Strathclyde releases its first MOOC

Frontpage Letty David
Photo: Letty David

By Kirsty-Louise Hunt

The University of Strathclyde has joined the UK’s biggest online University project by offering its first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

Strathclyde’s first MOOC – offered in partnership with education provider FutureLearn – will feature footage of a staged crime scene and the investigatory techniques used by forensic scientists.

The ‘Introduction to Forensic Science’ MOOC will be offered from January 2014 by academics in Strathclyde’s Centre for Forensic Science, providing participants with a realistic introduction to the field.

Students will be able to follow the 6 week course, which has modules on core aspects of forensic science casework, such as DNA and fingerprint analysis, online and on their mobiles.

The Centre’s Professor of Forensic Science Niamh NicDaeid said: “Learners will get to see videos and still photographs of the mock crime scene and some of the subsequent forensic science approaches that typically take place following a murder.

“They will be encouraged to take part in discussions about the evidence presented and to engage with the video-based case scenario they are evaluating.”

Strathclyde is one of the 21 UK Universities taking part in the FutureLearn launch – Trinity College in Ireland and Monash University in Australia will also take part.

The online courses will allow students from all over the globe to enjoy free learning at a time that suits them and will help to serve the huge unmet demand for University education.

It is hoped that MOOCs will also be used by prospective students considering their University options.

Simon Nelson, CEO of Futurelearn, said: “We’re looking forward to introducing Futurelearn to learners around the world. Our partners have developed a wonderful range of high-quality courses to launch the service and I have no doubt that our learners will find the content compelling.”

Futurelearn was created in December 2012 as the UK’s first provider of free high-quality MOOCs.

MOOCs have already had a major impact in the US – launched last year by Coursera , an organisation set up by Stanford academics, and spearheaded by top institutions such as Harvard and MIT, the courses have attracted more than 4 million students in the first 18 months since the launch.

When the University of Edinburgh offered a MOOC through a US network, it attracted over 300,000 students.

However, the biggest success of the courses – the huge numbers attracted – also poses the greatest problem.

With these courses revealing the high level of demand for online learning, a debate has been sparked about the cost of higher education and what exactly students are paying for when so much high-quality information is now available online – completely free of charge.

In addition, questions have been raised on how tens of thousands of students on an online course could ever be taught, assessed and accredited satisfactorily.

And as UK Universities just begin to catch on to MOOCs, the fast paced revolution of online education shows no signs of slowing down.

Just last month Harvard University revealed their plans to launch ‘Spoc’ – Small, private online courses – as a follow up to MOOCs and as a potential solution to solve the challenges faced.

‘Spoc’, while still free and offered online, will be limited to tens or hundreds of students rather than thousands, with other Universities expected to follow suit with experimentation of this refined model.

Professor Robert Lue, chair of the committee of academics that run Harvard’s online experiments, said: “The Mooc represents just the first version of what we can do with online education.”

Commenting on the difficult questions raised by MOOCs, he added: “What is it that a student gets out of being on campus and being in the classroom?”

“If students on campus prefer learning online, what does it mean for the funding model for universities? What happens if a recorded online lecture is preferable to a mediocre live talk? How do universities show their “added value”?

“The really big questions for university are about what students get from the classroom, what works, what could be done better.

“Institutions that sit back and watch, they may be in trouble. One can imagine a large institution where there isn’t much difference between online and classroom – and then you’d be silly not to realise there’s a problem.”d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);