Advice on using MOOCs

Thanet U3A

Members of the History Interest Group in Thanet watched a three week long course about the Battle of Waterloo and met up for a lively discussion after it had finished. 
This summer, to coincide with the Anniversary of Waterloo (June 18th 1815) Southampton University ran a MOOC on FutureLearn; “Wellington and Waterloo”. For Thanet this had a lot of local interest, as the captured Napoleonic Eagle standards were brought over to the Prince Regent, landing at Thanet, and this was being re-enacted for the commemorations.

David Hopker, Thanet U3A, invited fellow U3A members to join the course. Hugh and Brenda Rogers organised the meeting at the end of the course. Brenda went on to write a piece about it for Thanet U3A's Newsletter.

The members each followed the course at home and the meeting gave them a chance to exchange their views on the experience.

On the positive side
• There was lots of access to very high-quality material (Southampton University holds the Wellington archive)
• The course was very well supported with weekly video discussions where the academics gave responses to the broad issues being raised in the discussion forums

Problems were

• The course materials could be over-whelming – the time needed was very under-estimated and because the course attracted large numbers of participants those who tried to read all comments quickly found keeping up a problem.
• Quite a few members did not finish.
• Some sections were broad-brush and felt confusing (particularly coverage from the Rise of Napoleon to the Exile to Elba).

The general consensus was that
The course was very interesting and enjoyable. Reading the comments made was both enjoyable and informative. There was a great need for more explanatory material, particularly purpose drawn maps - and time lines. There was a huge amount to get through, especially in the introductory week, yet clearer explanations of the causes of Napoleon's rise to power was also needed.
The group saw no problem with the course being used by a group, meeting perhaps weekly - perhaps fortnightly.
One member made the point that SMART TVs are now pretty common, so using the material in a group setting, especially perhaps the video clips of the lecturers, would be quite straightforward. SCE Note: FutureLearn have told us that this would be acceptable for a group like this one, who have registered online for the course.

Lessons for future courses

Advise members on how to follow each other and how to use “Most liked” to quickly find particularly interesting comments in each discussion. (For example, where helpful participants often identified online timelines and battle plans which supplemented the materials.)

Maintain more contact with each other. Members within U3A groups need to tell each other how they got on. That is at least as important as sharing the experiences further afield.