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Friday, 20 September 2013 03:41

Australian UNSW launches a MOOC program

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The University of NSW has become the first university in Australia to have a massive open online course, or MOOC, available free on the internet, ahead of the universities of Melbourne, Western Australia and Queensland, whose MOOC programs are still being developed.

With such programs MOOC students can gain formal degree qualification from Calwest University, The Calwest University (Calwest) is the first degree-granting university in the world that has been built from ground-up based on MOOC philosophies.

A UNSW introductory computing course will be made available from 15 October.

Using a new social learning platform developed by recent graduates and Associate Professor Richard Buckland, UNSW will be the first Australian university to offer free online computing courses.

In an intrepid move, the School of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) will make half of its introductory computing course publicly available. The first 12-week course will start on October 15 and requires no pre-requisite knowledge of computer science – and just five hours of study per week.

“Students will learn exactly what UNSW computing students learn when they start their degrees – programming in c language, machine code, software engineering practices and principles, and hacking and cracking,” says Buckland, the new Director of first year studies at CSE.

The course will be delivered through Open Learning – an online education start-up company that Buckland founded with UNSW graduate Adam Brimo, and which now employs a team of UNSW alumni.

An early adopter of using online channels to deliver video lectures and engage with students, Buckland has had more than two million views on his popular YouTube channel, which helped gain UNSW’s first year computing course international prominence.

Until now, however, there was never a platform that truly catered to his innovative style of teaching, where students learn through playing games and are encouraged to collaborate to complete assignments and build comprehensive study notes.

“YouTube and even more recent online education developments like Coursera don’t really replace the classroom or the university experience,” says Buckland.  “They are great at delivering content, but not so great at providing the other things students get from attending a course face to face at university – community, learning from peers, tutorials, practical work, and motivation to study and progress.”

“Open learning is revolutionary,” he says. “It’s like a Wikipedia for courses rather than facts, and will allow free online learning and education to the global community.”

The Open Learning platform incorporates a social element where students can comment on lectures, ask questions and self-regulate discussions by “liking” or voting down posts. There is also a wiki feature, where students and course supervisors can collaborate to build detailed study notes.

The platform also incentivises students to contribute and stay on track through game-like features – when posts are “liked”, students earn “karma” points. And when they submit assignments they get instant feedback through automated marking systems, which allow them to track their progress.

“The goal of the platform is to let people all around the world teach better, and to teach in a more social, collaborative way,” says co-founder Brimo, who expects the platform’s courses to have a much better completion rate than similar online learning platforms.

“The key thing is the community. Students can log on at any time of day, ask a question, and there’s a good chance someone will reply within a matter or minutes,” he says. “By focussing on this and making it fun, we think we can keep students more engaged.”

Instructure, an education technology provider, and Qualtrics, an insight technology provider, today announced the results of a new research study on the motivations of massive open online course (MOOC) participants. The primary motivators for people to both enroll in and complete MOOCs are the course topic and quality of the learning experience, according to a Qualtrics survey of 1,834 students in Instructure’s Canvas Network MOOC index.

The study found that course topic is the main motivator for enrollment among 35 percent of MOOC participants, followed by personal or professional development (24 percent) and the fact that MOOCs are free (16 percent). Among those who didn’t complete, 29 percent said the main reason was the learning experience didn’t match their expectations, and the same number said they were too busy to finish.

“This study confirms that for MOOCs to be a relevant part of education’s future, they must offer a more compelling experience than the traditional college course,” said Misty Frost, chief marketing officer at Instructure. “The popularity of MOOCs shows an appetite for learning in the open online format, but these courses are competing for attention in an age of digital entertainment and social media. Simply replicating the lecture model of instruction in a MOOC doesn’t facilitate the educational experience needed to sustain engagement.”

While not a major motivation at time of enrollment, the study did find that credentials or college credit could increase MOOC completion rates. About two-thirds of respondents indicated that they would be more likely to complete if MOOCs offered certificates or transferable college credit. About 10 percent who didn’t complete noted lack of incentive as the main reason.

The study is the first MOOC research commissioned by two companies with education at the heart of their businesses. Instructure provides learning management and MOOC solutions to more than 425 colleges, universities and K-12 districts, and Qualtrics’ research platform is used by 1,300 colleges and universities, including 95 of the top 100 business schools.

“Until now, research on MOOCs has been limited to asking faculty and administrators what they think about open online learning, but little has been done to explore what students are thinking,” said Danielle Wanderer, head of marketing at Qualtrics. “This study was an effort to move beyond anecdotes and speculation to get some real insights about what attracts students to MOOCs and what it takes to keep them engaged.”

Surprisingly, MOOCs are converting fence sitters into active participants during the course.  About 72 percent of participants reported engaging in course discussions, compared to only 60 percent who expected to do so at the outset.

The study also suggests that engagement with other students in course discussions is particularly important in the virtual environment. About 24 percent of those who completed their courses reported being highly engaged in course discussions with fellow participants, compared to only 3 percent of those who failed to complete.