Friday, 24 May 2013

ScHARR MOOC Diaries - Part XI: The faces behind the ScHARR MOOCs

The Faces behind the ScHARR MOOCs

Prior to beginning work on the ScHARR MOOCS, we assembled a dynamic team of experts from within the School of Health and Related Research. We thought it was about time we revealed a little more information about the them, so here's an informal glimpse into the psyches of the key players.

Name: Nick Baxter
Role: Marketing Officer for ScHARR
Background: Journalism, social media, communications and marketing
What excites you about MOOCs: The idea of people from all over the world using technology to participate in the same experience in real time is really exciting. Another amazing demonstration of the power of the internet.
What are you hoping to get out of running a MOOC: A greater understanding of how this type of free online course can be marketed, and how our learners from all over the world consume information relating to them.

Name: Claire Beecroft
Role: Course tutor on the HTA MOOC and Deputy Course Director of the MSc in Health Technology Assessment, Pricing and Reimbursement.
Background: I started out in health libraries and that lead to becoming a ScHARR Information Specialist, and eventually into teaching. I teach on online learning courses in ScHARR and am interested in health economic decision making and the media representation of it.
What excites you about MOOCs: The chance to teach to a very wide audience, to widen awareness of health technology assessment and its methods, and to reach hundreds or even thousands of students!
What are you hoping to get out of running a MOOC: To learn about healthcare systems internationally from those that work in them and/or are users of them, and to 'meet' our students online via forums/twitter/hangouts.

Name: Chris Blackmore
Role: Distance Learning lead for ScHARR
Background: I am a researcher in mental health with a special interest in research around e-learning
What excites you about MOOCs: The potential diversity of participants, and the opportunity to engage with people who might otherwise never have the chance to study at the University of Sheffield
What are you hoping to get out of running a MOOC: A glimpse at where education may (or may not) be headed in the future

Name: Dr. Chris Carroll
Role: Senior Lecturer in Health Technology Assessment (HTA)
Background: Conducting HTA for NICE; methods research for HTA
What excites you about MOOCs: We all encounter health technologies (drugs, devices, diagnostic tests) in our lives. A MOOC offers almost anyone anywhere the chance to access some of our course materials for free, and begin to understand how and why health technology assessment is performed
What are you hoping to get out of running a MOOC: To give those with an interest in the topic of health technology assessment a good overview of the whole HTA process; to explain how we get from industry developing technologies to healthcare services and providers deciding whether or not to pay for them; awareness raising; a first step in the creation of an informed audience for health care decision-making

Name: Dr. Angie Clonan
Role: Research fellow in ScHARR; Course leader for Sustainable diets MOOC
Background: Public health nutrition research
What excites you about MOOCs: Engaging with a global audience made up of people from all walks of life....
What are you hoping to get out of running a MOOC: Participation, debate, shared learning and lots of fun along the way!

Name: Dr. Michelle Holdsworth
Role: Senior Lecturer in Public Health and Course Tutor for Sustainable diets MOOC. I am also ScHARR's Director of Learning and Teaching.
Background: I have over 25 years experience in public health nutrition, including developing nutrition policy, lecturing and researching public health nutrition. My research is mainly focussed around the global obesity pandemic, and I have been working on the nutrition transition in low and middle-income countries for a number of years.
What excites you about MOOCs: allowing students from all over the world to have a taste of ScHARR's courses
What are you hoping to get out of running a MOOC: I am looking forward to an enriching experience, learning from the different cultural perspectives of students enrolled on the course- and how this influences the debate on sustainable eating patterns.

Name: Luke Miller
Role: Learning Technologist
Background: Supporting the adoption of technology enhanced learning with a school and with the creation and delivery of a suite of new Distance Learning programmes. These MOOCs share similarities with the kind of work I've been involved in previous but have a slightly different flavour in that they are open and not formally assessed.
What excites you about MOOCs: The idea that you can sign up at the press of a button for free and begin learning with no barriers. The idea that online tutors can reach almost an unlimited number of willing students. The fact that MOOCs can potentially provide educational benefits to those who may otherwise for various reasons struggle to participate in something similar.
What are you hoping to get out of running a MOOC: One thing I'm really keen to do from a technical stance, is assess the platform we've chosen ( This is an open platform with which our institution's workforce is already familiar. It includes lots of rich tools to support collaboration and learning. I'm hoping that my suspicion that the chosen platform is well suited to providing a rewarding cMOOC experience is proved to be true. I'm also keen to engage with people from all over the globe and to hear about the stories and experiences shared on these new learning journeys.

Name: Dr Katie Powell
Role: University Teacher in Public Health
Background: Sociology Masters and Research into social initiatives to improve health.
What excites you about MOOCs: The opportunity to start a conversation about health inequalities with so many people from across the world
What are you hoping to get out of running a MOOC: Meeting some people with an interest in this topic and hopefully, some interesting ideas about understanding and addressing health inequalities. I'm really looking forward to trailing our online teaching activities in an open access forum

Name: Dan Smith
Role: Learning Technologist
Background: Long-term keyboard jockey and general compu-bod that's spent far too much time working with virtual learning environments.
What excites you about MOOCs: the possibilities... they're still not particularly defined at the moment, and the idea of having an open platform that thousands can get to freely seems like one that offers a lot of potential. The platforms we use for running most of our online courses at them moment are very locked down - with good reason, but this makes them very constraining for many things, such as cross-institution work, peer networking or post-graduation revisiting. Could we use an open course as a pre-registration induction resource for students? Maybe the jumpoint for a personal learning network? Hopefully running one will help give a realistic insight into what is possible.
What are you hoping to get out of running a MOOC: It's a new way of running an online course for me, and will be a brand new experience. I'm hoping to learn a lot! Maybe it will become a new regular part of the university experience, maybe we can discover new options and limitations available through using an online platform.

Name: Andy Tattersall
Role: Information Specialist
Background: A mixture of journalism and informatics which means I'm naturally nosey, inquisitive and like to test the water in whatever I do, teaching, research or supporting my colleagues. My role is primarily to watch the skies for new and exciting opportunities to engage with technology and get my colleagues to embrace the Web whilst keeping an eye on pedagogy.
What excites you about MOOCs: Several things, but in a nutshell their potentially altruistic value, technological experimentation, the feeling we are on a journey into the unknown and that this could be part of a brave new world in education. I think education should be fun (where possible) and engaging, MOOCs have that potential.
What are you hoping to get out of running a MOOC: This is one large learning curve for everyone involved and that in itself is value. I think it's always important to test yourself and evolve where possible, I'm lucky enough to be involved in this project with such a great bunch of like-minded people.

Friday, 17 May 2013

The ScHARR MOOCS Diaries: Part X - The cost of developing a MOOC

The cost of developing a MOOC

So by now, we have got the idea that MOOCs are (usually) free for students. But what about the costs of developing them? How much does it cost to create a MOOC? And what benefits (financial and otherwise) do they bring to ScHARR?

By Isabelle Grosjean ZA (Self-published work by ZA)

The most obvious cost to ScHARR is the amount of staff time that is being devoted to the MOOCs. But what counts as MOOC development time? Some things are obvious- time spent in planning meetings, time spent scripting, setting up and recording audio and video resources for the MOOCs. Other activities are more debatable- if I spend a bus journey to work looking for MOOC-related tweets, and retweeting interesting ones, should this be included in calculations? What about time spent by staff actually studying on other MOOCs? Time spent chatting about MOOCs with University colleagues here in Sheffield? Time spent writing “ScHARR MOOC Diary” blog postings...?

We asked staff members to decide what activities should and should not be included, accepting that the final figures may end up being approximations rather than accurate measurements of time. We then needed a simple process for recording these hours. Rather than recording time on separate activities, we invited staff to keep a note, on a weekly basis, of time spent on “any activity which contributes directly to the development of our 3 MOOCs”. In addition, we made the decision not to keep the 3 MOOCs separate, because so much of the development work has involved all 3 courses, or has been done as one larger group of staff. To make this an open and collaborative process, we set up a google form, with data shared amongst all the MOOC staff- hopefully no-one has felt threatened by sharing details of their input in this way. When it became apparent that it was difficult for all staff to keep the google form up to date, we decided that at our fortnightly MOOC meetings, an iPad would be passed around at the start so people could update their figures then if needed.

Interim figures are shown below- names have been anonymised, although you can see, bottom left, a highlighted table with the contributions thus far of different staff groups. Whilst we would currently treat these figures with some caution (and after this blog is published, I imagine there might be some retrospective updating of the numbers!), the data so far collected suggests that it is the two members of staff leading the forthcoming MOOCs (“Healthy sustainable diets” and “Health Inequalities”) who have put in the most work so far (around 30% each of total number of hours recorded).

Logging the hours

In due course, we will be able to put some figures against the recorded hours, based on staff salaries, and to arrive at an overall figure for developing and running our 3 MOOCs. How closely this corresponds with other estimates remains to be seen. The University of Edinburgh’s MOOCs, run in early 2013 via Coursera, cost an estimated £30,000 from development to delivery whilst  the University of Pennsylvania’s MOOC courses (also developed on behalf of Coursera) cost $50,000 each to develop.

There is plenty of ongoing discussion about the costs and benefits of running MOOCs, and much speculation about different models for monetization. At ScHARR, we will only be able to make an informed comment on these issues once the first courses are complete, and we’ve had a chance to estimate how many MOOC participants converted to postgraduate study at ScHARR, and what value the other benefits- such as the networking opportunities for ScHARR and the impact on our reputation- might have. Nevertheless, we are quietly confident that the investment we are now making will bear financial and educational dividends, for students, staff and ScHARR.

Sign up for the ScHARR MOOCs here.

Friday, 3 May 2013

ScHARR MOOC Diaries: Part IX: Pressing On - Using press packs to spread the MOOC message

A few months into developing and supporting the ScHARR MOOCs, it has become obvious that the task of promoting MOOCs is an onerous one. We had set out early to build a list of who we should be promoting our courses to on a local, national and international level. Even though we have years of experience and expertise in promoting our courses to our traditional and distance learners, MOOCs are very different in that the entrance level from that of a taught or research masters is lower. MOOCs act as tasters for a topic and a course or be ‘lite’ versions designed especially for those who just want to dip in and out of education and development. So the market for promoting them is, well, massive; anyone from school-age to a pensioner can take our MOOCs and that’s where the marketing focus shifts.

The ScHARR MOOC team have their own personal contact groups and resources they can promote the course, but unlike our established courses there is a need to get the message further afield and with that it means more work, repetition and refinement of where that message is channelled. This is where the press pack comes in handy as with promoting a MOOC there is the need for refinement and repetition which amongst all of the content building, support and meetings means that promoting the courses can be neglected. A press pack allows us to share the course in a quick and simple way by covering the basics of the courses in a way that it can be shared by others without any explicit knowledge.

The pack contains these items:

  • Word and PDF one page releases for each of the three courses - their objectives, learning, outcomes, about ScHARR and what a MOOC is, as the purpose of these courses is to reach as far beyond the academic firewalls as possible.
  • Colour posters promoting the three courses, one generic and another focused towards the NHS.
  • The ScHARR MOOC Business Card
  • QR Codes for each course - as with the press releases allowing others to sharealike and help promote the courses within their own organisation.
  • A one page ‘copy and paste’ document for adding into message bodies of emails and other communications, with the intention of saving time in writing a welcome for each mailout.

The automation process is not devoid of a human aspect as the majority of communications via Social Media, discussion forums and emails will still remain bespoke communications. Nevertheless it became obvious for our team early on that promoting the MOOCs to larger, sometimes unfamiliar communities required something more than piecemeal communications that had the potential to lack in uniformity and cohesion. The press packs are not exclusively directed at the students, but also those who champion learning in organisations, communication officers, librarians and teachers to name but a few.

By putting in the work now we potentially save time further down the line and have a consistent flow that matches content on our website and the CourseSites platform.

The press packs can be accessed and downloaded here: