Developing MOOCs in Groningen

Between 31st August and 4th September 2015 I visited the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. I was fortunate to be able to do this as part of Erasmus+ training programme during which I worked at the University of Groningen looking in to how their MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are developed.

The MOOC project at the University of Groningen is handled by the Educational Support and Innovation Unit (part of the Centre for Innovation and Technology), which is similar to us here in Educational Development in the way that it is a support department and is not part of any faculty.

The Centre for Innovation and Technology has 164 full time members of staff, whilst the Educational Support and Innovation Unit has 19 full time staff, most of whom are teacher trainers and e-learning technicians. The priorities are teacher development, promoting and supporting e-learning and providing technical support.

In addition to developing MOOCs the Educational Support and Innovation Unit is involved in a number of other projects including:

  • Teacher certification
  • Assessment experts, student survey analysis
  • BlackBoard support
  • Technical support during student examinations
  • Video productions for flipped classroom projects
  • Curriculum redesigns

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‘An introduction to Dutch’ MOOC

The University of Groningen is well known in the MOOC world for producing an extremely successful MOOC ‘Introduction to Dutch’. This offers learners basic skills in Dutch. This free online course was also used by the University of Groningen as a tool to promote paid online courses offered by the Language Centre at the University. 75 people joined the paid version of the course after the first run of the MOOC had finished.

I met the educators who developed the course – Jeroen van Engen, Birgit Lijmbach, and Margried Hidding – to discuss what made it so successful. I was particularly interested in how the course was marketed and what the secret was to recruiting 35,000 people on this course.

I learnt that in addition to the traditional course advertising done by FutureLearn, a variety of other marketing channels were used such as:

  • Local media
  • Refugee centres and Dutch societies abroad
  • International student networks (via study advisors)
  • Educators’ personal networks
  • Paper flyers (disseminated on university campus)

In addition, Sheffield University used Groningen’s ‘Introduction to Dutch’ course to familiarise new and potential students to their on-campus Dutch Studies programme. Talks are also ongoing with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) about getting the year abroad students involved in the Dutch MOOC. Numbers are not high, but this MOOC is seen as a good tool to introduce exchange students to the Dutch language before they arrive in the Netherlands.

The majority of participants who took this course were female, highly educated and passionate about learning languages. Most participants were aged between 25 and 40 years old, however it is interesting to note that if we look at the numbers of people who actually completed the course the majority of them were retired.

When this course was run again a number of learners came back wishing to learn more. The team has received many requests for additional vocabulary and so the idea of offering two versions of the course – easier and advanced – was created. This will be achieved by creating two sets of tasks in the Quizlet online tool for beginners and advanced learners.

Other Groningen MOOCs

I was fascinated to learn about other MOOCs the team is developing in Groningen. These include:

  • Religion and Conflict
  • Decision Making in a Complex and Uncertain World
  • Why Do We Age? The Molecular Mechanisms of Ageing
  • Solving the Energy Puzzle: a Multidisciplinary Approach to Energy Transition – an intense 7 week, 7 hour per week course taught at a postgraduate level.
  • Junior MOOC in science (for 16-18 year-olds in schools). This would be a private online course, meaning that it wouldn’t be open to the general public and would be run in the traditional classroom with support of teachers.
  • Language testing SPOC (Small Private Online Course) – a very exciting course looking into brain surgery and how language centres are tested during surgery. This course is not for the faint hearted, and will include videos of open brain surgery! Luckily, it is specifically targeted at qualified brain surgeons and surgeons in training. The latter would be able to do the course for free, whilst the qualified practitioners would incur a charge. This course is going to be hosted on the FutureLearn platform, though it will not be open to the general public.
  • Dutch Law MOOC – a course aimed at young people finishing school, but also general public interested in Law. As this will be delivered in Dutch the course will be hosted on an Open Education platform powered by BlackBoard.
Other non-MOOC adventures

In the evenings I had a chance to explore the city of Groningen and would wholeheartedly recommend a visit. This city has the youngest population in Netherlands and is buzzing with life.

I would like to thank everyone who made this trip possible; this certainly has been an experience I will remember for a long time.

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Vaiva Adamonyte