Guest blogger: Learning through MOOCs


Amar Bahadur Singh

In this post, one of the candidates from Hedda master programme, Amar Bahadur Singh shares the key findings from his master thesis that he has completed at the University of Oslo. 


I carried out a master’ thesis research on the very first international MOOC entitled “What Works: Promising Practices in International Development” that University of Oslo Offered from 23 February to 5 April 2015. Professor and Research Director, Dr. Dan Banik, at University of Oslo’s Centre for Development and the Environment developed the very first international interdisciplinary MOOC in close collaboration with Stanford University in the United States, the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College in Malawi, China Agricultural University in Beijing, and Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), and launched through the FutureLearn platform. The interdisciplinary researchers, scholars and development specialists from the collaborating universities and organizations contributed to delivering video lectures, reading materials, etc. to the six-week course.

What is a MOOC?

Generally speaking, a MOOC refers to an online course that resembles an on-campus course in many ways. For example, it has a video lecture, discussion forums, and e-assessment. Daniel (2012) contends MOOCs are commonly defined by signature characteristics that include: free courses and short video lectures combined with formative quizzes that are easily accessible through technology devices that have Internet connectivity. But, as Hvam (2015) states, all MOOCs are not free and non-credit bearing. Some of the MOOCs are degree awarding and charge tuition fees. Thus, a single definition does not cover all MOOCs.

McAuley et al. (2010, p. 5), however, give an elaborated definition of MOOC: A MOOC integrates the connectivity of social networking, the facilitation of an acknowledged expert in a field of study, and a collection of freely accessible online resources. Perhaps most importantly, however, a MOOC builds on the active engagement of several hundred to several thousand ‘students’ who self-organize their participation according to learning goals, prior knowledge and skills, and common interests. Although it may share in some of the conventions of an ordinary course, such as a pre-defined timeline and weekly topics for consideration, a MOOC generally carries no fees, no prerequisites other than Internet access and interest.

There are two types of MOOCs: cMOOCs or connectivist MOOCs and xMOOCs or content-based MOOCs. Siemens (2012a) The cMOOCs, as Siemens (2012a) asserts, emphasize “creation, creativity, autonomy and social networking learning” while xMOOCs emphasizes “a more traditional learning approach through video presentations and short quizzes and testing” (p.5).

Kiron University – A Crowdfunding campaign to provide refugees access to a free academic education and degrees

Ronny Roewert

Ronny Röwert

In this guest entry, Ronny Röwert puts the spotlight on a recent crowdfunding-based non-profit initiative to provide education for refugees. Ronny Röwert is an analyst at CHE Consult, a German consultancy and research company on higher education, based in Berlin. He holds a Diploma-Degree in Economics from the University of Freiburg and has also studied at the University of Kiel and University of Auckland, New Zealand. His research interests relate to internationalisation, change management, digitisation and economic impact analysis in the higher education system.

Worldwide, 59.5 million people are on the move as refugees or displaced people within their home countries according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR . That population would be equivalent to the population of Great Britain or enough to make them citizens of the world’s 24th biggest country. Although the current reception of these high numbers of displaced people in the world in the media and political arena is mainly limited to the notion of a temporary crisis, the international community as well as national states will inevitably have to deal with not only short but also medium and long term remedies for this permanent humanitarian global challenge. The major causes of migration – poverty, conflicts, economic crises and negative consequences of climate change – will not disappear and so does not the flux of refugees and internally displaced people.

The majority of refugees are young and often well qualified and talented people. Refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people in regions of crisis face particular obstacles to access education in general and higher education in particular both in their home as well as in their host countries. In the 2013 Global Trends Report, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees identified as main challenges: lack of legal documentation and school certificates, high international student fees, lack of capacity of educational institutions as well as language barriers. All these factors prevent people to live up to their potential and therefore cause despair, unstable societies and high integration costs for host countries.

Conference review: EUA conference ‘Changing Landscapes in Learning and Teaching’

EUAconf We would like to share with you a review from a recent EUA conference that took place early April in Belgium. EUA is the Association of European institutions of higher education and the annual conference includes representatives from EUA members to discuss issues related to higher education in Europe.

This review was originally posted on EUA website and has been re-posted with explicit permission. Note that there is also a link to all the conference presentations in the bottom of the post! 

Around 350 university leaders and representatives from the higher education sector gathered last week (3-4 April) for the EUA Annual Conference, hosted by the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in Belgium. The theme of this year’s conference was “Changing Landscapes in Learning and Teaching”.Discussions highlighted that the importance of the core university mission of learning and teaching has been rising in recent years, and is likely to grow in the future. Participation in higher education, which has already increased substantially, is set to rise further. In addition, Europe is facing demographic and economic changes, and higher education is expected to play a critical role in lifelong learning.

More diverse student bodies and growing pressure on universities to respond to different economic and societal pressures mean it is likely that universities will need to provide more flexible learning paths and individualised support for learners. Plenary session presentations also demonstrated for example, that diverse student populations provide an opportunity to mix different groups of learners so they benefit from “cross-learning”; there was also discussion of combining traditional research-based learning with practical and experiential learning.

Guest blogger: Who is open education for? OER, MOOCs, and their subjects

Jeremy K. Knox  (University of Edinburgh)

Jeremy K. Knox
(University of Edinburgh)

In this guest entry, Jeremy K. Knox from University of Edinburgh examines the current open education resources (OER) and MOOC trends and some of the competing assumptions behind these developments. Furthermore, he highlights two important considerations this can have for educational research in the future. 

Jeremy K. Knox is currently working towards his doctoral degree at University of Edinburgh at the Moray House School of Education. His research interests are focused on critical posthumanism, and the relationship between current educational epistemologies and methodologies of educational research and digital culture.

Check also his personal blog where he writes about technology, culture and learning.  

‘Open education’ has emerged as a loosely defined, but influential theme in higher education, shaping institutional strategies and prompting major international policy. Open Educational Resources (OER) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have surfaced at the vanguard of a movement that appears to be establishing itself around a call for widespread institutional transformation, driven by new digital technologies and premised on the idea that higher education is in ‘crisis’.

However, while gaining considerable influence, the idea of ‘open education’ remains significantly under-theorised, and themes of economic benefit, teaching efficiency and learner emancipation are tending to dominate the discussion. While important, these interpretations overshadow considerations of the ways that OERs and MOOCs are involved in shaping the learning subject. In other words, how is the practicing of open education implicated in the formulation of particular ideas about what it is to be human, and what does this mean for the project of education?

Since being formalised in 2002 by UNESCO, the loosely defined OER – used to classify any educational material that is made freely available online – have risen in prominence, recently inciting a public consultation from the European Commission on “Opening up education” (2011), and attracting significant research funding for the Open University in the UK, to the tune of $1.5 million from the Hewlett Foundation (Open University 2012).

Guest blogger: Forget MOOCs – Let’s Use MOOA

Professor Benjamin Ginsberg (Photo: Johns Hopkins University)

Professor Benjamin Ginsberg
(Photo: Johns Hopkins University)

This guest commentary takes the MOOCs trend as a comparison point in providing a commentary to current developments in higher education management in the US. The post is written by Professor Benjamin Ginsberg who is a David Bernstein Professor and Director of the Washington Center for the Study of American Government at the Johns Hopkins University.

The entry was originally posted in the “Minding the Campus” Essay collection ans has been republished with permission. Minding the Campus is a site with its main aim to facilitate critical debate about American higher education.

As colleges begin using massive open online courses (MOOC) to reduce faculty costs, a Johns Hopkins University professor has announced plans for MOOA (massive open online administrations). Dr. Benjamin Ginsberg, author of The Fall of the Faculty, says that many colleges and universities face the same administrative issues every day. By having one experienced group of administrators make decisions for hundreds of campuses simultaneously, MOOA would help address these problems expeditiously and economically. Since MOOA would allow colleges to dispense with most of their own administrators, it would generate substantial cost savings in higher education.

“Studies show that about 30 percent of the cost increases in higher education over the past twenty-five years have been the result of administrative growth,” Ginsberg noted. He suggested that MOOA can reverse this spending growth.  “Currently, hundreds, even thousands, of vice provosts and assistant deans attend the same meetings and undertake the same activities on campuses around the U.S. every day,” he said.  “Imagine the cost savings if one vice provost could make these decisions for hundreds of campuses.”

Asked if this “one size fits all” administrative concept was realistic given the diversity of problems faced by thousands of schools, Ginsberg noted that a “best practices” philosophy already leads administrators to blindly follow one another’s leads in such realms as planning, staffing, personnel issues, campus diversity, branding and, curriculum planning. The MOOA, said Ginsberg, would take “best practices” a step further and utilize it to realize substantial cost savings.