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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.

Related Items 

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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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The Search for Vernacular Architecture of Asia, Part I, is HKU’s second Massive Open Online Course, to be launched in April, 2015.

This 5-week introductory course is for those who would like to explore and be fascinated by vernacular architecture. It covers topics such as native building materials, the interaction between people, culture and the vernacular, as well as the vernacular landscape, and it has a special emphasis on the built heritage of Asia.

It is a unique course in many ways. For example, the instructor, Professor David P.Y. Lung (Professor of Architecture, Lady Edith Kotewall Professor in the Built Environment), not only presents the course materials himself, but he also involves experts from both inside and outside of HKU in panel discussions, onsite interviews, studio interviews, etc. to share a diverse set of views and experiences.

Click here to watch the trailer if you cannot access Youtube

In addition, one of the most unique characteristics of this course is its visual richness. In order to present the content in a most direct and impactful way, the course makes great use of images and videos of the buildings, landscapes, rituals, etc. To gather the visual materials, the course staff often finds themselves in the field taking location images and videos.

The goal of the course is to help learners from around the world to develop an appreciation of the values and meanings of vernacular architecture in their local environments, and to apply what they learned in the course to protect and preserve their local built environment. With inputs from a diverse set of experts, visual richness, and well-designed learning activities, this course is shaping up to be another high quality, impactful learning experience brought to the world by the University of Hong Kong.

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For further information about and to register for the course, please go to here


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With social media and a 24/7 news cycle, how do we — as news consumers — make sense of what we hear and read? At a time when we are flooded with an abundance of information and disinformation, it is essential for each one of us to become a more discerning news consumer.

This six-week course will help you identify reliable information in news reports and become better informed about the world we live. We will discuss journalism from the viewpoint of the news audience.

Together, we will examine the following topics:

  • What makes news? The blurred lines between news, promotion and entertainment.
  • Why does news matter? Social sharing and the dynamics of the news cycles.
  • Who provides information? How to evaluate sources in news reports.
  • Where is the evidence? The process of verification.
  • When should we act? Recognizing our own biases.
  • How do we know what we know? Becoming an active news audience.

If you are interested in becoming a more discerning news consumer, please join us and sign up today.


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