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Educators learn new skills through MOOCs

Mary-Ann Came

Code101x BannerTeaching at scale, being confident and comfortable on video, designing interactive elements that engage a diverse student group and talking in the short form are just some of the lessons to be learned through developing a MOOC, says Dr Nick Falkner, course instructor for 2015’s Think.Create.Code course.

Nick, who is now chair of the Introduction to Data Structures MOOC planned for release in late 2016, has shared some of his experiences with AdelaideX and acknowledges that planning courses for scale and providing the best experience for all learners are challenges.

‘You don’t have the chance to talk to people individually and you need to plan and think about what you want to achieve. The course design process is paramount and having the help of a learning designer who can work out everybody’s needs and think at scale is invaluable,’ Nick says.

‘The learning designer helps with the look and feel of the course. For Think.Create.Code we thought about what obstacles 20 000 people could face and considered the diverse needs of students around the world. We tried to provide everyone with the best experience possible,’ he adds.

Videos and interactive elements are key to engaging online learners and are quite different from face-to-face teaching. EdX has researched how learners view videos and advises a 6-minute limit for videos which, unlike entertainment or news videos, are cognitive and knowledge focused.

While making the coding MOOC in 2014-15, Nick developed his skills in making videos for online courses, realising that this was quite different from preparing lectures for on-campus delivery.

‘In my teaching, I rarely read from a script but for video you need to be able to look into the camera and engage learners in time delay and convey everything.’

For preparation of videos, Nick advises rehearsing scripts and doing a few dry runs. ‘Do script reading with your peers and go through the course materials. Bounce ideas off each other. Written, technical and spoken text are all different and through this delivery model we’ve removed the freedom of the student to read the content,’ he said. ‘When you present you script, learners must understand the thrust of your argument and know what’s important.’

In terms of scheduling your video, Nick advises recording when you are fresh and don’t try to do it all in one go. You will lose enthusiasm and it will show in high definition.

Nick is the Course Coordinator for Introduction to Programming on campus, and is reusing the MOOC assets for his on-campus teaching. The first seven weeks are face-to-face but using the material from Think. Create. Code. ‘We built a course that would work in the edX environment but that should work for undergraduates as well,’ he said. ‘We tested it on over 40 000 people, we had good reviews and taught a number of people to code so are confident it will be successful on campus.’

Think.Create.Code is currently open as a self-paced MOOC at edX. To enrol or explore the course, visit the edX website.

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