants on-line 24/7, allowing students to ask questions and receive peer answers in almost real-time. Mitros et. al. (2013).
  • “Our Edinburgh MOOCs  offered us a route to experimentation with online delivery methods at large scale, and gave us a chance to learn lessons that might be applied elsewhere in our educational portfolio” MOOCs@Edinburgh Group (2013).
  • “One spin-off from our early engagement with MOOCs has been a lively internal debate about pedagogy, online learning and costs/benefits of university education.  Designing online courses for tens of thousands of learners has been challenging but exciting, and we intend to encourage the discussions to continue.” MOOCs@Edinburgh Group (2013).
  •  “The key opportunity for institutions is to take the concepts developed by the MOOC experiment to date and use them to improve the quality of their face-to-face and online provision, and to open up access to higher education. “Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).
  • “MOOCs have stimulated widespread discussion around the pedagogical approaches of teaching and learning in institutions. The current dominant approach of MOOCs is very similar to established models of online distance learning and is generally based on the production of video lectures, written resources and staged e-assessments with automated feedback. However, the early MOOCs embraced the social nature of learning by valuing learners’ existing knowledge and experience in the course and using alternative pedagogical approaches and there are significant opportunities to explore this further” Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).
  • Pedagogical innovation and level of experimentation is determined by the context, for example individual lecturers may be at very different levels of experience and expertise. Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).
  • “notion of ‘flipped classroom’ where approaches like this can then be incorporated into existing programmes becomes an interesting possibility for innovative provision” Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).
  •  “edX presents new opportunities for MIT students to engage in meaningful international experiences while also providing invaluable access to MIT for MITx students in 860 local communities” MIT Task Force (2013)
  • “One potential new source of revenue is the use of digital learning technologies to leverage on-campus course instruction, coupled with some form of paid certification. “MIT Task Force (2013)
  •  “Integrating a micro Open Online Course within a formal university course in parallel with the free international OERu learners significantly increases interaction and reduces attrition measured by the analysis of page views of the course materials for the duration of the course.” Davis, N., Mackintosh, W. (2013)

“A variation on the MOOC is the “supersized” classroom. For example, John Boyer, a professor at Virginia Tech, taught an introductory course, ‘World Regions’, to 2,670 students. He allowed students to attend in-person or online, communicating via Facebook and Twitter, and he used Skype to bring in world figures to talk with the class” Mehaffy, G.L. (2012).


“During MOOCs, librarians can interact directly with participants in a facilitating or coaching capacity using our skills in reference, instruction, and emerging technologies to wayfind, aggregate, filter, model, amplify, and stay present” Mahraj, K. (2012).

“librarians can take on roles in wayfinding and filtering to support sense-making and critical thinking by commenting on participants’ blog posts that describe struggles to assess the validity of sources. Similarly, librarians can aggregate a set of posts to highlight patterns in participants’ struggles with and methods for source evaluation and synthesis” Mahraj, K. (2012).

“Librarians can teach appropriate behavior around intellectual property by modeling the use of attribution in scholarly and creative work. While providing support as coaches or navigators, librarians can also amplify discussions around topics such as critical appraisal, personal knowledge management, intellectual property, and many other topics.” Mahraj, K. (2012).

“MITx has the potential to “dramatically improve the productivity of education and the access to quality education worldwide, and will transform the nature of our residential learning environment.” Reif, L.R. (2012).

“MITx offers MIT the opportunity to shatter barriers to education. Only a tiny fraction of the world’s population who are capable and motivated to learn MIT content has the privilege of attending MIT” Reif, L.R. (2012).

6.002x is the first electronic circuits course to be taught online to tens of thousands of students. The goal of the 6.002x experiment was to explore ways to use computer assisted instruction to surpass the quality of traditional residential teaching. By providing superior on-line content delivery and assessment, we hope to both be able to educate people without access to education, and to improve residential education by allowing professors to focus on higher value tasks. Mitros et. al. (2013).

“While there is still much debate surrounding the pros and cons of MOOCs, the value of this new development requires some fundamental re-thinking in the context of developing a wider strategy for open online learning and open education. MOOCs have been useful in bringing new ideas for developing business models and pedagogic approaches to improve the quality and accessibility of online and campus teaching and learning in higher education. Coupled with the changing environment of higher education, the disruptive effect of MOOCs will be felt significantly. Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).

With the maturing of MOOCs and the particular maturing of online technologies in education, institutions will need a balanced provision of online and on campus solutions in order to respond strategically to the challenges and opportunities facing higher education that will emerge in the future.” Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).


Learning materials

  • “the courseware is also being used by  students from  Harvard  College  enrolled  in  the  General  Education  course  on  campus,  and students  both  in  Cambridge  and  online  who  are  enrolled  in  the  course  through  the  Harvard Extension School. All three groups of learners have embarked together on another experiment in learning, sharing the same course materials and discussion forums. ” Reich et al (2014b)

When asked to rate their overall experience of planning, preparing and running a MOOC as either ‘Poor’, ‘Fair’, ‘Good’, ‘Very good’ or ‘Excellent’, the majority of respondents (66%) rated their experience as ‘Good’, while the remaining 44% rated their experience as ‘Fair’ Grainger, B. (2013).

When asked to estimate the amount of time spent preparing their MOOC before it began (excluding filming), 83% of respondents spent at least 10 hours a week in preparation, with the remainder working 5-10 hours each week on preparation Grainger, B. (2013).

The survey also invited free text responses in order to provide further context to the course teams’ answers. The key themes coming out of these responses were the sheer workload involved in planning and developing the content,  and the resources required for video production on top of the individuals’ ‘regular’ jobs. Creating effective strategies to manage the large number of participants in the MOOC forums was also reported as a challenge. Grainger, B. (2013).




  • “decided that partnership with an existing MOOC provider was preferable to developing an Edinburgh-own platform, it gave us greater speed to explore new educational techniques, and it provided a better opportunity for greater reach for our courses.  We also gained access to an expanding peer community of institutions which were developing these new courses” MOOCs@Edinburgh Group (2013).
  • “the greatest opportunities lay in developing online courses within a new educational environment (fully-online, open to all regardless of prior qualifications or geographical location, with no fee), and gaining outreach to new audiences” MOOCs@Edinburgh Group (2013).
  •  “reinforce our position as a leader in the use of educational technology in higher education” MOOCs@Edinburgh Group (2013).
  • MOOCs pose a set of challenges for the existing technology and the way that it is managed in that they require access to courses for large numbers of learners.
  • MOOC developments are causing institutions to re-visit online distance learning and consider how they can better use technology to reduce costs, create efficiency in their teaching operations, demonstrate value, and reach new markets Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).



MOOCs have provided the opportunities to learn more about what makes students more successful, then giving instructors (and the platforms themselves) the chance to nudge those students accordingly. These analytics provide information that help predict academic demand, tracking course success, preventing dropout, enabling social integration and reporting information for state, federal and accreditor purposes. For academics, analytics provide information about student success, areas of misunderstanding, levels of effort, persistence and other details about learning and online activity. Mehaffy, G.L. (2012).

  • New metrics, far beyond grades and course certification, are necessary to capture the diverse usage patterns in the data” Ho et. al. (2014)
  • Interpret findings from new enterprise Harvard convened the HarvardX Research Committee, MIT announced the Office of Digital Learning. These two bodies have been working to understand, organize, analyze, interpret, and disseminate the data that edX delivers to its founding institutions. Ho et. al. (2014)
  • Creating meaning from learning analytics “Registrants must click on the “courseware” to meet the definition of “viewed,” and they must click on half or more of the “chapters” (the primary tabs on the left, in this case, CB22X: Coming Soon, Hour 0, Hour 1…) to meet the definition of “explored.” Ho et. al. (2014)
  • Students can actively monitor their current levels of mastery and to self-pace in response. They can identify and break through misconceptions before moving on to more advanced material . Mitros et. al. (2013).
  • The platform allows for substantial data collection on testing, allowing us to incrementally and scientifically improve courses” Mitros et. al. (2013)


Assessment and evaluation

Student evaluations – how can teachers provide feedback/grades for students on a large scale without reducing quality (or resorting to fully automated or peer-graded work) Hyman, P. (2012).

Certification – what are the rewards for completing a course, and what will entice students towards completion? Hyman, P. (2012).

  • There are opportunities for experimentation in assessment in areas such as discussion contributions to courses (like HarvardX and Edinburgh postgraduate students being involved in MOOCs) e-portfolio, peer evaluation, dependency-based certificates, and ‘badges’, institutional credit. But there are some established issues with the assessment and accreditation too. Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).
  • Course certification rates are misleading and counterproductive indicators of the impact and potential of open online courses.“ Ho et. al. (2014)
    • Open online registration is not equivalent to enrolment in conventional courses, where traditional enrollment generally entails monetary costs, opportunity costs, and accountability. Ho et. al. (2014)
    • focusing on certification rates alone penalizes desirable activities like browsing and exploring courses, which open online courses are generally designed to support.” Ho et. al. (2014)
    • considerable differences in average demographics across courses” Ho et. al. (2014)
    • “Course exploration and certification may benefit from synchronous course schedules and the cohorts that they build. Managing asynchronicity to maintain registrant involvement regardless of enrollment date is an ongoing challenge for instructors and a fertile area for future research.  “Ho et. al. (2014)
    • micro-credential should be considered for future offerings.” Davis, N., Mackintosh, W. (2013)


Business models and other areas

“Part of the excitement around MOOCs is about their potential to change education’s cost equation—put a great course online once, and run it unattended many times. But part of the fun of the fall AI course was that Thrun and Norvig were right there with us, and that we were a large cohort of students there with them.” Martin, F.G. (2012)

“one of the major barriers, for those who advocate the widespread use of OER and the provision of processes for obtaining formal qualifications from these studies, has been institutional concern over the challenge this presents for established business models in higher education.” Bull, D. (2012).

“Offer a low-cost and no-frills service’ for education” Anderson, T., & McGreal, R. (2012).

“public campuses and online systems do not adapt and move to exploit these network affordances, then it leaves a tremendous opportunity that can (and will) be filled by private, for profit entrepreneurs” Anderson, T., & McGreal, R. (2012).

Is it fair to say that benefits from MOOCs have yet to be realised? Hyman, P. (2012 0 or link to the other three and more).

Business models – how can this model of free education become self-sustaining? Hyman, P. (2012).

“It is important to keep in mind that our campus residential model not only provides the best education environment to MIT students, but it is also at the heart of knowledge creation and dissemination. Without MIT, there is no MITx. Similarly, MITx is not MIT. Each offers a different educational environment and experience.” Reif, L.R. (2012).

“MIT has the opportunity – and we feel that it has an obligation – to help preserve U.S. higher education as a public good by offering a not-for-profit option in online education. In the United States, we have dedicated public and private assets in enormous amounts to the public good of higher education” Reif, L.R. (2012).

“maybe we are not being bold enough, if we are only discussion development around our current experiences and not thinking about the whole experience, the wider picture. What about doubling the size of UG intake, enabled by a more efficient MOOC-based teaching or creating more intensified UROP experiences.” King, J., Orlin J., Verghese, G., Winston P.H. (2013).

  • “describing MOOCs as though they are a monolithic collection of courses misses the differential usefulness and impact MOOCs may have from sector to sector.” Ho et. al. (2014)
  •  “The  substantial  enrollments  and  participation  in  these  two  courses,  which  might  be considered more of a niche subject compared to other offerings like an introduction to computer science,  suggest  that  online  courses  may  have  a  promising  role  to  play  in fulfilling  HSPH’s mission of improving health outcomes and increasing quality of life around the world.” Reich et al (2014b)

Harvard and MIT need to learn to compete in this space.” Bol, P. & Reich, J. (2014).

2 – “70% of people taking HarvardX courses are non-US. They have an obligation towards our civilisation and the world” Bol, P. & Reich, J. (2014).

3 – “to improve the way we learn, and we teach” (at Harvard, and beyond) – hence the research community attached to HarvardX Bol, P. & Reich, J. (2014).

  • The research itself is of a benefit to the university, and they are in the right position to make it. Bol, P. & Reich, J. (2014).

“the amount of effort that can be invested into a course is much greater when it can be amortized across tens of thousands”. Mitros et. al. (2013)

students completing a MOOC have begun to enrol on University of London International Programmes’ flexible and distance learning degree pathways” Grainger, B. (2013).

Most importantly, the understanding gained should be used to inform diversification strategies including the development of new business models and pedagogic approaches that take full advantage of digital technologies.” Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).

Service Disaggregation: Unbundling and Re-bundling:  If is pursued, institutions will need to identify new ways of packaging, planning and organising their courses, services and learning support activities. They can then focus on their unique disciplinary, reputational and/or geographical strengths.” Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).

opportunity as those institutions which re-bundle effectively may find a way to take advantage of MOOCs by incorporating them into revenue-producing degree programmes” Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).

“Possible strategic choices based on the purpose behind the development of a MOOC might include being defensive, Offensive, for Marketing, Enhance existing provision, Change existing provision or Financial. Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014)..

“It is important to recognise that new and innovative products and services will require organisational changes and the development of new capabilities across the organisation’s processes, technology and people”. Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).

MOOCs themselves in the development of new forms of provision go beyond HEI’s existing markets. This has the potential to lead to greater choice for learners about how, when and what they study, but not necessarily to the detriment of existing providers. Yuan, L., Powell, S., Oliver, B. (2014).

Idea Bank – a space online for members of the MIT community to share their views on the Future of MIT’s Education- https://future.mit.edu/ideabank MIT Task Force (2013)

“The unbundling of courses, introducing modularity and adding flexibility into courses is all very interesting development. Adding a top-down approach to decompose courses into modules and a bottom-up approach to engineer a curriculum into core concepts.” MIT Task Force (2013)

“We will need to balance our desire to not limit access with the need to create a sustainable financial model”.” MIT Task Force (2013)

Student inclusion by encouraging spaces which are ‘open to all’ and under no auspicious banner of an elite university  Waard et al. (2014).



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Ardis, M.A., & Henderson, P.B. (2012). Software engineering education (SEEd): Is software engineering ready for MOOCs? ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes, 37(5), 14-14.

Bol, P. & Reich, J. (2014). HarvardX and MITx: The First Year of Open Online Courses. MITx Working Paper #1. Last accessed 17/02/14 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8Bic69fS_Q

Bull, D. (2012). From ripple to tsunami: The possible impact of MOOCs on higher education. DE Quarterly, 2012 Spring, 10-11.

Butin, D.W. (2012). What MIT should have done. eLearn Magazine, June 2012. Retrieved fromhttp://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=2263018

Clarke, D. (2014). EdX’s MOOCman Anant Agarwal loves hype! Blog post. Last accessed 04/02/14 from http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/edxs-moocman-anant-agarwal-loves-hype.html

Daniel, J. (2014). MOOC’s: What Will Be Their Legacy? Global Trends of Online Teaching and Learning. International Symposium, Open University of Japan. Last accessed 18/02/14 from http://sirjohn.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/140207-Japan-OUTX.pdf

Davis, N., Mackintosh, W. (2013). A MOOC Prepared to Make a Difference. DEANZ Magazine.  November 2013. University of Canterbury e-Learning Lab. Last accessed 17/02/14 from http://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/bitstream/10092/8767/1/12647056_DEANZ%20Magazine%20nov13%202.pdf

Downs, S. (2013). MOOC – Diversity and Community in Online Learning. Keynote presentation delivered to 26e Entretiens Jacques Cartier, Lyon, France. Last accessed 02/02/14 from http://www.downes.ca/presentation/331

Grainger, B. (2013). University of London International Programmes Massive Open Online Course  (MOOC) Report 2013. Last accessed 17/02/14 from http://www.londoninternational.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/mooc_report-2013.pdf

Ho, A.D., Reich, J., Nesterko, S., Seaton, D.T., Mullaney, T., Waldo, J., & Chuang, I. (2014). HarvardX and MITx: The first year of open online courses (HarvardX Working Paper No. 1). http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2381263

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Mitros, P.F., Afridi, K.K., Sussman, G.J., Terman, C.J., White J.K., Fischer, L. and Agarwal A. (2013). Teaching Electronic Circuits Online: Lessons from MITx’s 6.002x on edX. IEEE 19 May 2013

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Reich, J., Nesterko, S., Seaton, D.T., Mullaney, T., Waldo, J., Chuang, I., & Ho, A.D. (2014c). JusticeX: Spring 2013 course report (HarvardX Working Paper Series No. 4).

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The future of Moodle is well within our grasp

By Matt Jenner, on 17 September 2012

Moodle is open source software and is used by millions of people around the world. Open source allows anyone to tinker with the code; adding new things, changing existing & ultimately deciding which direction their Moodle heads in. Many of these changes are shared within the Moodle community for others to freely use – this leads to the core software being developed, extended and reformed in many directions. Keeping a steer on this is Moodle HQ, a group of 20 ‘core’ developers and, tightly connected, many global developers, testers, documentation writers, really helpfulers (people who help the community on Moodle.org with problems) and many others. What’s sometimes lacking with Moodle is the input, or link to education research including academics, learners, administrators, developers, testers, researchers and everyone else.

1st Moodle Research Conference

Blogging from Crete – Greece, this post attempts to summarise two days of the 1st Moodle Research Conference. The conference was the first iteration of an event unlike other established Moodle, or educational meet-ups. Sold as “a unique event dedicated to the research and development (R&D) on learning and teaching carried out with Moodle”. What that actually meant evolved right though the two days as the conference delegates shared, talked and discovered the direction Moodle is heading in.

The international conference had around 70 delegates from 22 countries. There were 23 presentations showcasing developments, case studies, new tools, learning designs, learning analytics and addressing challenging issues and introducing new ideas; all for Moodle. Additionally there were seven posters, three meals, one panel discussion and one keynote – from Martin Dougiamas, the man who invented Moodle. If that wasn’t enough, we were also in the Creta Maris – a somewhat splendid and slightly distracting conference venue with the Mediterranean Sea lapping at our feet, the sun beating down and wild cats meowing for scraps of lunch.

The aim of the conference, at least from my perspective, was to see how educational research was influencing Moodle development. After all, we have this tool which is designed around teaching and learning but it also continual evolves. To ensure it changes along with established understanding of how people learn and what affordances technologies can offer, we must ensure a cyclic loop exists, with each feeding in the other. Or, at least that’s the idea.

User-centred design

Often is the case that developers say they wish to just get on with developing and that theorists are too theoretical (with their heads in the clouds). The crux of the issue seems to be that established and ratified theory must influence design, design must influence development and developers must do the same.

User centred design (SAP, 2012)

One argument against Moodle is that it’s not intuitive, this may be most strongly felt by academics as they mutter that Moodle doesn’t quite map onto teaching, takes too much time and isn’t always an environment which encourages alternative approaches to learning and teaching. Instead, and this is something I’m happy to agree with, Moodle is technology, this is akin to something ‘that doesn’t work yet’. If Moodle ‘worked’ we wouldn’t need so many people helping with it, it’d just ‘work’. To keep things simple, I don’t remember the last time I explained how a chair works, which was once a technology itself.

Moodle is over 10 years old now, and along the way many innovative additions have come to the software. But, also over the years sometimes developments have not always been linked to the research and, unfortunately the emergent disconnect between designers, practitioners, theorists and everyone in the middle appears. This has resulted in both innovation and disruption. Moodle development is the output of highly skilled and passionate people all contributing towards something they want to improve. What’s being addressed here is slightly more complex, with so many developments it’s often hard to see where the edges are. Further, developments are not necessarily tied together, and we end up being back outside the cyclic process shown above.

While there is plenty of time to disseminate the talks in the conference, I felt this blog post was better positioned to give a higher level view into what’s happening with Moodle. The simple fact is the web is evolving very quickly, start-ups can build, destroy and rebuild with minimal fear of reprise. This could be because they promote agility in their staff and in their product, or because they are nowhere near as established as something like Moodle where agility can have a negative impact for a large community of users.

What is Moodle now

Essentially a lot of Moodle is internally facing, tools are developed to be a part of the ecosystem of Moodle.

What will Moodle become?

This is harder to describe, but the value of tools external to Moodle are immensely useful. Linking intelligently to these is important, and focusing on strengthening the internal tools make sense, rather than necessarily diversifying them by adding many more. This is just one view, the route is still to be defined. The important thing is to consider Moodle as the base, the developments focus around educational developments and the wider tools linked in, rather than reinvented.

The next direction?

What’s most important is that the developments are fed back from users; that’s all types identified. The next few years are going to be important for Moodle, for UCL and the wider community. At some point will come the dreaded system review, comparison and evaluation. It will have to stand up against the changing landscape of tools and environments for online learning and teaching. By concentrating its developments around the best understanding of relevant pedagogical research, it’ll hopefully retain Moodle’s strength, improve the system for everyone and keep Moodle aligned as one of the world’s best learning management systems.

Well, that’s the current plan. 


SAP (2012).  Principles of UI Development, SAP Community Network. Last accessed 17th September 2012 from http://wiki.sdn.sap.com/wiki/display/BBA/Principles+of+UI+Development

R&D by asking the world !

By Rod Digges, on 21 January 2010



If you’re very pressed for time and interested in how this posting might
help you in your teaching you can go straight to the end of this
article, if you have a minute to spare, read on….

The internet continues to provide interesting new models of working and
although not new (8 years old in fact) the Innocentive web presence has
now established itself firmly in the arena of collaborative R&D.

Being relatively new to UCL but knowing the wealth of talent that exists
here, I had assumed that many people would have heard of innocentive,
but conversations with colleagues and academics, so far at least, have
proved this assumption to be wrong. So in light of the above I thought
it might be worth circulating some information about the site in the
hope that others may find it interesting or useful.

I won’t go into too much detail here about innocentive as
simply following the above URL will allow anyone interested to explore
the site and the collaborative models it provides in depth.
In a nutshell, the innocentive website provides a space where
companies/institutions faced with particular R&D problems can
‘challenge’ a community of ‘seekers’ to provide innovative solutions –
I’m sure this has been done elsewhere, but innocentive have done it
particularly well – their recently announced partnership with the
publishers of Nature in the US gives an indication of how well the site is regarded.

In addition to Innocentive’s commercial partnerships an agreement with
the Rockefeller foundation in 2006 has lead to Innocentive providing a space for
non-profit ‘seekers’ particularly aimed at providing technology solutions
to pressing problems in the third world – so it’s an interesting mix of
for profit and altruistic challenges.

The innocentive model gives much ‘food for thought’ in areas such
(global) knowledge transfer, IP, research & collaboration and the
effectiveness of ‘crowdsourcing’ (apparently 50% of solutions come from
people who’s domain of expertise lie outside that of the ‘perceived’
problem domain.

Whatever you may think of the innocentive model – brilliant idea or R&D
on cheap – it does provide those who want to integrate problem based
learning into their course materials with a set of ready-made real
world problems and for this reason alone its worth taking a

With students finding it harder prove themselves and find places after graduating
wouldn’t a UK or European innocentive be one place where students might prove themselves before graduating?

The question in my mind is – Why haven’t we got something as open and innovative as this in Europe or the UK? – maybe we have and I just need a pointer….anybody?