Where enthusiasm can be a disguise….

FutureLearn Ltd is the brand name for the twelve UK universities getting together with the The Open University to provide free online learning opportunities – now commonly referred to as MOOCs. The MOOC twelve are BirminghamBristolCardiffEast AngliaExeterKing’s College London, LancasterLeeds,  SouthamptonSt Andrews and Warwick. It’s early days with little information about business models or other structural essentials but FutureLearn Ltd will be majority owned by the OU who are providing initial funding and technology. With their long standing experience in delivering education at a distance, the OU are in a good position to make this happen and exert influence over the processes of design and delivery of materials. UK universities in online launch to challenge US from the BBC tells us courses will be offered on the FutureLearn online platform next year with the twelve universities being responsible for their own content, quality, accreditation and cost of courses. Cost? Not truly open then?  The article goes on to say there will also be social networking-style communities for students and materials will be designed for portable devices, such as iPads or mobile phones.

All of this represents a huge shift from traditional HE with massive implications for curriculum design, content production, teacher education, learning development and ICT support. Not to say this shift isn’t already happening, but those universities taking the lead will be those who already have already taken steps to ensure support is in place. Online distance education is so much more than filming a 50 minute lecture and uploading a powerpoint presentation. It requires a different approach to constructing content and social networking-style communities don’t just happen, they require shaping and supporting if they are to have relevant form and function. If open education is to work it needs appropriate support and resources around digital scholarship and digital literacies. MOOCs are the word of the moment and care needs to be taken so initial enthusiasm for the affordances of online learning are not disguising some of the potential problems underneath.

Exams are unfair modes of assessment; discuss.

Exams should no longer been seen as effective methods of assessment; at least not unseen papers consisting of three essay type questions to be answered in three hours that cover a three month intense theoretical based course. I took one of these ‘bad experiences’ this week; at an exam centre I’d never been to before; it had with no car parking facilities, and was in the centre of York, over 50 miles from my home, all factors that added to the stress. The subject of the course was psychoanalytical and sociological theories of identity construction. It was helpful that this covered materials from the subject of my first MA in Gender Studies. I felt I had knowledge and understanding of the subject matter but knew from the start that when it came to an exam, then recall was going to be a problem. I’m taking an MA in Open and Distance Education with the OU and their study materials are excellent. I read the preparation for exams booklet from front to back, followed a revision plan and drew the mind maps that suited my visual learning style. But an hour into the exam and I knew that I couldn’t ‘remember’ any more than I’d already made notes on. It was like my memory was saying enough is enough and had shut down. I could see my diagrams in my head, the shapes and the colours, but not the text. I don’t know if this is a learning disorder, early Alzheimer’s or a symptom of a heavy work load that regularly extends into evenings and weekends. What I do know is that it felt like an unfair assessment of my ability, and I felt discriminated against by a mode of assessment that for me just doesn’t reflect my knowledge and understanding or allow me to do myself justice. I would be very interested in other people’s response to this.