MOOCs at UCT - reflections one year on

21 Jul 2016 - 10:15
UCT MOOCs global reach

The recent launch of UCT's sixth MOOC Becoming a changemaker: Introduction to Social Innovation provided an opportune moment for the CILT team to reflect on the initiative.  

As the first university on the African continent to offer massive open online courses or “MOOCs”, UCT has had much to learn, sometimes purely through trial and error. But the hard work has paid off in so many ways including the inclusion of two UCT MOOCs in Class Central’s Top 50 MOOCs of All Time: What is a Mind? and Medicine and the Arts: Humanising Healthcare.

During the launch Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price explained why UCT had decided to develop MOOCs in the first place reminding the 150 guests that when MOOCs came to the fore in 2012 they were seen as a major disruptive technology, a completely new notion of online courses developed by leading universities with no entry requirements, no formal assessments and at no cost - although participants may choose to purchase certificates. Dr Price spoke of the need to compete globally and to contribute to the global MOOC movement. Since then it has become clear, he said, that MOOCs have influenced how universities perceive the potential of online education delivery, opened up educational opportunities for many who might not otherwise be able to participate and allowed the university to develop skills that can be deployed for the future development of online education as part of the formal on-campus experience. 

This sentiment was echoed by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Sandra Klopper as she spoke about the history of UCT MOOCs and how the university had been approached by major international MOOC platforms such as Coursera, FutureLearn and EdX to collaborate. UCT offers courses on both Coursera and FutureLearn in order to maximise its reach and take advantage of the benefits offered by each platform. 

Director of the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT), Associate Professor Laura Czerniewicz, reflected on what it means to CILT to make MOOCs. She conveyed the sentiment of one CILTer, Tasneem Jaffer, that could sum up the feelings of everyone involved in the MOOC project at UCT, “I love that I am part of the global movement for providing free and accessible education”. 

As with all new projects, there were also doubts around taking on such a massive task as expressed by Associate Professor Jeff Jawitz, “I was one of the most severe early critics…[but] the team worked with infectious energy and there was so much learning happening that it was impossible not to be swept along with the excitement and sense of achievement”. 

Learning is the common thread for both MOOC takers and MOOC makers with such comments as “Making MOOCs has already taught me new ways to think”; “I have benefited from the project through the intellectual interrogation this project has stimulated in our Centre” and “I think the MOOC space is so different from our regular face to face spaces that it forces to really think about why we do what we do...making MOOCs encourages us to question the things we take absolutely for granted - like when has learning happened, whose feedback really counts, or when should a student stop being in a class?”

With one and a half years and six MOOCs on the cards it is clear that MOOCs will continue to be an incredibly enriching experience for CILT and for UCT as well as for MOOC participants from all over the world.