Wednesday, January 29, 2014

MOOCs in review

MOOCs are all the rage at the moment and causing a lot of debate, so we though that we'd do a little review of the currently available platforms to provide our students with some guidance through this area of rapid growth. For those of you who are just coming across the term for the first time, MOOC stands for Massive Online Open Courses, a term to describe a range of free online courses on a variety of topics that anyone is free to sign up to and study. These studies are usually by correspondence online, with assignments to complete and sometimes verifiable certificates are awarded at the end of a course.


Today, we've decided to take a bit of a closer look at what they have to offer and whether any of them would of interest to our students. We'll start with some of the more established MOOC platforms and work our way down to some of the other alternatives in the world of open learning.

Coursera is an online platform allowing you to search for MOOCs and enlist for them. It's one of the longest running platforms, established since 2012 and seems to have the most established reputation. The courses available on Coursera are provided by reputable universities from around the globe (Yale, L'Ecole Polytechnique, Edinburgh University, et al.). They offer short courses from 5 to 15 weeks with set starting dates and an enrolment process. You can search for courses by category and by the language they're taught in. Some of the courses will offer verified certificates. The following types of courses may be of interest to students: Beauty, Form & Function: An Exploration of SymmetryCreating Site-Specific Dance and Performance Works or Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers.

Edx is a similar type of platform governed by MIT and Harvard, which started mid 2013. and offers a range of courses from reputable American, Australian and Asian universities. Some of the courses have set enrolment dates, while others can be completed in your own time at your own pace. You can search for courses by school or by category. There are currently no Art and Design or Architecture categories on offer in their portfolio, but some of our design students might be interested in more technical courses such as Building Mobile ExperiencesCircuits and Electronics or Autonomous Mobile Robots in the Computer Science section of the portfolio.

Future Learn is the new British alternative to these American MOOC platforms. It launched in July 2013 and is still in Beta testing mode. The courses on offer are all from reputable British universities and vary in lengths a lot more than the model set by their American counterparts, ranging from 2 to 10 weeks, all with set enrolment dates. As it stands at present, once again, you won't necessarily find specific Art and Design or Architecture courses, but you might choose to follow a course on a more unexpected topic, which could go on to fuel your creative imagination. Courses of interest might be The Discovery of the Higgs bosonThe secret power of brands or Muslims in Britain: changes and challenges. is another relatively newcomer, based in America and offering a range of free online courses provided by universities around the world. It's home page can be confusing to navigate, but if you disregard the top search box and go straight to BROWSE BY CATEGORY below that, you can browse their selection of free online courses by category. Once again, you won't necessarily find specific Art and Design or Architecture courses, but you might be interested in some of their Humanities or Web Design content. Courses of interest might be Reinventing the fairy tale or Drawings & Numbers: Five Centuries of Digital Design.

Udacity is another MOOC platform, however the course content on offer is provided by companies such as Google, AutoDesk, etc with a much more focused emphasis on computer science related topics. The short free courses on offer seem to act as gateways towards longer, fee charging online courses provided by the same companies.

The Khan Academy deviates from the rest of the MOOC model set out above. It's a free instructional resource with over 4,000 video lectures on a huge range of subjects. These online recorded lectures seem to be mostly geared towards American undergraduate students and are available to dip in and out of. The most likely area of interest is probably the section on Art History, with some lectures on more contemporary art and some architecture in the 1907-1960 Age of Global Conflict course as well as the 1960 - Age of Post-Colonialism.

More in the original spirit of open learning, you can also access courses on platforms such as Wikiversity, a strand project from the Wikimedia foundation and P2PU (Peer to Peer University). The aim of these platforms are to encourage individuals to feel empowered to share knowledge without needing the official sanction of a university or formal teaching body. Both platforms are still very much under development and don't currently offer any content in the Art and Design or Architecture departments. Other projects in the same vein though are the Instructables website, where individuals can share instructions on DIY making projects. Of course, the risk in all these more open platforms is that it is a lot harder to verify that the person offering the course content are sufficiently knowledgeable to do so.