Going SOLO?

February 14, 2013 at 5:53 pm | Posted in MOOC, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Learning Dreams pilot
CC image by Twenty Questions: http://www.flickr.com/photos/twenty_questions/6696734141/

How we do love our acronyms, but who can tell which will thrive and which will wither and fade?

My university is abuzz with the m-word, as in “so what is this mooc thing?”. Southampton is one of the partners who have signed up with Futurelearn Ltd, and the task of managing the development of our MOOCs is suddenly top of my agenda. We held an open meeting in early January so that academics could find out more, and in the event over 100 of them turned up. Faced with this level of interest, I started to think about how we could recognise this enthusiasm since we are only planning to develop a handful of MOOCs this year and even they will be a challenge to our capacity to deliver in a short time frame. I didn’t want to say to most of those academics “Sorry, your proposal wasn’t chosen and you’ll just have to wait – now go away!”

There are a few other issues that concern me such as our inexperience in designing MOOCs (although we are learning fast from others), the time required to develop a MOOC and the time required to actually run one. On that last point, I can see that academics will be really keen the first time it runs, but the second, third, fourth, fifth times etc? I’m sure that the novelty will wear off soon.

The solution I proposed was initially dubbed the mini-MOOC, a term that has been used for a while but that has no clear definition. What does ‘mini-Massive’ mean anyhow? Does it mean a limited number of participants or a limited duration? Clearly a new acronym was needed (you can tell I’ve been working in CBT CBL eLearning TEL too long!) and last night I woke up with it fully formed and ready to launch onto the world. As you’ve probably already guessed from the title of this post, I proudly present:

SOLO: Short Online Learning Opportunity

The idea is that academics can get to grips with the idea of a MOOC by developing one that has a short duration (one or two weeks) and that therefore only requires a limited amount of resources and activities. I hope that we will have the capacity to work with academics to develop perhaps fifty of these this year in addition to the full-size MOOCs.

They are clearly not courses and are instead more akin to a single lecture, tutorial or practical. At the same time they are more than a Learning Object in that they will include student activity and interactivity. Perhaps most importantly they will not require any tutor involvement when running and can be taken at any time – no need to wait for a start date.

Student recruitment is at the forefront of most UK universities thinking these days, so if these SOLOs seem like an attractive extension activity for A-level students looking for evidence of enthusiasm to add to their UCAS personal statements, so much the better. Perhaps students who attend one of the University’s Open Days will be invited to take part in a SOLO which has additional input from an inspirational tutor or leading researcher. The SOLOS might also be used to complement first-year courses, thus ensuring the maximum return from the investment in effort.

The part of the acronym that I am most pleased with is Opportunity, as that really seems to encapsulate all that is best about them. As the Google definition says:

  1. A set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.
  2. A chance for employment or promotion.

And also Opportune:

  1. (of a time) Well-chosen or particularly favorable or appropriate.
  2. Done or occurring at a favorable or useful time; well-timed.

I’m hoping that learners will find these short online learning opportunities are just the right length to meet their immediate need and encourage them to perhaps take part in a longer MOOC.


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