The University of Southampton

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:

MOOCs in the Classroom

Kate Dickens and Lisa Harris presenting at Futurelearn Partners Event

Kate and I were very pleased to present a summary of Southampton’s progress with MOOCs and their impact within the classroom to FutureLearn’s Partner Advisory Group Event yesterday.

It was an honour (and a challenge!) to follow on from such inspirational and energetic speakers as Peter Horrocks, VC of the Open University, Simon Nelson the CEO of Futurelearn, Helena Gillespie Director of Teaching and Learning at UEA, and many others.

The key message from the day was that the web is already transforming all aspects of our lives and education is no exception. Forward thinking universities need to stop treating digital simply as online file storage and instead focus on harnessing its potential for social, collaborative learning on a global basis. Now the world’s 3rd largest MOOC provider, and recent winner of Best User Experience in the UXUK Awards, Futurelearn is well placed to drive this change. There are many exciting developments lined up for 2016 so watch this space!

Originally published on the WSI blog

Up Periscope! Supporting learning with live broadcasts


Student Digital Champions Tim O’Riordan and Hannah Watts were the brains behind what was probably the first video broadcast using Periscope to support an online course in the UK – a real time discussion between the FutureLearn Digital Marketing MOOC educators Lisa Harris and Chris Phethean.

The MOOC asks learners to try out new social tools and think about how they may (or may not) work in a learning or a business context. So to demonstrate what this involves, we decided to give this relatively new social video broadcasting app a try – and naturally called in the Digichamps to lend an expert hand.

Periscope allows you to watch live videos from your mobile device and interact with the presenters in real time, either directly within the app or via Twitter. We’d had a go with the app a few times over the summer and found that it worked well in connecting with a reasonably large audience. We’d also seen Inger Mewburn on the EdX Surviving your PhD MOOC, and the BBC Outside Source broadcasts, and decided we were ready to take the plunge into a more planned approach to this new form of social broadcasting.

Online learning is often criticised as being a lonely activity, with limited opportunity for interaction with tutors and other learners. Asynchronous discussions within the learning platform can address this issue to some extent, but timely replies are not always forthcoming and learners’ attention moves on to the next section. We have used Google Hangouts successfully in previous runnings of our MOOCs – but these can be cumbersome to set up and while real time discussion between a small group of invited participants works really well, (Google’s limit is 10 participant windows) there is limited opportunity for the wider audience to interact with the presenters or each other.

We felt that the Digital Marketing MOOC was an ideal place to trial a Periscope discussion because potentially there is a double benefit to learners in this MOOC – marketing communications themselves are rapidly evolving as the technologies which allow video and time/location-specific applications converge. So we asked the learners to consider the value of the experiment as both a learning activity to them personally, and also as an example of how marketers might apply the same principles.

Early adopters of Periscope for marketing purposes are using it for “behind the scenes” coverage of key events, Q&A sessions for staff with senior management, demonstrations of new product development, addressing specific customer service issues etc.

Tim’s advice from behind the camera

Using Periscope is very straightforward; you just download the app to your mobile device, sign into Twitter, log in to Periscope and then start broadcasting. The interface design is uncluttered and we found our way around the controls and settings very well without any assistance. However if you need a helping hand, the app’s ‘Help Center’ provides unambiguous and well laid out guidance. In addition Periscopes’ web page contains privacy and terms of service information that are written in clear English – and are well worth a read.

Periscoping is very easy for ad hoc social interaction, but if you have an expectant audience and a message to deliver, you can’t leave much to chance. The plan was for Lisa and Chris to discuss questions from the MOOC and the live Twitter feed at a prearranged time (15:00 GMT, 5 November 2015). We’d had network problems with previous attempts, so we had an additional camera on stand-by to ensure we had something for our audience to watch if the broadcast failed.

Periscope holding screen
Periscope holding screen

With a crew of two (myself supervising the broadcast, and Hannah noting comments as they appeared – and passing on questions) we used an iPhone 5s as the broadcast camera set up in horizontal mode (Periscope broadcast in vertical video, but correct this on playback). In order to let our audience know where to find the broadcast (and with the iPhone pointing at a ‘holding screen’), we hit the ‘start broadcasting’ button 15 minutes before the discussion was due to begin. This automatically created a tweet on the Digital Marketing MOOC twitter account containing a link to the broadcast – which we copied and posted directly into the relevant section of the MOOC.

About 30 seconds before the start of the discussion I started recording on the standby camera, and used Quicktime to screen record the Periscope browser window. At 3pm the holding screen was removed from in front of the camera to reveal Lisa and Chris ready to start. Within seconds sound was turned on and the discussion could begin.

During the broadcast Lisa and Chris discussed comments from the previous week on the MOOC and were also able to answer questions posted on Twitter during the broadcast. Altogether we had over 90 viewers watching and a high number of interactions during transmission – plus some very positive feedback and sharing of relevant resources in the MOOC discussion board.

Overall we found Periscope an engaging and timely method to connect with our learners, like Jisc’s Sharon Cook we can envisage other uses on campus including:

Field trips
Learner feedback
Promoting research activity
Live campus tours before open days

However, there are a few caveats:

While Periscope’s terms of service prohibit broadcasting content you don’t own, there are concerns over the ease with which it could encourage copyright infringement as well as invasion of privacy. After all, anyone with the app can publically broadcast and share the precise location of anything or anyone they point their camera and microphone at. This may not be a big problem for everyday social users, but institutional users need to be aware of the potential for unknowing infringement.

When you use Periscope, you retain the rights to the content you produce, but you also licence Periscope and associated companies (including its parent, Twitter) to re-use your content in order to make it available to a worldwide audience. While your content may be held on any of the servers owned by Twitter anywhere in the world, your licence agreement is with Twitter’s European company, which is based in Ireland. It’s also worth noting that while your broadcast is public by default, you can limit your audience to your followers on Periscope – and you can block other Periscope users.

The purpose of the app is to provide a quick and easy way to broadcast video and audio to anyone in the world, and in order to do this some compromises need to be made. So, while your device may be capable of recording in HD, Periscope does not broadcast or record in HD, rather it uses the much lower 360p resolution. Even with this low resolution, if you’re not on WiFi, your device will use a large amount of data during a broadcast – we recorded around 3MB per minute during a recent session. Also, as others have noted – Periscope drains your battery. Previously we had used up 80% of our phone’s full charge in just over an hours broadcasting of a number of short sessions.

Because of these limitations we take a number of measures:

The video may be low res., but we make sure the sound is a good as we can get it. Audio uses up less bandwidth than video, and makes a huge difference to learner’s engagement and we use a separate, powered microphone plugged directly into our device using an iRig pre amplifier.

Away from our unlimited wifi – usually off campus – we keep broadcasts short to minimise network use.

We connect to power (via a 3m long USB lead) to ensure that our device keeps going throughout our broadcasts.

You may wonder why we went to such great lengths to record the broadcast. Firstly, Periscope broadcasts only stay online for 24 hours, so we needed a copy to put on YouTube for those who missed it. Also, while the iPhone records the video, the quality is quite poor – and it doesn’t record the questions, comments and other feedback that are visible in the Periscope broadcast. So we needed to record the browser window off screen at high resolution (MacBook Pro with Retina screen) to ensure we had a copy that could be used later in the course – or possibly to support later iterations. Finally, apologies for the jerkiness of the video – although we were on a very high speed network, this seems to be how Periscope currently works.

Hannah’s reflections on being a monitor

I really enjoyed the Periscope experiment we carried out as part of the Digital Marketing MOOC. I was responsible for monitoring the real-time audience interaction taking place within the Periscope app and on Twitter via the hashtag #FLdigital. I answered general questions and queries viewers had about the broadcast and notified the presenters of topical questions raised by the audience to be answered live.

My pre-broadcast responsibilities involved preparing tweets to invite and encourage audience participation, I saved these in a Google document and copied content to Twitter at the most appropriate times (including post-broadcast). However, next time I would ensure these were saved in drafts on Twitter to create a smoother more efficient way to post and interact with the audience.

During the broadcast I used my smartphone to monitor the Periscope activity and respond to comments made within the app. It is important you carefully observe this activity because comments appear on the side of the screen during the broadcast and disappear very quickly, as far as I am aware there is no record of these comments once they are gone. During future broadcasts I would screenshot activity I thought was particularly interesting. I also used my iPad to monitor Twitter activity and a trusty notepad to list questions to be passed to the presenters.

I monitored the sound of the broadcast via my smartphone but I experienced a slight hiccup at the beginning of the broadcast because my headphones were not plugged in and therefore, the sound created an echo on the live-stream recording. Other than that, I felt the broadcast ran very smoothly. I think the decision to start the broadcast 15 minutes early to allow the audience to prepare was very wise and worked  well for us because we were able to circulate the broadcast URL across various platforms, including the MOOC and social media.

I put together a blog post about using Periscope to enhance brand authenticity, and a short Storify:

Chris’s reflection as a presenter:

This was my first experience using Periscope, other than watching one broadcast when I first downloaded the app. I’ve participated in Google Hangouts before, and I was actually quite surprised by how much I preferred Periscope for this kind of broadcast. On Hangouts, I tend to feel like you can ‘lose’ your audience a bit, and it all turns into a bit of a videoconference between the participants, rather than a broadcast to the viewers. With Periscope, and perhaps because you are limited by how many people can realistically be involved, it feels much more focused on providing something short and snappy to the viewers, and having the chance to respond to some live feedback.

The process of setting up also seemed much more straightforward, and you don’t need to worry about finding out that one of your participants doesn’t have a Google account two minutes before the broadcast is due to start! This takes away some of the pressure on the participants, letting them focus more on the content rather than the technical setup.

Originally published on the Digital Marketing MOOC blog with Tim O’Riordan, Hannah Watts and Chris Phethean.

Microsoft and British Council Deep Learning Event, Kuala Lumpur

I’m on my way to Kuala Lumpur to talk about MOOCs and Curriculum Innovation at an event organised by Microsoft and the British Council.

UPDATE 13th May – Storifys of tweets from the #ASEANDeepLearning event have now been added below the slides.

1. For the panel discussion (Monday 11th May)

2. For the keynote (Tuesday 12th May)


A snapshot of tweets from day 2 of the British Council / Microsoft #ASEANdeeplearning event in Kuala Lumpur, May 2015.

Originally published on the WSI Blog