The MOOC – *cheesy music* – Education for the Futureeeeeeee

Education to the masses

One of the more interesting and out there class projects I completed recently was to design a method of recording classes and distribute them around to students at home and abroad. That project was quite suited to the University of Salford and it’s MediaCityUK campus. It has the equipment and the student talent on hand that would be required. Television students to record class with a couple of cameras and get that edited. It has the sound department there to ensure that goes well too. What a perfect way to combine a practical project and assessment towards a student’s grade while also vastly improving the reach of the University.

But I suppose there are problems associated with that. Modules change year by year, or at least they should if a University takes student feedback in any way seriously! Content will change, assessments adjusted and delivery tweaked. Add to that the interesting challenges associated with a live recording of a class! In the quest to provide the best education, these are problems that will sort get sorted I am sure.

The FutureLearn homepage, rightly showing off its partners.

BUT, hold on! There is a method already out there. FutureLearn provides MOOCs! Odd word that but what it stands for is Massive Open Online Course. FutureLearn, owned by The Open University, is a pilot project which aims to provide anyone with an internet connection the chance to take part in high quality courses from Universities around the world.

The University of Auckland, University of Bath, University of Birmingham, University of Bristol, British Council, British Library, British Museum, Cardiff University, University of East Anglia, University of Edinburgh, University of Exeter, University of Glasgow, King’s College London, Lancaster University, University of Leeds, University of Leicester, University of Liverpool, Loughborough University, Monash University, Newcastle University, The University of Nottingham, The Open University, Queen’s University Belfast, University of Reading, The University of Sheffield, University of Southampton, University of Strathclyde, Trinity College Dublin, The University of Warwick

The reason I am blogging about it is that I recently was invited to the Critical Listening for Studio Production course which is being offered by Queen’s University Belfast, from my old department at the Sonic Arts Research Centre on less. Yes, I can hear you shout BIAS at your computer screens. Fond memories from there yes but from my point of view, I am passionate about education. When I see something done wrong then people will know about it, whether they listen is another matter but when I see something done right, I have to scream and shout about it!

Why do it?

Personally? On one hand it is a great chance for me to get a refresher course in critical listening but on the other hand, it is a great insight into how topics of sound engineering can be delivered online. For a newbie, consider it a very good way to learn a difficult topic at your own speed. If you’re already a sound engineer then you can use this as a refresher or maybe your course didn’t do the topic justice. Whatever the reason, there is something for everyone.

It is a seven week course and I am nearly two weeks into it. It is definitely going to be hard to juggle time around for this when I have my final M.Sc. project galloping along but that is just one of the biggest attractions that I can see about the MOOC. I am most certainly going to find myself falling behind with this course but that is not a problem. If fact, I was wrong! I am hardly a week into it! That is not a problem on this platform though, once I get some spare time, I can complete a couple of sections of the course at a time.

Blue signals what you have completed with pink being what is left. Just because I like the little details, the colour fade is a very nice touch.

Fits around you!

MOOC 2The advantage of the way this course has been laid out, is that it has been split into tiny chunks. No reading a whole chapter of a book for homework stuff here or going to class and finding out you are covering a decent chunk of the syllabus in one go. Depending on your own time and your own schedule you can go paragraph by paragraph if you need to and that is a big plus point.

Videos in each section are rarely as long as 5 minutes. That means there are a lot of sections and you would think that having to switch sections so often would be annoying, but it is as easy as flicking a page on a Kindle so you don’t notice it. With each section complete, the section numbers will go from pink to blue so you are constantly updating your bookmark as you go along.

The Content

I am being careful with my screenshotting here so I don’t give away anything too big as it can be clearly seen that a lot of work has been put into the course but the screenshot is from one of the many videos that you access on most sections. Instead of getting a selection slides like most post-class learning resources are, you get a very well detailed and narrated video which takes you through the section topic. For this course, diagrams and animations are surprisingly good. I was expecting a narrated Powerpoint presentation at the very least but I must say my expectations were totally blown away. Production values were at the forefront of this project.

Accompanying each section is a transcript of what was contained in the video, this is a very nice touch. Using Dropbox, Google Drive or whatever, you can download these as you go and have a read so you can catch up. I like that a lot.

Student Union

One issue you may have with this idea is that if you have a problem, who do you talk to? Well, talk to the other students. FutureLearn provides a message board for each section where all the participants can ask questions and get answers. One possible downside is that you can’t put the same level of trust in other users comments as you could in the person delivering the course and you could never reasonably expect the course coordinator to moderate and discuss each individual question. One section alone attracted over 240 comments and some courses are attracting students from 130 countries. I would love to find out the statistics of this course, but I heard that there were a few hundred signed up a couple of months ago. And don’t forget the social media aspect! Very handily, the course coordinator sent us an email with the #FLclsp for Twitter. Twitter allows for a quick spread of to the point content which students can use to show videos and articles which can help them in the course.

The Tough Stuff

One of the many and I mean MANY quiz questions.

How about being assessed? At the end of each week, after what can only be described as a shed load of practice quizzes, you are given an assessed set of questions relating to the topic of the week. These count towards your final mark. At the very end there will be an exam, so don’t let anyone be fooled into thinking this is an easy thing to do. Rest assured to know that if you are stuck on a topic, with each week being split into small sections you can’t get lost. One of the biggest annoyances I have is having trouble with a concept and then spending ages trying to find out where the answer would be. That really takes energy out of you at times. So this is a nice added bonus.

What does it mean to the student?

Well, I am not out the far side of it yet but I could go as far to say that with genuine assessments each week which seriously deal with important topics of critical listening, a university with the reputation of Queen’s in Belfast and for this course, the fact that the Sonic Arts Research Centre is involved, I would imagine that you would be proud to put on your CV your achievements in the course.

You could probably never deliver a whole degree like this. Critical listening is one of many chunks that would make up a music technology or audio production degree. Courses change too much as well and to keep this level of production going would take tremendous effort which could take away from the face to face students of a given department. Maybe that is where ideas that the class project in the first paragraph was based on will come to fruition.

All that aside, I would imagine that you could slip a good FutureLearn grade into the achievements section of your CV with no problem. Certainly, I would not see any point in creating a FutureLearn type of project unless its content was going to be good enough to brag about if you do well! This blog as been full of praise for the concept, content and delivery but that last sentence is probably the most important of the whole blog. Where it is fantastic to see modern technology enabling people to freely learn, unless each course meets a very high standard which would allow students to genuinely use this to add to their arsenal on a CV or an interview, then it is quite simply time, money and a fantastic opportunity whole heartily wasted.

The Takeaway

Do it!