Advice on using MOOCs

Richmond on Thames U3A

Richmond on Thames's "Tomorrow's World" group used MOOCs as an aid for presentations given by individual members.  

Background
The Tomorrow’s World Group in Richmond upon Thames was set up to look at trends in demographics and technology and the economic/social/geopolitical issues arising. The time frame is about 20 – 30 years ahead as it became clear that almost any scenario could be written beyond then. The Group operates on traditional U3A lines with individual members researching a topic, providing a presentation (covering the issues, basic facts and figures, and various viewpoints) for about an hour, and then leading an informed discussion. Sometimes topics are divided and the effort runs over two meetings but we would not follow a topic for much longer than that.

MOOCs have been used over the last year to help in leading discussions on a number of topics. Looking at the titles of upcoming FutureLearn courses indicates that FutureLearn courses will continue to be a wide ranging and useful source. And the approach can be extended to deeper study over four meetings or more rather than just one or two if the Group wishes it.

The Benefits
A wider set of subject matter discussion with greater depth
A more focussed way of studying for the discussion leader (and some form of joint study in company rather than individual only)
Easing the load on the Group Leaders (more topics available from well prepared sources) making the task easier than previously
More generally ‘we have had some terrific talks/discussions on a wide range of subjects; complex and wide ranging issues have been explored in a concise way with the benefit of thorough research’.

Practical Operational Aspects suggestions from Andrew Holt
The date of the meeting has set up some time in advance to allow for the MOOCs study
The MOOCs chosen has to be at the level that the Group leader can follow. It also helps if the MOOCs material is held/available beyond the date that the course is current
Courses run at various lengths and with varying depths. It is better to limit the subject matter to be discusses to that which can be contained in parts of the longer courses – a commitment to two weeks work rather than six or eight weeks.

A decision needs to be made early on whether the courses is to be followed per se in depth or simple ‘skimmed’ to provide the material for the presentation. The decision will depend on how interested the Group Leader (and/or members) is in the topic. Whether the course is studied in full or ‘skimmed’ there will be the task of condensing the material into presentations lasting around an hour (possibly over two sessions) to allow for questions/discussions. It is best to stick to making just four or five main points and preparing the presentation with that in mind and avoid attempting to put all the detail and other points into the presentation which will tend to confuse the audience

This has operated within the normal U3A environment so there have been no organisational issues
Copyright may be an issue. The assumption is that the MOOCs material can be used in the normal way within a U3A setting and there is no restriction on use of text in this educational setting. However pictures and charts etc and videos may be more difficult and the copyright position for the MOOCs should be checked.