University joins FutureLearn

Rosannah Jones & Euan McTear

Glasgow University has teamed up with an exclusive group of universities to offer online distance learning courses through FutureLearn, a new system being trialled by the Open University.

The launch of the FutureLearn website in September saw the University reveal its first ever MOOC (Massive Online Open Course), entitled ‘Cancer in the 21st Century – The Genomic Revolution’. The course was put together by Medical Genetics lecturer Leah Marks.

Only universities residing in the top 30 of the UK league table were approached specifically by FutureLearn to provide a course.

Vice-Principal for Learning and Teaching, Frank Coton, is leading Glasgow’s involvement in the project. Coton reveals that he at first was sceptical about this new venture, admitting: “I didn’t want to go in at first. If Glasgow puts something out there, then it has to represent the quality of the institution.”

However, Coton was persuaded when he saw the potential of MOOCs to become part of on-campus courses, with the quality of the other university partners already signed up also convincing. Of the 27 universities participating, 15 are in the elite Russell Group.

After Learning & Teaching staff and Senior Management agreed to Glasgow’s involvement in the project, an internal competition amongst staff was held to decide which courses would run first. Two courses were selected, and given a £15,000 development fund each – an amount smaller than that needed to fund a standard 10 credit course.

Coton commented that on the scale of University expenditure, the money put towards the development of the MOOC was “a relatively modest investment.” He went on to say that the main reason for getting involved was for the chance to experiment with the advanced pedagogy, stating: “If we were to try to buy in the experience it would cost us a fortune.”

Coton suggested that the technology being used in the FutureLearn could one day make its way onto the University’s Moodle site. While MOOCs are not confined to people studying in higher education institutions, the technology used is much more advanced than that currently used on Glasgow’s Moodle. It is possible to leave comments at certain points on FutureLearn documents and videos for other learners to see, a feature which it is hoped can aid collaborative learning.

The MOOCs technology the University hopes to learn about from this venture could, therefore, become a big part of learning at Glasgow in the future and could even be used to prepare international students for a UK learning environment. As Frank Coton put it, MOOCs have “the potential to change learning models.”

FutureLearn is the first MOOCs site to forge partnerships with universities and institutions such as the British Council, British Museum and British Library. In a statement on their website, Future Learn claim that the purpose is: “So you can fit learning around your life, rather than your life around your learning.”

The course on cancer begins early next year, while a Law course is expected later in 2014.