Authoring on MOOCs

Would I do it again? What are my 'top tips'?


David A Rothery

Professor of Planetary Geosciences, The Open University


Oh no, not another survey!

Can we come round with a camera?

So, the folk from the LTS Learning Innovation team  asked if I’d be willing to share my experience of authoring MOOCs for the FutureLearn platform. Here goes, based around three video pieces that we shot specially for this. What I have to say is based on having played a leading role in producing one of the OU’s first MOOCs (Moons, which I continue to nurture as ‘Lead Educator’), and authoring on the edX platform for S309 (a level 3 Earth Sciences course).

In the first clip I talk about the satisfaction I get from teaching on ‘my’ MOOC. However this would probably be less were the content not a subject dear to my heart and that attracts learners because they find it intrinsically interesting. They have not come to be ‘trained’.

I also ponder on why the OU is doing MOOCs – though I don’t mention the obligation of ‘advancement and dissemination of learning and knowledge’ laid down on us in Clause 3 of our Charter. If anyone other that the OU had taken a lead in disseminating MOOCs in the UK, I think we’d rightly feel that we’d missed the boat. The challenge now is to find the right balance. We can’t afford to give everything away for free. Academics deserve a fair allocation of time to produce and look after their MOOCs, recognising that benefits to the OU are long-term, rather than immediate income generation.

Scaling the production process and shooting your own video

Next I reflect on scaling the MOOC production process up to longer courses, and in particular on the value of cheap-and-cheerful handheld video clips.

iPhone video

There’s a tale to tell about the video I mentioned as having shot with Apollo 17’s Jack Schmitt.  Jack is still active in lunar science, and we were at the the same (very large) conference while the Moons MOOC was in the third week of its first presentation. I importuned him in the corridor to tell him about the MOOC, and he kindly agreed to record a message for our learners, so I pulled out my Sony Handicam only to find that the battery had discharged. ‘Oh well, grab me some other time,’ said Jack – as if that was ever likely to happen. So I took out my iPhone and we did it on that. The learners really appreciated it, even though you can hear me almost mess up what I wanted to say:

“I hope everybody enjoys looking at at least one moon that I’ve had a chance to walk on.”

Jack Schmitt

My top tips

Here are my top tips for authoring on a MOOC.

What do you think about merely mining existing resource? The OU has plenty of that, but for how long would such a model be sustainable?

Can the things we can do digitally really compensate for the lack of learner-to-learner and learner-to-educator contact  that we so rashly threw away when we almost totally abandoned residential schools?