On edX and MOOCs

Been some time since my last post. The main reason is this.

We're on the front page!

We’re on the front page!

The picture shows the front page of edX. And we’ve been waiting a month to get on that front page – they put us on around 36 hours before we go live. Thanks edX! The numbers will be boosted a bit.

This post is going to be a bit reflective, but that is what blogs are for.

Why did the PolyU get into MOOCs?

My belief is that the PolyU got into MOOCs because it is (was?) the current trend and it did not want to be left behind; it wanted to show that it was up there with the Harvards and MITs; at the same time it was supposedly joining the edX club, and mixing with those top ranked universities.

Why did the ELC get into MOOCs?

We were asked to. What would have happened if we had said no? I think there would have probably been a lack of volunteers, so in that sense the PolyU were fortunate to have us.

Were we right to get into MOOCs?

I think all the teams have collectively learnt a great deal. The PolyU’s brand has been enhanced somewhat, but maybe not to the extent that was hoped a couple of years ago. The ELC, along with HKUST EC, is one of a very small number of English Centres around the world that have launched a MOOC. Something we can be proud of.

Have we missed the boat?

MOOCs were a trend, and there is a question now as to whether we have gone past the peak. One of the problems we have had with our MOOC starting in October is that there are apparently 398 other courses (Clcik on the link – Class Central had some very kind words for me) starting the same month. The market is getting saturated. We were told to find a niche market, but we decided our title 10 months ago, and now even edX has competing MOOCs on job interviews, let alone all the other MOOC providers. The numbers are not going to get less in the future, and this means getting the high number of enrollees is likely to be increasingly difficult.

Quality or Quantity

I’ve had a few conversations about this over the last couple of months, and some more very kind words have been said. MOOCs are supposed to be massive, so if you don’t attract massive numbers, then are you a success? At the same time, how important is quality? More of that on another day.


We were told marketing was important early on, but I did not realise how important, and how little I know about it. Problems we have had – getting traditional media interested in the story; the continuing importance of traditional media in getting a story noticed; how a story can be easily lost in social media; how it is very easy to spend, and lose money advertising on Facebook, AdWords and YouTube; we now know how to get YouTube views and Facebook likes, but we also know that does not translate into enrollees; we’ve learnt about dealing with print shops; we know more about Adobe and making posters; we have developed partnerships with Chinese suppliers, and I’ve learned to trust people I only know on Wechat! And then, at the end of the day, if I had done nothing at all – what would the numbers be like?

Video Making?

We were first told to make a 4 minute trailer video. It had to be glossy. Like an advert. Ours came in at 3:34.   Too long we were then told! So we cut it, and it came in at 1:22:

Do I regret the money and time spent making it? Not really. The whole experience in total was immensely enjoyable, and I’ve learnt more in these past few months than at probably any other time in my life. Yes, totally exhausting and at time very frustrating.  And yes, that energy could have been spent elsewhere. But, I’m still happy that the videos and the courses are there.

And that was only one (or two!) of the videos we made. We made dozens and dozens of them. In truth I’ve lost count. The video company did send me a long list, but that’s another story. Lessons learned: keep it simple, and do as much as you can in-house to keep control – especially with videos which need a lot of annotations. But, when you do it yourself, the main thing is sound quality. And keep the camera in focus!

On edX?

I wonder what their plan is. They have 5 million students now, although most are probably not active; still, not a bad number. And these are by and large young (our average student age is 25), highly educated (first degree or higher), and therefore potentially very high earners. And they have them. Not PolyU. Not HKU. Not HKUST. We supply the courses, and we pay to get them on edX, and we pay to get them created, but edX has this marketers dream mailing list. Good deal for them. They are promoting the verified certificate now – probably a sign of things to come.


The future of MOOCs. This could be a post in itself, so I’ll try to keep this short. The idea of providing top-class free education to those who would otherwise not have access is a great idea, and too some extent MOOCs achieve this. But, then you look at who usually joins MOOCs, and it is highly educated western males (although on our MOOC, it is highly educated Indian males!). I believe other universities will be more careful in the coming years of joining organisations like edX, and instead more local versions (such as CU KEEP) will become more popular. I think the free model will also gradually disappear, and instead there will be a limited access free version, and a paid for full version.

What’s next?

Get the courses running; enjoy them; take stock; and rest.


Design of a MOOC (Post 3)

Timothy Read, (twitter) Chapter 6 The Architectonics of Language MOOCs

Book available here: http://www.degruyter.com/viewbooktoc/product/455678

This chapter looks at the design of a MOOC. Some useful defintions are provided:

cMOOCs: explore pedagogies and emphasise connectedness, collaborative learning; do not run on a single platform (but are distributed across many).promote immersion and are more disruptive than xMOOCs. They are not designed to serve the mission of a given institution.Key activities in cMOOCs include the remixing, repurposing and co-creation of content and interaction.
xMOOCs: extend standard classroom inspired institutional educational models; promote participant diversity, in the sense of transmitting the same message to thousands, whereas cMOOCs focus more on the diversity of approaches and resources, developed and distributed in many different ways.
LMOOCs: Language MOOCs

And this quote about teaching and learning languages:

When considering LMOOCs, learning a language requires the development of competences related to four different kinds of language activities (Council of Europe, 2001): reception (listening and reading), production (spoken and written), interaction (spoken and written), and mediation (translating and interpreting).

So, how to put all that together, in our Language MOOC? This is how Read concludes:

A middle ground is required that enables a hybrid-xMOOC to be designed, including cMOOC features, such as external social media tools, and the like, going beyond the limitations of the basic tools provided in the platform to provide a finer grained level of interaction. This is not just a question of linking in Twitter and/or Facebook to an existent LMOOC, and including some activities that makes use of them, but more of a fundamental restructuring of the course to move the emphasis of study away from working in the platform by watching a series of video recordings, undertaking superficial activities and doing automatically corrected tests, toward a semi-distributed cMOOC-like structure, where the students undertake a lot of their own content curation and productive skill development off the platform, and then come back to share with the group what has been happening and prepare for the next step in the learning process.

Gives me food for thought.

Role of instructor on a MOOC (Post 2)

From Maria Dolores Castrillo de Larreta-Azelain, “Chapter 5. Language Teaching in MOOCs: the Integral Role of the Instructor”. This chapter is also worth reading. Lots of very good advice.

Book available here: http://www.degruyter.com/viewbooktoc/product/455678

I like this in the introduction:

MOOCs appeared quite disruptively in 2011 as a new model of online education evolving naturally from the learning based on the social network.

And then some agreement about what is in a MOOC:

These courses consist of brief bites of videotaped content, automated correction assessment and feedback questionnaires, peer assessment tasks, and tools for communication and collaborative work, such as discussion forums, blogs and wikis

But what does the Instructor do? I remember doing e-moderation courses where we went through Salmon’s Five Step Model (2003) – and I agree that makes sense in those types of courses. But does that work on a MOOC? I agree with Castrillo that a new model is required.

Teacher roles in a MOOC

So, the instructor has a much bigger role to play before the MOOC starts, and perhaps a smaller one during the running of the course?

Castrillo defines four ‘steps’ in the planning part of a MOOC:

1. Divide your course in meaningful units or modules, 1- or 2-week long. According to recent research, the optimal length of MOOCs lies between 6 and 12 weeks. Longer courses have lower engagement and completion rates.
2. Estimate the hours of study for each unit or module. It is preferable to overestimate the number of hours to avoid the feeling of frustration which an underestimate may cause to the student. The average of weekly hours of study in MOOCs lies between 4 and 8.
3. Set a mastery standard for each unit and, depending on that, discriminate among compulsory and optional learning targets by assigning explicitly distinct tasks. The student must be aware at all times of the compulsory or optional nature of each of the tasks.
4. Include a proposed timeline with the sequencing of contents. Past experience seems to advise making the different units or modules incrementally available, and keeping them open and accessible up to the end of the course. In this way, learning along the suggested scheduling is facilitated (‘guide on the side’) while flexibility is reinforced by allowing the student to enrol at a later time, to review
the contents, to delve into previous units, etc.

Our MOOC will be split into two, each of 4 weeks, so in total within the optimal length outlined above. Over-estimating the amount of hours needed (to avoid frustrating the student) is a good point. Also, having compulsory and optional activities is a good idea. And, allowing students to go back to earlier units also makes sense.

Re the short videos, I like this sentence:

The short videos resemble individualized tuition and allow students to control the delivery speed by stopping at certain passages, replaying others and reviewing contents.

And there needs to be:

a set of several questions and issues to be tackled by the student before, during and after
viewing the instructional videos.

Importance of both self and peer assessment.

Regarding peer assessment,

Some recent research suggests that the results of task revision by four peers would be just as appropriate as those provided by the revision conducted by a single instructor (Patchan, Charney, & Schunn, 2009 (pdf)).

Other points mentioned in the chapter – read it for more information – include:

Asynchronous and synchronous communication  tools. Be care about the design  – see How NOT to Design a MOOC: The Disaster at Coursera and How to Fix it, 2013.

Chaos in the forums – I am still unsure how to prevent this.

New professional roles within MOOCs: curator and facilitator.

Language MOOCs. Providing Learning, Transcending Boundaries (Post 1)

Martín-Monje, Elena and Elena Bárcena (Eds.). 2015. Language MOOCs. Providing Learning, Transcending Boundaries. Berlin: De Gruyter Open.

Book available here: http://www.degruyter.com/viewbooktoc/product/455678

Chapter 2 What Constitutes an Effective Language MOOC? by Maggie Sokolik

Maggie Sokolik, who has already had one successful MOOC (Principles of Written English on edX), has an early chapter in this online book. She is definitely worth paying attention to, and her concluding remarks in Chapter 2 are copied below:

Tips for a Successful LMOOC
To summarize the points made in this chapter, instructors and designers who are developing LMOOCs should consider the following suggestions:
1. Maximize engagement and interaction
Consider the ways in which students can participate on the MOOC platform. Students will be more engaged in using language if they can communicate among themselves. The focus of learning should be in interaction, and not just in absorbing course materials.
2. Facilitate, but do not manage, self-organized learning
Suggest ways that students might self-organize through social media or face-to face meetings when possible, but do not manage these groups. Students will, in fact, most likely organize these groups without instructor participation at all.
3. Create an instructor presence
Students need to know that there is a human instructor participating in the
LMOOC. Take time to comment on student discussions in the MOOC, make regular announcements, create a Facebook page or Twitter feed to support the class, etc.
4. Use video for engagement
Think about video as a source of authentic language materials, not just as a way to deliver a lecture. Use video as an opportunity for students to become engaged in culture as well as the language itself.
5. Define success
As you develop a Language MOOC, think about what success will mean in the course. Encourage students to think of their own goals, and how they will use the course to achieve them.
6. Match the goals of assessment with its form
As you think about the goals of the course, consider what type of assessment matches those goals. If the course focus is on writing, for example, then assessment types should evaluate writing in a meaningful way, such as through peer and self-assessment, rather than through multiple-choice questions.

All are very good advice, and something we need to try to incorporate in our MOOC.