Watching the development of MOOCs over the last year, largely from the perspective of a student taking the courses, the question which has fascinated me has been to what extent any teacher could set up their own online course.
Being the Moodle fundi at my school I immediately thought of Moodle as a platform, and indeed there are Moodle servers available who will host any course you create for free, or for a small fee. But in many ways this is unsatisfactory. Moodle is a bit of an acquired taste for many. It is also somewhat clunky and lacks sex appeal! While its functionality gives it enormous power and wins devotees from amongst those who are prepared to master the learning curve required, for the average teacher it is usually one bridge too far.
As the resident Moodle Champion I speak to many teachers about the interface, and usually get the same response – it’s not very user-friendly! Many teachers do respond well to blogs. They are relatively easy to set up, and the templates and widgets that most blog servers provide supplies the necessary eye candy. There are class blog platforms, and all easy to set up and administer.
But, the functionality of the blog is limited. You can post and you can comment. Sure you can embed videos and set up polls, but ultimately the ability to generate discussion is limited.
Nevertheless, I decided to go about setting up a small (mini MOOC) using a blogging platform. I decided to call the site twitterMOOC because I wanted to use twitter hashtags to allow students or readers to add short comments using the course hashtag as a stream on the blog page. I do something similar on my Moodle pages, and it forms a great back-channel for my classes, and is good for questions, and comments. I knew that you could add tweets to a wordpress blog using a widget. Unfortunately you cannot add a twitter feed which draws in references to the hashtag, you can only link it to a user account. I got around this by adding a link to a tweetchat.com feed using a course hashtag. Twitter provides a neat badge which allows you to set up a button the reader can press, which automatically includes the hashtag in a tweet.
I have now set up a prototype course on the site. It uses a page on the blog to embed text and video links, and a twitter feed and link to tweetchat room so that users can follow chat around the course. To my mind it looks like a promising platform. It cannot offer a course such as you might find on Coursera or Udacity, but readers can read text and watch videos on different aspects of the topic, and can comment on the blog, or tweet comments or links of their own to further material.
I am looking forward to people play-testing the site and giving feedback on the idea. Hint, hint!
If it works, it is something that any teacher could set up easily, with minimal IT skills, and maintain easily, adding content periodically.