Moocs focus ‘distracted universities from other online tools’

Following hype over their potential, online courses drained senior management time to the detriment of open educational resources, conference hears

December 14, 2017
A woman using a computer to take part in a Mooc
Source: iStock

Massive open online courses have held back the opening-up of university learning materials in other ways by absorbing too much senior management time, an expert on the courses has argued.

Paul Bacsich, a consultant who has analysed Moocs for the European Union, said that after a wave of excitement about their potential, “Moocs basically absorbed the bandwidth of vice-chancellors” in the UK.

“For two years, vice-chancellors in the UK, especially among the elite, were resistant to anything else,” he told delegates to the Online Educa Berlin education conference.

This distraction has diverted attention from developing open educational resources – learning materials that lecturers, teachers and students can freely download, use and modify, Dr Bacsich argued.

Available OER resources had “plateaued”, he said, although now as interest in Moocs was “fading”, interest was beginning to pick up again.

In the UK, the Jisc Open Educational Resources programme, run with the Higher Education Academy, came to an end in 2012 after three years of operation, Dr Bacsich pointed out – just as much of the excitement around Moocs was taking off. Meanwhile in France, lots of government money was still being invested to make such resources available, he said.

Moocs were a particular interest of Lord Willetts, who was then the UK’s universities minister: in 2014 he said that they “will revolutionise conventional models of formal education”.

In universities’ enthusiasm for Moocs, “there could have been an element of impressing the minister”, Dr Bacsich said. “Vice-chancellors are very sensitive to the government view,” he noted.

While excitement over the potential of Moocs to “disrupt” campus universities has given way to caution, the past five years have seen a gradual increase in policies promoting OER, according to Open Educational Resources: Global Report 2017, compiled by the Commonwealth of Learning, an organisation set up by the British Commonwealth. But many potential users of the resources lack the ICT skills to use online material, most of which are available only in English, it found.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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