This blog is for Activity 12 as part of the 'Open Education' MOOC
run by the Open University
MOOCs stands for Massive Online Open Courses and has rapidly become one of the educational buzz-words of the moment.
The term was first used by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada to describe an online course run by two fellow academics, George Siemens and Stephen Downes. It emerged out of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. See Willey's "On the Sustainability of Open Educational Resources Initiatives in Higher Education" (2007) for a useful discussion of OERs.
This video by Dave Cormier is a helpful explanation of what is a MOOC is.
Since then universities, especially in the United States, have started to produce their own MOOCs. Many of them can be found through MOOC "portals" such as Coursera and EdX. British universities, led by the Open University, have recently announced that they will be offering MOOCs through FutureLearn.
Lets go through each of these initials one-by-one:
Hopefully, this is self-explanatory. There is no barrier to enrolling on any courses offered and given that they are free this encourages many people to enrol on MOOCs. According to Sir John Daniel's "Making Sense of MOOCs" (2012) when MIT offered a course called Circuits and Electronics about 155,000 people from 160 countries registered to start the course. Of the 155,000 people, 23,000 got as far attempting the first problem set, half-way through the course there were 9000 students left and only 7000 saw the course through from beginning to end.
This extremely high drop-out rate has led to some criticisms of MOOCs. However, during a "Google Hang-Out", George Siemens, one of the original MOOC creators, questioned whether completing a course should be regarded as a sign of success and non-completion as an indicator of failure.
Again this is self-explanatory. The materials for MOOCs, whether they are scholarly articles, lecture notes or video-ed talks should all be freely available on the web. These are normally distributed across different websites. The online element also refers to the way in which students complete their assignments. This is normally in the form of a blog or a digital artefact. It also refers to the way that teaching staff interact with students and how students interact with each other. This can be an online discussion forum or through the use of various social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Google +.
This is where MOOCs look to the Open Educational Resources movement for inspiration. In essence it means that all of the materials available for a MOOC must be easily and freely available. There are, however, degrees of "openness". A door that is slightly ajar is open but is less so than a door that is wide open. This is discussed by David Willey's "Defining the Open in Open Content" (2007).
Two of the best-known websites for Open Educational Resources are MIT's OpenCourseWare and, more recently, the Khan Academy. Museums have been creating Open Educational Resources (almost without knowing that's what they were doing) for many years.
Open Educational Resources allow students to create their own learning journey by picking out learning materials on an a la carte basis. This kind of free-form, self-directed and informal learning is one of the great strengths of museum learning, whether in a physical or digital environment. In the digital world, it is this lack of structure that separates OERs from MOOCs.
MOOCs run courses. This means there is a start date, it continues for a number of weeks (normally between 6-8 weeks) with a set amount of work to be done each week and is then completed with an assignment. Some MOOCs provide certification for students that complete the course and some do not.
Given the number of students involved input from tutors is normally through an email setting out assignments for each week and possibly taking part in a video conference. This also means that marking for assignments is either done automatically on a website or is marked by other students. This was my experience when I completed the E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC offered by the University of Edinburgh. My final "digital artefact" was marked by three other students and I did the same from three others. Again there has been some criticism of this form of "peer-to-peer marking".
Museums and MOOCs - The Story So Far
Given the relatively recent arrival of MOOCs it is not surprising that museums have not as yet explored how they might participate in the world of MOOCs.
There have been some people who have begun to explore whether museums could create their own MOOCs.
At this year's Museums and the Web conference David Greenfield gave a presentation on Museums and MOOCs. His blog from the conference is available here with some more material here.
David Barr has also posted a blog on museums and MOOCs called "Why Not Mooseums?"
Apart from these explorations of what might be done, no museums have as yet jumped on the MOOC bandwagon. The British Library is a partner in FutureLearn although it is still too early to know exactly what the BL will be offering. There were rumours that Coursera were in talks with MOMA in New York but nothing appears to have happened.
In correspondence with Rose Cardiff, the e-learning editor of Tate Online, the Tate were considering launching their own MOOCs but have decided, for various practical reasons, not to go ahead at the moment.
Museums and MOOCs - Some Considerations
There is little doubt that museums have the content for running a successful MOOC and that this content is unique to every museum, large or small. Many museums have already put a large proportion of their collections online. These Open Educational Resources such as those created by UCL Museums mean that many museums are already in a position to create MOOCs. It simply requires a re-purposing of the materials that are already there.
According to an article in March 2013 in the "Chronicle of Higher Education" academic staff involved in the creation of MOOCs took up to 100 hours to create the course and then 8-10 hours a week whilst the MOOC is in progress.
For museums this may involve creating some talks and commentaries by curatorial staff that are put online along finding links to open and relevant scholarly articles.
MOOCs could also be created to accompany major new temporary exhibitions. For example, the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum could form the basis for a MOOC on prehistoric Europe. Temporary exhibition MOOCs might encourage more visits to the exhibition itself.
Much museum learning takes place in a informal and free-choice way. This is the learning style that most museum staff (especially museum learning staff) are familiar with and expert in. However, museums have less experience in the creation of formal and structured courses (with the possible exception of day schools) and with accreditation at the end. If museums are to create MOOCs then they will be working in a new way.
Working in Partnership?
Museums may want to work in partnership with other organisations in the creation of MOOCs. This would have the advantage of sharing resources and expertise. Universities already are experienced in creating MOOCs so it may make sense to work with them. As an example, a university could offer a MOOC on Ancient Greek and Roman art using significant collections from one or more museums. University museums, such as the Fitzwilliam, Ashmolean or Sainsbury Centre seem to me to be in a strong position to be a partner in the creation of MOOCs. It would mean that academic and technical staff at universities will be working with curatorial, learning and other staff (including volunteers) in museums.
The BT Archive have recently been working with Coventry University and the National Archive on JISC-funded digital archive of 500,000 objects. This Open Educational Resource could form the basis for a MOOC on the history of telecommunications.
Partnership between museums is also a possibility. As an example of this, the Rural Museums Network could work together on MOOCs on rural and agricultural history. Again it would enable museums to share their resources and expertise.
MOOCs do not have to be academic in nature but could also be purely practical. This would have the advantage to reaching for audiences who may not be interested in academic study. Using Craftsy as an example, museums with significant textile collections could offer a MOOC in sewing and knitting skills by using their collections as an inspiration. The role of museum volunteers might be invaluable here.
There are various factors about museums and MOOCs such as funding and sustainability that I have not covered here. The purpose is to explore whether museums might usefully become part of the MOOC movement. I hope that this blog will go some way to being part of that discussion.
MOOC Reading List (with thanks to the Open University)