In 2014, the University of [redacted for anonymity] committed £2.34M to enhancing the institution’s capability for e-learning. The result was the Blended and Online Learning Development (BOLD) project, which provided strategic funding for the development and implementation of new online distance learning programmes, and blended courses to enhance the learning experience of on-campus students. It was considered that this would also enhance learner participation through learning technology, in terms of opening the university up to a diverse range of learners internationally, as well as overcoming timetabling constraints and providing increased flexibility for on-campus learners.
One successfully funded project was the online distance PGCert in Art Crime and Antiquities Trafficking and associated massive open online course (MOOC). As well as being used to advertise the PGCert and stimulate recruitment, the MOOC was designed as a bridge to allow learners from disparate academic backgrounds and cultures to develop readiness for postgraduate online distance learning. Previous research has shown that MOOCs can help students effectively transition to formal education. For example, Daza et al. (2013) demonstrated that a MOOC on linear algebra allowed students to commence their programme of studies with comparable mathematical proficiency. A comparison of two university cohorts studying programming revealed that learners who completed a MOOC prior to enrolment performed better than those who had not (Vihavainen et al., 2013). Therefore, it was anticipated that the Art Crime MOOC would enable students to enhance their learning and performance by calibrating their pre-existing knowledge, and developing the study skills and digital literacies essential for independent, online learning.
Session content: evaluation and reflection
A qualitative pilot study was undertaken with participants on the online distance learning PGCert in Art Crime and Antiquities Trafficking, who had also previously completed the associated MOOC. Nine learners (30% of participants) participated in an interview or completed an email proforma in their own time. The qualitative data were thematically analysed, resulting in four themes:
• The role of the MOOC in stimulating enrolment onto the PGCert
• The MOOC’s role in enhancing student preparedness
• The importance of the lecturer
• Ongoing challenges and suggestions for improvement
The MOOC stimulated enrolment onto the PGCert through:
• Raising awareness of the online distance learning programme
• Confirming potential students’ interest in the subject
• Participants recognised the value of online learning
• Enhancing students’ self-efficacy to learn online
Learners also recognised the value of the MOOC in terms of preparing them to effectively participate in the online distance learning programme. Specifically, the MOOC helped students to develop and consolidate:
• prior knowledge, allowing them to develop a comparable baseline of knowledge in different subjects
• study skills
• digital literacies
• readiness for self-directed learning
Further exploration revealed that the lecturer was key to facilitating these effective transitions, through providing enthusiasm, support and teacher presence, and creating an effective learning design.
However, the MOOC did not solve all transition challenges; some students wanted to engage with more academically challenging content prior to the PGCert commencing, or have opportunities to produce longer pieces of formative academic writing, or to develop advanced critical thinking skills. There were also challenges adapting to new administrative and learning technology systems, for which the MOOC could not have prepared learners.
In conclusion, a MOOC can help students to effectively transition to online distance postgraduate study; however, induction and ongoing support is still necessary.
DAZA, V., MAKRIYANNIS, N. & ROVIRA RIERA, C. 2013. MOOC attack: closing the gap between pre-university and university mathematics. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 28, 227-238.
VIHAVAINEN, A., LUUKKAINEN, M. & KURHILA, J. MOOC as semester-long entrance exam. Proceedings of the 14th annual ACM SIGITE conference on Information technology education, 2013. ACM, 177-182.
Resources for participants
• Dr Donna Yates’ presentation at the BOLD/Enhancement Themes Showcase event in 2017: https://youtu.be/TvNJpMOHc0s
• FutureLearn MOOC: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/art-crime