Newcastle University – with whom Northumbria Region U3A has a concordat via one of their platforms for public engagement - is a producer of MOOCs as part of FutureLearn. Their most successful MOOC to date is on Hadrian’s Wall: this was released in summer 2014 and has been repeated. Through this local link Northumbria Region were able to get some of the MOOC production team to speak at a regional meeting about MOOCs in general. There were also two meetings with members of the University’s Archaeology Department to discuss the Hadrian’s Wall course. This is not something that U3As remote from city universities can do but of course, may be feasible for other U3As in cities with universities. Note Although many U3As may be distant from Universities, many Universities are looking at outreach to more distant towns and villages and it is always worth approaching them for a speaker.
Through Newcastle and some of the other MOOC producing universities Northumbria Region are trying to make the case that MOOCs could be made more user friendly for older people. They have also suggested the possibility of specific topics for new MOOCs, such as a course on how to do research for older ‘Citizen Researchers’ – an idea which has been well received.
Most U3A members think of online courses as things which they should start at the beginning and follow through to the end. However, most MOOC producers are more flexible – seeing the course as equivalent to a textbook which one can also just dip into – an intellectual buffet from which students can pick and choose the bits which are most to their needs or taste. It’s quite liberating to understand this and not be constrained by the need to complete the whole thing.
In summary, it has been useful to:
- use the regional networks to promote the value of MOOCs as a study aid; interacted with MOOC producers through local university contacts to arrange regional events with the experts;
- attempt to influence the design and content to make them more age-friendly.
The Northumbra Region are also getting across the message to regard MOOCs as buffets rather than six-course meals; and aim to do more to promote inexpensive devices, such as Chromecast that enable online content to be shared in a small group context via TV screens.
The Hadrian's Wall course is highly recommended as a general introduction to archaeological analysis and the Romans in Britain. (The course is also recommended by Wearside U3A, who are also linked to Newcastle University.)