Professor Sir Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol (UoB), shared his vision of MOOCs during the public lecture entitled “What Defines a Global University” on 12 January 2015, which brought together members of the Heads of Universities Committee (HUCOM), UGC, HKU students, staff, alumni and friends.

“A global university will have global distribution of its educational materials and programmes,” Sir Thomas said. Citing “Cracking Mechanics: Further Maths for Engineers” at UoB as an example, he told the audience that the course has attracted 12,000 enrollees to date – 6 times of the Engineering student population at Bristol – creating a much greater impact than achieved in the past.

Not only are MOOCs giving institutions many opportunities to advertise their excellence, they are also helping teachers to reverse-engineer the existing curriculum and enrich pedagogies.

In the Q&A, Sir Thomas emphasized that proper resourcing ought to top the agenda for aspiring universities. “I think they need to invest in [MOOC], this is about something that is central to your education provision in the same way as quality assurance is, assessment is, and curriculum design is,” he continued, “so that the faculty don’t believe that they’re having to do it for free. They are doing it as part of their work as a faculty member, for which they will receive the appropriate reward – in promotion as well as anything else.”

It was a stirring experience to hear from Sir Thomas on how much potential in MOOCs was yet to be tapped. We are just on the beginning of a learning curve.

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