8 things I love about the Moons FutureLearn MOOC

Kristoff van Leeuwen

Kristoff van Leeuwen

Product Development Manager (Learning Innovation)

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The Moons MOOC first went live on FutureLearn on 17 March 2014 and it was out of this world*.

*Sorry, couldn’t help myself! Moons was the first FutureLearn MOOC made by the Open University, and if you haven’t had a chance to see it, you can head over to FutureLearn and sign up for the next presentation.
It was the first of five MOOCs I project managed while working on FutureLearn project, and it was by far the most memorable. Like the cosmic bodies explored within the MOOC, everything about this course was big. Big price tags, big teams, big personalities and a big release and if you ask me, it was worth it. Here are my Top 8 Most Memorable Moons MOOC moments:

1. The educators

Professor Dave Rothery was the architect, and came armed with some help from Professor Simon Kelly and Dr Susanna Schwenzer as co-authors, and Dr Jess Barnes as the course guide throughout the 8-week presentation. Dave’s a busy guy, but he still found time to reply to learners more than 2000 times, making every effort to personally respond to the more inquisitive of the 8,000 joiners who signed up for the course. Dave also used the Moons course to pioneer a number of new teaching solutions. The most memorable one was when at a conference in the states Dave bumped into Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt in a corridor, as you do, and decided to seize the moment and record an introduction to the MOOC video using his iPhone.

2. The contributors

In March 2013 I was lucky enough to fly out to Houston to film with a small production crew at the Lunar and Planetary Conference for a week. We were able to talk to experts on icy moons, volcanoes on Io, and one contributor even brought along a vial of real Moon rock from his days of working on the Apollo missions.

Lawrence Taylor recalls the moment they first received Moon rock samples from the Apollo missions in the NASA labs.

Lawrence Taylor recalls the moment he first received Moon rock samples from the Apollo missions in the NASA labs.

3. Hangouts

The Moons course had three Google Hangouts, which if you’re unfamiliar with is a service that enables a user to broadcast a live video ‘hangout’ to anyone wanting to watch. Viewers can comments and submit questions. Dave and Jess hosted the first one on 3 April 2014 with a live link up to Christine Shupla from the Lunar Plantary Institute in Houston, Texas. The infamous toaster even made an appearance (see ‘7. Discussions’ below for an explanation).

Head over to Andrew's article to have a play

Io: Potential for life?

4. Moon Trumps

My colleague Andrew McDermott discusses this in more detail here, but how could I leave this out? Moon Trumps was an idea dreamt up in the back of a mini-bus on the way back from a visit to the FutureLearn office. Check out Andrew’s article to play the digital version or buy yourself a physical pack here. Like a lot of the pieces of learning innovation which came from this course, we’ve been able to reuse the technology and have since made Snack Trumps, Isotope Trumps and even Estate Trumps where you can trade off the values of Open University buildings around the country…

5. The imagery and archive

One of the real pleasures of working on this course was delving into the wonderful NASA archive. NASA release their entire catalog of audio, video, imagery and data for education purposes. Without these beautiful assets the course wouldn’t be the visual feast you see today. One of my personal highlights from the archive was this video by Fabio di Donato who used NASA Cassini archive to Waltz Around Saturn.

Apollo 11 landing

One of the many beautiful images curtesy of NASA

6. The production team

Of course none of this would have been possible without the amazing production crew. I’m not sure we’ll see a MOOC like it again, however none of this would have been possible without the hard work of all thirty people involved. We really were one big team and one of the great pleasures was witnessing the creative development of the production staff.

This outstanding piece of work was drawn, animated and even voiced by one of our Moons Media Assistants, Chris Cox, in just a few weeks.

7. Discussions

One of FutureLearn’s best features is the functionality that allows learners to comment and ask questions on every page, rather than having to go to a forum to discuss topics. The Moons course saw some great discussion, ‘Were the Moon landings faked?’, ‘How is there water on the Moon?’, ‘Is there life on Europa?’ and my personal favourite…

“‘Can an orbiting body the size of a toaster qualify as a moon?’”

8. Virtual microscopes

Last but not least, the OU has quite a lot of virtual microscopes in its learning toolkit, which brings learning typically done in a lab to your laptop or mobile device. So for the Moons course we built a brand new mobile compatible virtual microscope and loaded in super high-res real Moon rock sample. Here, take a closer look at some lunar basalt and have a play yourself.