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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.

Video (highlights): http://uvision.hku.hk/playvideo.php?mid=18951

Video (full lecture): http://uvision.hku.hk/playvideo.php?mid=18950

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A new online course to be launched by the JMSC this spring will aim to teach the public how to critically evaluate news and news sources, to better understand and respond to issues and events that affect their everyday lives.

The Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, titled Making Sense of News, will be available to students worldwide on edX, the non-profit online education portal founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.  The six-week course will begin on 19 May, and the JMSC is now accepting student registrations.

The content has been developed by two JMSC faculty members, Assistant Professor Masato Kajimoto and Assistant Lecturer Anne Kruger, who will also present the online lectures.

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Kajimoto said the course will aim to show students how to examine the validity of information in news reports and social communications, with special emphasis on information disseminated online, where unsubstantiated rumours and inaccurate information often circulate.  The course among other things will examine recent cases where the sharing of unconfirmed rumours has had serious consequences.
Kajimoto said it is vitally important for people everywhere to develop such skills, and to consider the potential consequences of responding quickly to news reports before they are verified.

He said although all members of the public should be able to benefit from the course, it should prove particularly valuable for undergraduate university and middle school students.

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“These students have grown up with social media as an integral part of their lives, and many rely on platforms like Twitter and Facebook for their news,” Kajimoto said.  “The recent Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong “demonstrated how quickly false rumours can be spread (via social media) and how these rumours get taken as fact.  Social media now have dramatic impact on people’s actions.”

Classes will consist of video clips and interactive exercises. Participants will be required to spend two to three hours per week watching the lectures, reading material recommended by the lecturers, completing assignments, and discussing the subject with other class members on the online portal.

“I expect our students to be the future decision-makers, and oftentimes people make decisions based on what they hear in news reports,” Kajimoto said.  “If they can learn how to pause and think about the power of disseminating information on social media through this course, that’s a good thing.”

To register for the course, visit the Making Sense of News registration page on edX.

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On Friday 23 January, Anthony Robinson (Assistant Professor, The Pennsylvania State University) delivered a CITE-organised talk where he walked the audience through the key features and insights from his highly-engaging MOOC, Maps and the Geospatial Revolution.

Dr Robinson (also Director for Online Geospatial Education, John A. Dutton e-Education Institute) began by dispelling the misconception that MOOCs are the same as all online courses.  ‘Traditional’ online credit-bearing classes are paid, relatively small-scale, and have a high instructor:learner ratio (and thus enable a broad range of assessment types).  MOOCs, on the other hand, are by definition open-access, ‘massive’-scale, and have a low instructor:learner ratio (requiring a rethink of traditional assessment approaches).  These fundamental differences between pre-MOOC era online classes and MOOCs themselves indicate the need for MOOC development teams to shift their paradigms to address learner needs in these vastly new learning environments.

So what were the key motivations behind Anthony Robinson’s MOOC on mapping?  He noted 5 ‘Es’: to encourage new audiences; to enhance visibility of existing online programmes; to explore this new method of instruction; and to evaluate new research possibilities.  By aiming to create a gateway experience into mapping for learners and develop the teaching, learning and research work, the paradigm employed in this learning environment was clearly different to that of the traditional programmes offered in his context.

How did Anthony Robinson structure course content and assessments within his MOOC?  His course consisted of text and graphics developed to teach core competencies, supported by two short lecture videos for each week.  He noted that the content of the videos, which he produced himself in his garage, was supplementary to the other input material, as his experience with online learning indicates that providing only video input is likely to provide a suboptimal learning experience.  His assessments consisted of weekly quizzes, discussion activities, peer review, and a final exam.

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How did he interact with his learners during the running of the MOOC?  Dr Robinson emphasised the key importance of interacting with learners during the running of the course.  He did this by engaging with forum discussions, introducing an ‘ask me anything’ activity, providing weekly discussion digests, and seeding several off-topic forums to add scope to the discussion.

What does Dr Robinson see as the three main priorities when developing a MOOC?  One, interact with learners during the course delivery.  Two, design the course in a way which engages learners and don’t be afraid to innovate.  Three, target the competencies and learning objectives which underpin your course.

Since the first MOOC in 2012, thousands of MOOCs have been offered to millions of learners.  So where will MOOCs fit in to higher education a few years down the line?  He believes that MOOCs are one option for distance education and will not replace everything else.  Traditional online courses will continue to serve as a high-engagement option which better suit higher-level topics.  So, whilst MOOCs are not likely to supplant more tradition offerings, they are likely to foster learners who are price-sensitive and demand more options than ever before.

For Dr Robinson’s presentation powerpoint, please click here.

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On 15 Jan 2015, CETL organized a one-day programme ‘Introduction to Teaching and Learning @ HKU’ for teaching staff who are new to teaching at HKU. Our new Associate Vice-President Professor Ricky Kwok, also the Chairman of the HKU Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Working Group, was invited to give a brief session on the recent development of MOOCs. Professor Kwok talked about why developing a MOOC will give teachers unprecedented outreaching opportunities and how it will enable the use of analytics to learn about learning. He also shared the challenges and difficulties of developing a MOOC, and the lessons we have learned.

To grab the starter kit and learn more about MOOC development @ HKU, click here.

To learn more about HKU’s MOOC offerings, click here.


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