The MOOC just got better!

I’ve just finished Stanford University’s HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) MOOC (see my previous post MOOC is not a dirty word… at least for the student). Personally, I’ve found it a very enjoyable, but challenging experience (due to my lack of skills, but isn’t that the whole point of learning?).

The course tutor rounded off the course with a short video of his reflections. For those of you who like facts and figures:

  • 29,568 students watched at least some of the video lectures
  • 20,443 students did at least one of the automatically marked multiple choice quizzes
  • 3,203 students completed at least one of the assignments
  • 765 students completed all 5 assignments
  • students came from all around the world, with at least 130 countries being represented.

As students, we’ve had ample opportunity to provide feedback to the teaching team about the Coursera platform and the course as a whole. That feedback has been acted on quickly with tweaks being made to class materials or assignments, while students are still working on them. MOOCs therefore offer an agile solution that takes the student’s needs into account.

It hasn’t just been a one-way transaction. As a student, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from both the teaching team and my peers. The teaching team has also learnt from the students, who have shared resources, reading lists, articles, etc and helped other students. Taking an online course doesn’t mean that the student is isolated. Many students have held their own meet-ups, either face-to-face or virtually. You could say, using the classic cybernetics term, that they were part of a self-organising system, building up communities to support and help each other long after the course has finished.

Just one year ago, there was no Coursera. So everything I’ve used on the course has been created over a very short period of time. But you wouldn’t know. Aside from a few bugs and minor niggles, the whole thing ran very smoothly. One thing to note is that Stanford doesn’t need to run this course. It already has a great reputation, but that hasn’t stopped the teaching team from working hard to pull together the content and make it freely available to everyone.

And now the MOOC has just got better. I’ve just had an email from Coursera to tell me that it now has a Career Service to help Coursera students find jobs. Should I wish to take part (and I may need to shortly), they will share my details with selected partner companies (likely to be US based). This could be good for me as a student, although it’s not without concerns. In the (probably very near) future, a company could cherry pick the best students from online courses, because they’ll be able to follow students with potential as they submit their coursework. They may even influence the course itself. Coursera will no doubt get its revenue from acting as a matchmaking service. However, this needs to be handled carefully. Issues could include companies bombarding students with advertising, a limited pool of companies being able to select students (but who wouldn’t be flattered to be offered a job by the likes of Google or Apple?), US only companies, companies that only support (financially?) Stanford (or other Coursera universities), etc. It’s not without its potential difficulties. However, from a student point of view, it seems like a great idea.

So did I finish the course? I certainly did and can now quite legitimately say that I have a Distinction from Stanford University!

MOOC is not a dirty word… at least for the student

Photo of a mortar board hat and scrollThere seems to be a lot of animosity toward MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) at the moment, mostly it seems because they don’t offer the same experience as a traditional on-campus course and because of the issues around assessment.

But I wonder how many of those nay-sayers have actually taken a MOOC? From a student point of view, a MOOC is a wonderful opportunity to try something for free, with no obligation if it doesn’t work out, or if circumstances force a change of mind.

So I’ve taken off my e-learning hat and I’m writing this from a student point of view. I’m currently doing Stanford University’s HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) course. As I live in a rural area and work full-time, there is no other way that I would be able to access such a course. I’m not doing it for the “statement of accomplishment”, which if I complete the course, I’ll get at the end (although that carrot does help). I’m doing it for my own personal development, skills upgrading and enjoyment. In any case, I wouldn’t be able to take such a course in my own time at my own institution.

As I said in my previous post, MOOCs and Carrots back in September, the types of students on these courses are not students who would normally be able to study in a campus setting. People seem to be taking such courses to upgrade or complement their existing skills or even just for the challenge. There are mothers with young children, housebound people, people with disabilities, people who don’t live anywhere near an educational institution, unemployed people, etc. Not only that, people can take each week’s module whenever they want, wherever they want. Be it at 9pm at night when the children have gone to bed or on the train on the way to a meeting. These are non-traditional students who would be unable to attend a class in a traditional setting.

The HCI course is peer-reviewed, which I think is a sticking point for many educationalists. This is not without its challenges from both a student and educationalist perspective as some of the forum posts testify. However, as a student, it enables me to see other students’ work and how they have approached a particular task. The learning comes not just from following the video lectures and attempting each week’s practical assignment, it comes from what my peers say about my work as well as from what I can observe in theirs.

One student asked if the online HCI course was any different to the one that Stanford’s own on-campus students take. Both online and on-campus students have the video lectures (although some are done physically by the on-campus staff), the on-campus students have 10 weeks to complete the course (online students have 9), on-campus students also have an hour’s lab time per week (presumably with some sort of assistance from staff), and of course on-campus students’ work is assessed by teaching staff. In both cases, the content is the same.

Some students do want that (electronic) piece of paper at the end, perhaps for the prestige of successfully completing a Stanford course (the type of statement of accomplishment depends on the student’s average marks for the course) or for demonstrating to their employers that they have completed it. Many other students are completing the course at their own pace (it is quite intensive) and are doing it because they want to learn about HCI in their own time and their own way. For them, a MOOC is a way to facilitate that – they get the guidance and support they need but there is no fear of failing or dropping out, as the course can always be taken again next time or over an extended period of time. For many students, the learning goal is not a piece of paper, but the acquisition of a new skill or undertaking a personal challenge.

Institutions and educationalists should not look at the MOOC as a threat to the sector (at least not yet), because the type of people taking these online classes are generally not able (for whatever reason) to take a traditional on-campus course. It may be some time before the assessment side of things is robust enough to enable students to receive proper accreditation.

MOOCs do fill a need, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many thousands of people flocking to take them (the other course I’m taking has over 34,000 students registered). So before, we look at MOOCs in a negative light, let’s look at it from the student point of view. After all, as educationalists, isn’t that who we’re here to serve?

Alumni Engagement: Supporting Graduate Employability at Cardiff Met University

Photo of graduates wearing mortar boards and gownsHere is the final post in my series of short project overviews from the JISC funded Relationship Management Programme. Last, but definitely not least, the project team at Cardiff Metropolitan University have developed an online learning environment (GradSpace), as part of the DePCEA (Developing a Professional Community Engagement Environment for Alumni) project, for supporting the development of graduate employability skills, assisting alumni in their transition to work and encouraging lifelong learning and professional development.


GradSpace was developed to try and meet the following challenges:

  • it’s becoming harder for graduates to find employment after leaving university
  • the transition into work is not always easy
  • students expect their time at university to prepare them for employment.


GradSpace has a number of functions: learning objects to help support the transition into work and professional development, an ePortfolio, and communication tools for promoting alumni services and events. Alumni are also offered taster sessions on postgraduate courses. Benefits have so far included:

  • a greater sense of confidence when applying for employment noted by alumni
  • improved application skills, such as the quality of CVs and application forms
  • improved loyalty as graduates feel that the University still wants to help them once they’ve left.


Engaging alumni by offering them a dedicated set of resources may encourage them to re-engage at a later date. However, it may be worth considering:

  • if more than one system is used, ensure that integration is smooth; for example alumni had to log on separately to both Moodle (GradSpace) and Mahara (ePortfolio), which meant that they did not perceive the ePortfolio to be part of the Gradspace offering
  • implementing employability resources early in the student lifecycle to ensure that lifelong learning skills and reflective practice are embedded
  • ensuring that any learning resources and materials are selected carefully; for example the project team found that practical resources were most valued.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Student Progression: Smartcard Bursaries and the Students FIRST Project

Photo of a brass compassThe JISC funded Students FIRST Project has been improving the use of bursary schemes for purchasing learning materials and other services at the University of East London and Anglia Ruskin University, in conjunction with AMOSSHE and John Smith’s Booksellers.


The Students FIRST project pulled together a group of technologies – financial information app, bursary on a smarcard, and social messaging tools (texting) – to help improve progression and retention. However, there were some challenges in this approach:

  • technologies, such as smartcard or mobile apps, may be used in a “scattergun” approach and need to be part of a strategic service delivery
  • staff can be unwilling to engage with new technologies; for example, because they don’t want to remember additional logins
  • staff must be trained in the use of any new technologies, but it can be difficult to find the resource to do so.


Access to the bursary is staggered according to student progression; i.e. a student must progress to the second year of their studies in order to receive the second installment. Students can then purchase from a list of products specified by their institution, such as books, art materials, nursery fees, campus accommodation, etc. Almost 74% of students surveyed at one university found that the bursary was beneficial. Other benefits include:

  • establishing a clear link between the spend on books and academic achievement
  • a targeted bursary encourages students to achieve and progress
  • such a bursary also equalises opportunity across the student body; for example, one student said “I have access to books that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to own and progress further”.


A collaborative approach to this project was taken with a mix of educational and commercial providers and this gave the project team the opportunity to draw up guidance materials on working across different sectors. Recommendations include:

  • taking a service design approach can help you to understand student needs, expose failpoints in service delivery, and build collaborative relationships between departments/institutions and providers
  • sharing data between institutions can be a cause for concern, so consider alternatives such as using separate hard drives to store data
  • actively engage with technologies with which students are familiar, such as mobile apps, to encourage engagement.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Alumni Engagement: Using Integrated Web Technologies at the University of Surrey

Photo of graduates wearing mortar boards and gownsThe JISC funded Increasing Engagement and Value Using Integrated Web-Networking Technologies project at the University of Surrey has been putting together an online platform for delivering events to alumni.


The project has used a combination of web, social media and integrated web-based technologies to help implement a cost-effective programme of events that would try and meet the following challenges:

  • the creation of mutually beneficial relationships between alumni and the University
  • improvement of the limited online opportunities for alumni with the institution
  • re-engaging with 25,000 alumni “missing” from the alumni database.


The project developed a bespoke registration and booking platform for alumni events, set up an online version of the biannual alumni magazine, established social media channels (Facebook, Linked-In and Twitter) for communicating with alumni, and created a library of online events available for download. Benefits include:

  • supporting the recruitment of prospective students, if they are aware that there is an established professional international network of alumni
  • reduction of print costs associated with the hard copy alumni magazine, which can then be used for other aspects of alumni engagement
  • doubling of the number of Linked-In alumni group members since January 2011 by consolidating a number of disparate alumni groups into one official Surry Alumni Group with separate sub-groups.


When taking a technological approach to alumni engagement, the following should be considered:

  • do a full audit on any technologies that will be implemented to ensure that they don’t undermine the institution’s reputation; for example, Tinychat was used to deliver the first event, but it it soon became clear that it did not have a professional look-and-feel, nor was it compatible with a number of browsers or mobile devices
  • consider the timing and delivering of live events, particularly if a large number of international alumni (around a third of Surrey’s alumni are from outside the UK) to ensure that everyone is included
  • consider the sustainability of any web platform, e.g. is a five year shelf-life long enough?

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Student Retention: Student Dashboard at University of Southampton

Photo of a brass compassThe JISC funded Southampton Student Dashboard Project at the University of Southampton has been aggregating data from across a number of systems and presenting it in a single place, so that pastoral tutors can provide better informed support for students.


Data held by institutions is not always easy to access. For example:

  • data held across a number of systems only offers a partial or disjointed view of information that may be relevant to staff and students
  • multiple systems require multiple log-ins; for example, Student Services at Southampton need to switch between four different applications in order to amalgamate student information
  • selecting the data that tutors might need to see on a dashboard can be contentious; for example information from Finance or Student Counselling services.


In common with other projects that have focussed on using data to identify “at risk” students, the project team identified the following benefits:

  • providing a complete view of an institution’s student data enables staff to identify any early signs of problems and possible non-progression
  • improving access to data can encourage the organisational culture to be more innovative and transparent
  • by allowing a small set of data to be shown to pastoral tutors, it is expected that this will generate requests for more data to be included.


Encouraging people to open up access to data can be challenging. Issues of data access and organisational culture can be difficult to handle, so try to:

  • manage change carefully to ensure that all stakeholders are engaged, especially those who have power to implement change and those who have influence over opinion in the institution
  • identify champions in each group of stakeholders, who will help drive through changes
  • find out what data is held by each stakeholder and how it is accessed (some of it may be paper-based) as this can help determine how that data could be accessed in a dashboard; it can also expose information that some stakeholders didn’t even know existed.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Student Retention: Mental Health at the University of Sheffield

Photo of a brass compassThe DCSMH (Digital Communication and Student Mental Health) project at the University of Sheffield has created a website, Well Connected, which provides a library of self-help resources, a self-check facility, and social media functions for supporting students with mental health difficulties.


Many HE (Higher Education) institutions are facing increased demand from students for mental health services. There are increasing numbers of students with complex difficulties, so the institution needs to be able to promote mental health support effectively. The challenges include:

  • students with mild difficulties may not be prioritised for face-to-face support whilst those with more severe difficulties do not always access the services provided
  • the area of mental health can be a sensitive topic for the institution, staff and students, which needs careful handling
  • increased demand for mental health services means that traditional face-to-face support is becoming severely stretched.


The Well Connected website, which was co-created with students, has provided benefits for both staff and students:

  • non-clinical student support and academic staff feel more confident in their response to students with mental health difficulties
  • the site includes a validated online self-check or referral tool which may help students wary of contacting mental health support services to make the first step to getting help
  • using digital communications to keep students informed can relieve pressure on physical support services and provide a channel for communication messages of wellbeing, especially at particular times of the academic year.


During the project, feedback from students has shown that they favour digital media for finding out about mental health issues. However,

  • don’t underestimate the strength of institutional branding and authority; for example because the Well Connected website has the University’s stamp of approval, students feel that they can rely on it and that it can be trusted
  • ensure that training is put in place for support staff in the use of any online resources
  • although online support resources can relieve some of the pressure on face-to-face support staff, remember that there will be additional work required in the support and maintenance of an online resource and in managing communication campaigns.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Student Retention: Project fulCRM at Roehampton University

Photo of a brass compassProject fulCRM, funded by JISC, at Roehampton University has brought together two existing processes, one technical and one manual, in order to reduce the number of students leaving their course early.


The initial challenges faced by the project team included:

  • over 2000 mitigating circumstances requests were made each year by students in the University, which were all handled manually
  • lack of consistency in the way in which mitigating circumstances were handled, which was a cause for student concern
  • data formats that are not designed to integrate with other applications.


Two existing processes (a spreadsheet-based Early Warning System of lack of attendance and other indicators and the manual process of applying for mitigating circumstances) have been improved by taking a technological approach. This has resulted in a number of benefits for staff and students alike, including:

  • improved communication by ensuring that students are kept informed via e-mail of the progress of the mitigating circumstances process
  • flagging up of students who need additional support
  • automated data collection which has replaced complex and time-consuming activities and reduced staff workload.


Students now feel that the technological improvements provide them with a safety net and they will also be able to view their performance alongside their tutor. However, arriving at this stage has not been easy and the following suggestions may help:

  • in order to gain acceptance across a number of disparate Departments, ensure that any system can cater for the creation of different student performance indicators
  • if data (such as data relating to the number of times a student accesses a VLE) is held in the cloud, accessing that data and moving it across to private university servers may pose a security risk, therefore additional servers with secure links direct to the VLE may need to be built
  • do not underestimate the amount of manipulation required to access complex data which is often housed in various disparate systems.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Student Progression: ESCAPES Project at the University of Nottingham

Photo of a brass compassThe JISC funded ESCAPES (Enhancing Student Centred Administration for Placement ExperienceS) project at the University of Nottingham has focussed on improving the management of its placement process for both staff and students. As employers are more likely to take on graduates with work experience, students may be more likely to choose a course that has a placement element.


The relationships between teaching staff, administrative staff, students and businesses are an essential part of effective placement management. Challenges from the institution’s viewpoint included:

  • a variety of unconnected processes used across the institution
  • finding a way to ensure that common good practice was recorded and shared
  • being able to record baseline placement data for employability statistics without imposing any centralised control across schools.


As well as some technological improvements, the project has resulted in a number of benefits for both staff and students, including:

  • improved adminstrative efficiency from streamlining processes and extra facilities for data reporting; for example, it is now possible to identify students who make a number of unsuccessful placement applications in order to provide them with additional support
  • more effective management of relationships with students whilst they are on placement; such as providing a single point of contact and improved methods of communication
  • a number of enthusastic champions of good practice across the University have been identified as a result of the project.


For placement processes to be handled effectively, it is recommended that:

  • senior management and practitioners are encouraged to be champions in good practice for placements with the role of a placement co-ordinator acting as a central conduit for relationships and communication
  • when implementing such a project, staff need to “talk to people on their terms” to win them over and to promote an understanding of what people are doing and why; communication is key and can help enable “change by stealth”
  • remember that the learning and administrative aspects of the placement process are co-dependent and that technology alone cannot replace the human element.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Come and chat about CRM on our new list!

Team of people sitting together We’ve just started a new JISCMail Discussion List for anyone who wants to talk about CRM (Customer Relationship Management) in the HE (Higher Education) and FE (Further Education) sectors.

The CRMinHEFE list is a space for all stakeholders to discuss the implementation of CRM as a process and as a technology. It’s focus is on the strategic, cultural change, systems management, etc aspects of CRM, rather than on the detailed installation issues of vendor specific systems.

If you’re using the JISC Good Practice in Customer Relationship Management Online Handbook, then you can talk about that here too. There’s also a short blog post about the Handbook.

If you’re looking for a more generic Relationship Management list or one that focuses more on SLRM (Student Lifecycle Relationship Management), then our sister list RMinHEFE might be more your style.

Other resources include the Just Enough Relationship Management website with a section on BCE (Business and Community Engagement) CRM, the JISC CETIS Relationship Management website as well as the #rminhe Twitter tag.

So come and join us!