Massive open online courses could be used as a powerful outreach tool to encourage schoolchildren in disadvantaged areas to think about applying to university, a conference has heard.
Sir Timothy O’Shea, principal of the University of Edinburgh – one of the leading experimenters with Moocs in the UK – said that a whole class of British sixth-formers had been among those taking one of its Coursera online courses launched earlier this year.
“One of the things we have learned from our Moocs is the possibility of engaging schools,” he told a Quality Assurance Agency event held in London on 8 July.
“On [our] Introduction to Philosophy [Mooc] we were not expecting sixth-formers [to register] but one of the students that looked to us like an individual was actually a whole class of sixth-formers and a teacher pretending to be a single learner,” he said.
He said Edinburgh also identified that other schools using the Mooc were “in a rough part of Scotland”, where pupils were unlikely to go on to attend the university, and it had sought to engage them by sending lecturers to talk to the pupils.
“We now see [Moocs] as a tool in our widening participation armoury,” he told delegates at the event, We Need to Talk About Quality: Moocs – a Question of Quality and Standards?.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, Sir Timothy said that he would encourage anyone developing a Mooc to consider sixth-formers as potential participants.
He said that the Moocs run by Edinburgh on the US Coursera platform from January, which attracted 300,000 students worldwide, had helped to assess the readiness of some students for university, as well as allowing Edinburgh to target particular UK schools with a view to recruiting undergraduates.
“You might have a Mooc student from an area that you know from the postcode would be difficult to recruit from…so as a university we can send someone down to visit and say ‘come and talk to us’,” he said.