Part 1 - In conversation about Driving Disruptive Innovation (DDI) at the OU

in conversation with Dr Angela Coe
Kristoff van Leeuwen

Kristoff van Leeuwen

Product Development Manager (Learning Innovation)

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In this series Kristoff van Leeuwen talks to Dr Angela Coe, module team chair for S309 Earth Processes, about the OU’s DDI Project, which is coming to the end of its first phase.

The initial aims of the project were to apply the lean and agile lessons learned from FutureLearn MOOC production to core OU module production.

As the first phase of the Driving Disruptive Innovation (DDI) project drew to a close, I caught up with Dr Angela Coe to discuss some of the most important lessons learned from the project so far. Angela, as the S309 Earth Processes module team chair, and I, as the DDI project manager, have been working closely together over the last 9 months on the work packages that have enabled the OU to rethink and question the waterfall production processes we follow to produce modules for use by our formal students.

Since 2013 the OU has produced MOOCs for FutureLearn, following organic agile production methodologies. The DDI project aimed to experiment with new platforms, authoring tools and build on the teacher/student engagement that is so successful in OU MOOCs. S309 Earth Processes, a 60 point level 3 module due to present November 2016, was chosen as the candidate module in November 2014.

Enter Open edX

Angela and I talk about how from a workshop facilitated by the Learning Innovation team and the OU’s Knowledge Media Institute (KMi) we introduced the S309 Module Team to Open edX. Angela describes how the experimental platform has been used to develop the content and how it has energised module production within her team. We discuss the creative power of allowing academics to directly author into a platform that students will use.

“We’ve created several different pedagogical assets simply by play-learning, rather than being told we have to follow a rigid system.”

Question: How do you get books online?

Answer: You don’t!

For a long time the OU has held on tight to its past. With a long history of making textbooks for distance education, it’s no surprise that we’ve ended up using print production methodologies for digital delivery on our Virtual Learning Environment.

With the use of modern online web-authoring platforms like edX, the S309 team felt liberated as they produced online learning activities directly online. With a mix of media at their fingertips, the team could experiment with different content, share it with their colleagues and comment on each other’s work.

In this video Angela and I discuss how authors are starting to ‘up their game’ as they are no longer working offline or being restricted by Word documents saved on their desktops.

“You’re no longer thinking entirely in words. What video assets do I want to use? What interactivity do I want? What pictures do I want? How much illustration do I need here, you know?”

Prof David Rothery (left) films his own interviews on his iPhone. Content is King.

Prof David Rothery (left) films his own interviews on his iPhone. Content is King.

Is fit-for-purpose the new way of rapidly responding to students?

Between 2012 and 2014 I was fortunate enough to have project managed the production of five Open University FutureLearn MOOCs, including the first two that went out the door. It’s fair to say that when we started the venture it was the height of the MOOC buzz.

Everyone was talking about MOOCs but no one knew what an OU MOOC should look like, and no one really knew what would make one a success. However, we did feel that everyone was looking at the OU, with its 40-year history of teaching at distance, to set some kind of standard.

The first MOOC I produced was Moons, which presented March 2014 for eight weeks. This course took nearly a year to produce and had all the bells and whistles. I flew out to the US with a film crew to produce assets at NASA, we had a large team of designers, editors and production assistants here on campus and we even produced a new interactive mobile game called, Moon Trumps, which you can also now buy as a physical deck! The MOOC looked beautiful and there were a few corks popped when it went live to students.


A few weeks later, while scoping out the competition from other FutureLearn partners, the penny finally dropped. A colleague from a different institution delivered a 45min Google Hangout to a large cohort of students from his bed! He was laying on a hotel bed talking to his webcam! Did anyone care? Nope. Did anyone comment on the fact that he was talking to his students from his bed? Nope. What we all realised rather belatedly was that the students cared about the quality of his teaching; they had no interest in how he dressed the set.

Message received! Our long history of making BBC quality material was influencing how we produce content for the web today, and it was holding us back.

In the next video Angela and I talk in more detail about the advantages of fit-for-purpose module assets and appropriate quality frameworks. We discuss how times have changed and that we don’t always expect everything to have a perfect finish. How will these guerilla-production methods improve the academic voice and relationship between the student and educator?

“It’s about the immediacy of things”

New working relationships

One of the really interesting parts of the DDI project has been watching the roles and responsibilities of staff evolve. Learning and Teaching Solutions is the production arm of the OU, working with colleagues in faculties to produce learning content for use by students.

LTS and the faculties have continued to work in a traditional waterfall ways together, using inherited print production methodologies even as the university has developed a robust online learning offering. But with LTS’s experience of a more agile approach to producing MOOCs for FutureLearn, staff have been willing to embrace new ways of working with faculty colleagues and each other.

In this video Angela and I discuss the role LTS has played in the DDI project and talk about support on demand.

Continue reading about Driving Disruptive Innovation in Part 2.

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