The University of Southampton

Innovation in HE

a blog for teaching and learning innovators

FLAN @ Exeter University

FLAN at Exeter


The University of Exeter hosted the FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) event last week in glorious sunshine (thankfully before all the snow arrived).


FLAN connects academics and research students based at FutureLearn partner institutions to share research and explore shared research opportunities. These include joint research bids and publications, comparative studies using shared FutureLearn data, course designs, and methods to evaluate courses. Topics such as learning analytics, social learning, course mentoring and research ethics have been covered at past events.


This time the theme was the integration of MOOCs within university programmes.  Recordings of the livestream and presenter slides are available here .


Nigel Smith, FutureLearn’s Head of Content, began the day with a review of the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and its implications on partners’ research. The guidelines for research using FutureLearn data have already been updated with GDPR requirements in mind, and full details of the process for approving projects are available on the FL Partner Site.


Nic Fair and Manuel Leon from the Web Science Institute, University of Southampton then spoke about their experience of integrating MOOCs into on-campus modules. Perhaps surprisingly, some students had little or no prior experience of MOOCs. Providing incentives by stating the relevance of MOOC topics to exam questions helped to encourage more participation.


David Smith and Suzanne Collins from the University of Bristol introduced the Bristol Futures project which uses open courses to provide extra curricular activities for students. They also noted the degree of effort required to encourage student participation when the work was not linked to assessment.


Damien Mansell and his team of student facilitators from the University of Exeter ran an engaging workshop focused on the unique student/staff partnership developed to support the Climate Change MOOCs at Exeter. Their Student Facilitator model engages taught and research students to become co-creators of learning experiences, facilitate discussion, share stories, answer questions and monitor engagement.


Next up was Reka Budai, Strategy & Insights Analyst at FutureLearn who ran an interactive session to share and obtain feedback on FutureLearn’s survey vision – “what, when and how we would like to ask from learners to get better insights and make course evaluation more efficient.”


Colin Calder from the University of Aberdeen presented his work with Sarah Cornelius and Peter Mtika which considered how MOOCs impact on campus student engagement. They found that students were more likely to engage on the MOOC elements of their module than they were to speak out in class.


Vicki Dale then reported on her findings at the University of Glasgow with Jeremy Singer which investigated a similar area – they noted some resistance from campus students but they did value the videos and flexibility of study time that the MOOC elements offered.


Finally, Ahmed Al-Imarah from the University of Bath presented his PhD research which investigated

the relationship between organisational culture, quality assurance and technological innovation in

higher education.


Integrating MOOCs into modules…international version :-)

Nic Fair, Manuel Leon and I are in sunny Naples to present at the International Conference for Educational Media (#ICEM2017) at the University of Naples –  “Digital Universities in the MOOC Era: Redesigning Higher Education” 

Here are our slides:

Our  free to access full paper is available here.

I will update this post with tweets and reflections from the event, but for the moment you might like to check out the view from the venue coffee room 🙂



Integrating MOOCs into University Modules

This week I’ll be presenting our work which has incorporated two of our MOOCs as revision aids within a university module  at the “What Works in Assessment and Feedback: Simply Better” conference at the University of Southampton. And next week we will present a paper based on this project at a conference at the University of Naples –  “Digital Universities in the MOOC Era: Redesigning Higher Education”

I’ll update this post with feedback and photos after these events.

Introducing the Peer Mentors: John and Gordon

Our Learning in the Network Age MOOC with FutureLearn is running again for two weeks from 24th July. You can sign up here.

Here’s our review of the first running of the course.

This time Nic and I are very pleased to be joined by two experienced Peer Mentors who participated as learners in the first running of the course back in April. John and Gordon introduce themselves here:

John Bothams, Peer Mentor
John Bothams, Peer Mentor

After 5 years in Chemical research alongside doing day release and evening classes ONC/HNC, then the last two years on an Honours degree, then two years of DMS alongside making Sharwoods Mango Chutney and other sundries – my early career was supported by almost continuous ‘formal’ learning whilst doing. A further five years of doing practical learning including managing of the manufacturing Pharmaceuticals for MSD and the setting up of a factory from scratch for making noise insulation for tractors. Then I made a planned change to Higher Education to teach Management. Within a couple of weeks, I realised nobody understood what was happening within learners’ heads, or what needed to happen to manage their learning effectively, as had been the case with my previous jobs.

I used to have a sign above my desk – What can I get my team members to learn so they can do my job? – Important, as I needed, when getting the factory set up, time to be able to go on holiday with my young family. It needed to run without me for a couple of weeks. Fortunately, I was allowed, by what was then Newcastle Polytechnic, to go on the first ever MA in Management Learning at Lancaster University. It comprised week long face to face sessions spread out over two years with a major emphasis on reflection and research on my practice – learning by doing. It had a major impact on the way I did things from then on, as I realised that any good learning process had to recognise that every individual would respond differently and need some individual response and that often this was most effectively provided by other learners.

I am retired now, but I joined the Networked Learning MOOC to explore, out of curiosity, what was happening now, and what were the new opportunities networked processes offered to support learning. I had managed the Open learning route and developed the mixed mode delivery of the MBA whilst at Strathclyde University. I was more than pleasantly surprised by how relevant my previous practice and approaches still were. Many participants were as desperate to improve what and how they did things, as I had been at the end of my first two weeks of being a lecturer.

This is in my top two of Mooc experiences, because of the content, the engagement of the tutors and participants, and how involved and stimulated I was. The other one, for those curious, was one on Forensic Science which was learning by doing – using the forensics in a real case, but filmed at Strathclyde University’s (where I taught for ten years) premises on Loch Lomond. So, I am looking forward to helping more overtly with the learning this time, which I know will require patience and perception of what is needed.

Gordon Lockhart, Peer Mentor
Gordon Lockhart, Peer Mentor

I’m a retired academic with many years of experience in teaching engineering subjects. I was lucky enough to join one of the original Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on Connectivism in 2011 as a learner and since then I’ve participated in many other MOOCs. These have covered a wide variety of scientific and other topics and include a previous run of the University of Southampton’s, ‘Learning in the Network Age’. A large number of participants in a MOOC can make it difficult for the experts to divide their attention among learners. I volunteered to join the mentor team because sufficient numbers of mentors, who are also learners, can make a difference by helping and encouraging other participants. Those approaching online learning for the first time may appreciate some friendly assistance and mentors can also be useful in responding to frequently-asked questions and helping with the smooth running of the forums.


Learning in the Network Age MOOC – starts 24th April

MOOC Preparation!Our latest course in the Web Science series of MOOCs is called Learning in the Network Age and it begins on 24th April. The course will be run by Lisa Harris and Nic Fair from the Web Science Institute and it includes contributions from a number of other university staff, students and alumni. The aim is to empower university students and staff around the world to develop their digital literacies and use their Personal Learning Networks effectively in order to maximise their lifelong learning potential.

Since the introduction of the World Wide Web and its associated mobile devices, societies and individuals have become much more connected to each other and to information than ever before. The Web is no longer simply an information resource, but also a space for interaction and creativity through which learners can develop a network value, potentially on a global scale.

In this world where knowledge is widely available, accessibility to it is determined and dependent on individuals’ ability to interact effectively with it. Therefore, from a very young age, we may best be characterised as networked individuals living and learning in a networked society, with our digital identity as important to our network value as our offline identity.

As a result, within the educational context, the Web and digital technology are no longer merely tools for teaching and learning, rather they are an integral part of the learning process, much as pen and paper used to be. This has had a profound effect on the way we learn. It has changed how we find, use and store information; how we communicate and collaborate; and how we create, present and share our ideas.

Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Executive Director of the Web Science Institute, says:

This course is a timely addition to the Web Science series of MOOCs. It showcases the current research of our PhD students and the direct benefit their work brings to all learners in the digital age.”

The main topics covered in the course will be:

  • What it means to be a university learner in the Network Age.
  • The impact of Digital Differences on our learning networks.
  • Investigating what our Personal Learning Networks (PLN) look like and identifying patterns in how we currently use them.
  • Growing our PLNs and assessing the reliability of online information and services.
  • Managing our PLNs and our online identity.
  • Activating our PLN for learning purposes.
  • Exploring a wide range of digital tools to assist with growing, managing and activating our PLNs.

The MOOC is being used as a revision aid and engagement tool for students studying the Curriculum Innovation module Online Social Networks this semester. Its impact in terms of added value to their studies is being evaluated as a case study for the Researching Assessment Practices (RAP) Catalyst A project led by Professor Carol Evans and funded by HEFCE.

The MOOC serves the additional function of data collection for current PhD research, and it provides a clear example of partnering and co-creating with students, with implications for both REF and TEF.  The research element of this MOOC is innovative because it does not collect data for research about MOOCs, which is common, but collects data for research into the subject area of the MOOC (Personal Learning Networks). This could become a new form of research methodology and provide these types of MOOC with an important future role for universities.

To join the course or find out more information, check out the course page on FutureLearn, contact us via our Twitter account @uosFLwebsci or search #FLlearningnetworks on social media.

Click here for more information about all upcoming University of Southampton MOOCs.

Researching MOOCs

The FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) Special Issue of the Journal of Interactive Media in Education (JIME) edited by Rebecca Ferguson, Eileen Scanlon and myself is out now and openly available online. It begins with an overview of all the work on MOOCs that has been published by FutureLearn UK partners. There are also papers on MOOC accessibility, adapting a MOOC for research, MOOCs for professional development, and the social-technical construction of MOOCs.

Nic Fair and myself will be presenting our plans for integrating research and education via MOOCs at the upcoming FLAN event at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) in Barcelona. Our latest MOOC, Learning in the Network Age, goes live in April. It brings together campus-based students and FutureLearners from around the world. More details can be found in the slides and video below:

Co-creation presentation by Digichamps at Social Media in HE Conference #SocMedHE16

Recently I presented with Student Digital Champions Tom Rowledge and Tom Davidson at the Social Media in Higher Education Conference held in Sheffield Hallam University. Actually, the two Toms did most of the work discussing their extended input to our Students as Creators and Change Agents (SACACA) project.

You can watch the Periscope recording, read their detailed blogpost about the event, or check out the slides below:

It was great to receive a number of appreciative tweets from the audience, despite our talk being scheduled in the dreaded  “after lunch slot” 🙂


A Socio-technical Approach to UK HE module design

After the EDULEARN conference earlier this month, the graphic below has been developed to try to represent the principles concerning a socio-technical approach to module design. This approach has been manifest in the ‘Living and Working on the Web’ module outlined in some of our earlier posts, graphics and videos.

You can find a graphical summary of this approach here.

Please let us know what you think about this and how the approach can be developed and improved.