UoS Web Science MOOC

As part of one of my iPhD modules Ive been encouraged to join and take part in a MOOC that is run by my department (Web and Internet Sciences, and also Electronics and Computer Science).

For those of you who are unaware, MOOC’s are massive online open courses that focus in a singular subject area or aspect of a discipline, and are free to join. They offer teaching, further reading, discussions and assessment of the knowledge learnt: which once completed may provide you with a certificate of completion.

MOOC’s have become massively popular throughout the past 5 years, and are continuing to grow both in number available, and also in the number of participants. They can be completed at any time, from any location, and usually feature 2 – 6 hours of teaching material per week. The Web Science MOOC run by the University of Southampton was released in 2013, and quickly became one of the most popular on the Futurelearn site.

The Web Science iPhD course run at the University has experienced similar expansions of interest, which has resulted in numerous changes to the 2014 course: these range from a new Web Science Institute, increased DTC funding, to a higher global ranking of the top course for Web Science in the UK.

Whilst completing the MOOC myself I’ll be writing some blog posts as I go along which will compare the online course to the face-to-face one I will be experiencing at the University. I will also go into a bit more detail about why MOOC’s are a revolutionary educational change to the web and to the many Universities and institutions globally.

A great example of the changes MOOC’s bring is questioning why current education costs so much in the UK. If MOOC’s are free, why cant higher education be switched to online courses? In what ways would this affect academia?

Firstly, here are a few things Ive noticed now that Ive completed week 1 of the MOOC:

– The introductory videos are presented and summarised in much the same way as the face-to-face lectures. Although shorter, they succinctly address the key issues, and give the participant the option of further reading to expand on this knowledge. The only difference with these is that the interaction between lecturer and student is not the same: in the face-to-face introductory lectures there was much more audience participation, humour, general interaction and group discussion. Obviously this is a lot hard to do over the web, but I was surprised at the amount of encouragement people receive to comment and discuss on posts, but also the willingness and number of people who complied with it. It certainly made me feel like part of a community rather than taking part in a solitary pursuit of knowledge.

– Much like in the face-to-face lectures there are clear avenues of support which are discussed well. Having completed several MOOC’s prior to this one I feel that it is better structured, with clear areas and people designated for support, rather than one and two sole host lecturers coping on their own with all kinds of issues.

– The first few hours of video material and text explanations really encourage the participant to play around with some of the ideas that they have been told about. I was pleased to see areas of week 1 dedicated to discussion already. I feel that it gets the ball rolling straight away, but also is a great way to learn about other people’s views of the web before the have gotten really stuck into learning about the course. Comparisons of opinion taking into account human factors such as age, gender and citizenship are certainly intriguing and is a large area of discussion in Web Science academia.

– Some of the participants may not fully take on board that the people in the video lecturers are actually senior staff. Very senior staff in Dame Wendy Hall’s case. In fact, during face-to-face lectures I will rarely encounter some of these staff as they are too busy with being an important person. These are literally the people the set up a new institute, are leading academics in this area globally, and are the faces of Web Science nationally. It was nice to see that they have invested the time to talk about their subject and interests, and I look forward to hearing from them again in future weeks.

– So far the only general issue I have with the course is that the navigation could be improved upon. It would be handy to have an option to go back to the home page at the bottom of each page, and a bar that states how far and how many pages you had left complete for that week when on individual pages.

That’s about it for my initial thoughts of the course. The posts regarding the MOOC will hopefully be once every two weeks and are really only for me to track my thoughts and to form some discussions and arguments I can mould into coursework later on. Youre all more than welcome to discuss things with me as well, Id be interested to hear anyone’s opinion on the course.

I advice you all to sign up for the MOOC as well – it can be found on the Futurelearn site here https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/web-science-2014 and is free. Increase your knowledge!

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