How we wrote the Forensic Psychology MOOC

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Professor Graham Pike

Professor of Forensic Cognition

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It’s 14 February 2013 and I’m at a faculty meeting in Walton Hall. The people around the table are very used to each other’s company. If the meeting is about curriculum, learning and teaching, then it’s these people that will be there. Today’s meeting is a little different though. There are a couple of Associate Deans present, Hannah Gore from the Open Media Unit (OMU) is here too, but the most important difference is that most of the other people around the table do not really have much of a clue about the topic at hand. Which is the bizarrely acronymed ‘MOOCs’.

But not I. If ‘never volunteer’ is your motto, then you should also adopt ‘never over prepare for a meeting’. I read the agenda, decided I didn’t like the idea of something I didn’t know anything about (control freak, moi?), so did some research – which included looking at existing Massive Open Online Courses provided by Coursera and edX. My opinion? Fantastic that leading universities were providing open learning material… but a pity the courses could only be understood by those already holding a PhD in the area. If I’m honest, they were a bit on the dull side too.

As the point of the meeting was to think of ways our faculty could contribute to a potential suite of OU MOOCs, I’d given this some thought and had come along with some ideas, and that approach fitted well with what I’d been told about my role. An email from my Head of Department at the time says: “I have put your name forward for the MOOCs group. It should only be a couple of meetings…” and in a later reply: “Actually, the MOOC group involves no commitment to actually doing anything – just having ideas.”. Turns out my Head of Department could not have been more wrong… he blames me, and he probably has a point.

My idea was to use existing resources, in particular footage from an OU/BBC series I’d done previously called ‘Eyewitness’ and a chapter (‘Psychological factors in witness evidence and identification’) from a module (DSE232) that was about to finish. Actually, what I really wanted was to create a brand new course called “The Science, Art and Psychology of the Photographic Image” with Iain Gilmour of the OU Science Faculty. But it wasn’t to be. The Faculty and OMU wanted ideas that would not require the creation of a great deal of new, expensive material. I can just about smile at the irony of this now.

Although they didn’t know it at the time, what they actually wanted was a digital first strategy.

At that first meeting about MOOCs there were a few elements that I and others thought should be part of our MOOC strategy, and I think we were proved right. Importantly, MOOCs should make the most of our excellence in research and link to our existing curriculum. This ensures you have experts talking (hopefully passionately) about their own intellectual areas and that learners have somewhere to go if they want to learn more.

The faculty liked my idea about a course on eyewitnesses and police investigations and so did the University MOOC management group, so it was selected as one of four courses that would be used by the OU to test the waters of MOOC world  (the others were Ecosystems, Moons and Start Writing Fiction). That only left the question of who would actually design, write and create the course, although it is a question that really only had one answer… so I said yes, because how hard could it be?

(To be continued)