November 26, 2015

Low-cost online courses in film and media studies: do they work?

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Dustin Hoffman 2

Alexander, I. (2015) Over 30,000 students took these online film and media courses Film Industry Network, November 17

I haven’t been following Udemy, the former MOOC provider which has now moved to offering more vocational online courses, but I was interested in this article, which lists the 10 most popular online courses offered in film and media studies.  Udemy offers a number of these courses, but it is also facing strong competition from Masterclass, another provider of low cost, not-for-credit, online courses.

The average cost of a film and media studies program at a university in the USA is around $30,000. Udemy is offering courses in this domain from $300 downwards, some as little as $10 as promotional courses. However, this excludes the cost of the necessary equipment, which the article estimates at around $5,000.

Nevertheless there are huge savings to be made by going for these very low cost online courses. For instance, in the Masterclass series, you can learn acting from Dustin Hoffman, or tennis with Serena Williams, for as little as $90, through five hours of video lessons.

Most of the Udemy lessons on these courses are very short videos (less than six minutes each), although there are lots (50 in Udemy’s Facebook Marketing course, for example). Courses range in length of study, but are mainly in the range of two to ten hours each. Udemy offers a certificate for successful completion of these courses.


I have mixed feelings about these offerings. I can see that for people who want to dabble in the field or want to top up on their knowledge of a particular topic, such as Twitter marketing, or are interested in film or media production as a hobby, these courses are extremely good value. In particular, the Masterclass courses seem an excellent deal.

However, it’s hard to see how this would qualify anyone to work professionally in the field. There is no feedback from or interaction with the instructor, and no quality assessment of what has been learned.

So as always with MOOCs and their variations, there are large numbers of people who will get something they value from such courses. However, to pretend that such programs will enable people to get a well-paid, professional job in film and media on these qualifications alone is highly misleading. So it all depends on how they are marketed. Udemy walks quite close to the line on this.

However, I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has taken these courses. What was your motivation? Were you satisfied? What would you recommend to others thinking of taking such courses?

MIT introduces credit-based online learning

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MIT entrance

Bradt, S. (2015) Online courses + time on campus = a new path to an MIT master’s degree MIT News, October 7

MIT is famous for its non-credit MOOCs, but now, for the first time, it is offering a credit program at least partially online.

The one year Master in Supply Chain Management will consist of one semester taking online courses and one semester on campus, starting in February, 2016. This will run alongside the existing 10 month on-campus program. The online classes that make up the first semester will cost US$150, while the exam is $400 to $800. The second semester on campus will cost at least half what it costs for the yearlong program, which would mean about another $17,000. Students will still need to meet MIT’s academic standards for admission. It is expected to take about 30 to 40 students a year into the new program. The program will be offered using MIT’s own edX platform.

Since many other universities have been offering a mix of online and campus-based programs for many years, perhaps of more interest is MIT’s announcement of a new qualification, a MicroMaster, for those that successfully complete just the online portion of the program. MIT states that those that do well on the MicroMaster will ‘significantly enhance their chances of being accepted to the full master’s program‘.


First, congratulations to MIT for finally getting into credit-based online learning. This is a small but significant step.

It will be interesting to see how much the Master’s online courses differ in design from MOOCs. Will there be more interaction with the MIT faculty in the Master’s program? Will MIT use existing best practice in the design of credit-based online learning, or will they use a different model closer to MOOCs? If so, how will that affect the institution’s willingness to accept credit for MOOCs? All interesting questions.

Answering questions about teaching online: assessment and evaluation

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How to assess students online: remote exam proctoring

How to assess students online: remote exam proctoring (see Chapter 4.5 on competency-based learning)

Following on from my Contact North webinar on the first five chapters of my book, Teaching in a Digital Age, and my blog post on this yesterday, there were four follow-up questions from the seminar to which I posted written answers. Here they are:

Unanswered Questions

Q: ­If multiple choice is not great for applied learning assessment – could you please give us some tips for more effective assessment in the virtual environment?­

Big question! There are several ways to assess applied learning, and their appropriateness will depend on the subject area and the learning goals (Look particularly at Appendix A, Section 8). Here are some examples:

  • via project work, where the outcome of the project is assessed. (This could be either an individual or group project). Marking a project that may take several weeks work on the part of students helps keep the marking workload down, although this may be offset to some extent by the help that may need to be given to learners during the project.
  • through e-portfolios, where students are asked to apply what they are learning to practical real-life contexts. The e-portfolio is then used to assess what students have learned by the end of the course.
  • use of online discussion forums, where students are assessed on their contributions, in particular on their ability to apply knowledge to specific real world situations (e.g. in contemporary international politics)
  • using simulations where students have to input data to solve problems, and make decisions. The simulation collects the data and allows for qualitative assessment by the instructor. (This depends on there being suitable simulations available or the ability to create one.)

Q: I am finding in my post-graduate online courses the professor is interacting less and less in the online weekly forums, while I know there are competing theories as to how much they should interact with students, do you have an opinion on whether or not professors should or should not interact weekly? Personally, I enjoy their interaction I find it furthers my learning.

This is another big issue. In general, the research is pretty much consistent: in online learning, instructor ‘presence’ is critical to the success of many students. Look particularly at Chapter 4, Section 4 and Chapter 11, Section 10. However presence alone is not sufficient. The online discussion must be designed properly to lead to academic learning and the instructor’s intervention should be to raise the level of thinking in the discussion (see 4.4.2 in the book). Above all, the discussion topics must be relevant and from a student’s perspective clearly contribute to answering assessment questions better. The instructors should in my view be checking daily their online discussion forums and should respond or intervene at least weekly. Again though this is a design issue; the better the course design, the less they should need to log in daily.

Q: Can you give an example of how a MOOC can supplement a face-to-face or fully online course?

I think the best way is to consider a MOOC as an open educational resource (OER). There is a whole chapter (Chapter 10) in the book on OERs. Thus MOOCs (or more likely parts of MOOCs) might be used in a flipped classroom context, where students study the MOOC then come to class to do work around it. But be careful. Many MOOCs are not OER. They are protected by copyright and cannot be used without permission. They may be available only for a limited period. If it is your own MOOC, on the other hand, that’s different. My question is though: is the MOOC material the best OER material available or are there other sources that would fit the class requirement better, such as an open textbook? Or even better, should you look at designing the course completely differently, to increase student interaction, self-learning and the development of higher order thinking skills, by using one of the other teaching methods in the book?

Q: Would better learning analytics reports help teachers have a more relevant role in MOOCS?

Learning analytics can be helpful but usually they are not sufficient. Analytics provide only quantitative or measurable data, such as time on task, demographics about successful or unsuccessful students, analysis of choices in multiple-choice tests, etc. This is always useful information but will not necessarily tell you why students are struggling to understand or are not continuing. Compare this with a good online discussion forum where students can raise questions and the instructor can respond. Students’ comments, questions and discussion can provide a lot of valuable feedback about the design of the course, but require in most cases some form of qualitative analysis by the instructor. This is difficult in massive online courses and learning analytics alone will not resolve this, although they can help, for instance, in focusing down on those parts of the MOOC where students are having difficulties.

Any more questions?

I’m more than happy to post regular responses to any questions you may have about online teaching, either related to the book or quite independent of it. Just send them to me at

MIT and German research on the [appalling] use of video in xMOOCs

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Demonstration is one of the 18 video production styles from a Coursera course “Mechanics: Motion, Forces, Energy and Gravity, from Particles to Planets” (UNSW Australia)

Demonstration is one of the 18 video production styles from a Coursera course “Mechanics: Motion,
Forces, Energy and Gravity, from Particles to Planets” (UNSW Australia)

Hansch, A. et al. (2015) Video and Online Learning: Critical Reflections and Findings From the Field Berlin DE: Alexander von Humbolt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft

The study

This exploratory study examines video as an instructional medium and investigates the following research questions:

  • How is video designed, produced, and used in online learning contexts, specifically with regard to pedagogy and cost?
  • What are the benefits and limitations of standardizing the video production process?

Findings are based on a literature review, our observation of online courses, and the results of 12 semi-structured interviews with practitioners in the field of educational video production

We reviewed a variety of different course and video formats offered on six major platforms: Coursera, edX, Udacity, iversity, FutureLearn, and Khan Academy.


(My summary, the authors’ words in italics)

1. We found documentation on the use of video as an instructional tool for online learning to be a notably underexplored field. To date, little consideration has been given to the pedagogical affordances of video, what constitutes an effective learning video, and what learning situations the medium of video is best suited for.

2. On the whole, we found that video is the main method of content delivery in nearly all MOOCs. MOOC videos tend to be structured as short pieces of content, often separated by assessment questions. This seems to be one of the few best practices that is widely accepted within the field.

3. We found two video production styles that are most commonly used: (1) the talking head style, where the instructor is recorded lecturing into the camera, and (2) the tablet capture with voiceover style (e.g. Khan Academy style).

4. It appears that the use of video in online learning is taken for granted, and there is often not enough consideration given to whether or not video is the right medium to accomplish a MOOC’s pedagogical goals.

5. Video tends to be the most expensive part of MOOC production. There is a tendency for institutions to opt for a professional, studio-style setup when producing video… but.. there is little to no research showing the relevance of production value for learning.

6. More research is needed on how people learn from video.


1. Think twice before using video….it seems problematic that online learning pedagogy is concentrated so heavily in this medium. Hence, we want to discourage the use of video in online learning simply because there is an expectation for it, and rather encourage online learning producers and providers to question video’s extensive use at the expense of other pedagogical alternatives

2. Make the best use of video as a medium…Based on our findings, we have compiled an overview of the medium of video’s affordances for online learning. [Nine ‘affordances’ of video are recommended]


First, this is not really about video in online learning, but video in xMOOCs, which is just one, fairly esoteric use of video in online learning. Nevertheless, since xMOOCs are in widespread use, it is still a valid and important area of research.

Unfortunately, though, the authors’ literature search was barely adequate. I will forgive the failure to discuss the 20 years of research on television and video at the UK Open University, or the research done on the educational effects of television from Sesame Street, but although the authors of this paper include a reference to his book in the bibliography, the failure in the main text to recognise properly Richard Mayer’s contribution to what we know about using video for teaching and learning is unforgivable, as is the authors’ conclusion that the use of video as an instructional tool for online learning is a notably underexplored field. Sorry, but its the authors who haven’t looked in the right places.

Secondly, it’s not that I disagree with their recommendations, it’s that what they are recommending has been known for a long time. More research is always useful, but first the existing research needs to be read, learned and applied.

Thirdly, this paper reinforces what many of us with experience in online learning and/or in the use of video in education have known all along: those designing xMOOCs have made the most egregious of errors in effective design through sheer ignorance of prior research in the area. Since those making these stupid mistakes in course design come from elite, research-based institutions, the sin of ignoring prior research is even more unforgivable. Once gain we have MIT, Stanford and Harvard and the other xMOOC providers having to use new research to rediscover the wheel through ignorance and arrogance.

Fourthly, the real value of this paper comes from the authors’ typology of video production styles. They offer a total of 18 possible production styles, with a short description and a set of questions to be asked about each. This alone makes the paper worth reading for anyone considering using video in online learning, although the authors fail to point out which of the production styles should be avoided, and which used, according to the research.

Lastly, what this paper really reinforces above all is that we should stop taking xMOOCs seriously. They are badly designed by amateurs who don’t know what they are doing. Let’s move on to more important issues in online learning.


10 key takeaways about differences between classroom, blended, online and open learning

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What makes face-to-face teaching pedagogically unique - if anything?

Every teacher or instructor needs to decide where on the continuum a particular course or program should be

Lucky readers: you get a bonus! This is really a brief summary of all of the ten previous posts on this topic, which constitute Chapter 10 of my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age:

Key takeaways

1. There is a continuum of technology-based learning, from ‘pure’ face-to-face teaching to fully online programs. Every teacher or instructor needs to decide where on the continuum a particular course or program should be.

2. We do not have good research evidence or theories to make this decision, although we do have growing experience of the strengths and limitations of online learning. What is particularly missing is an evidence-based analysis of the strengths and limitations of face-to-face teaching when online learning is also available.

3. In the absence of good theory, I have suggested four factors to consider when deciding on mode of delivery, and in particular the different uses of face-to-face and online learning in blended courses:

  • your preferred teaching strategy, in terms of methods and learning outcomes
  • student characteristics and needs
  • the pedagogical and presentational requirements of the subject matter, in terms of (a) content and (b) skills
  • the resources available to an instructor (including the instructor’s time).

4. The move to blended or hybrid learning in particular means rethinking the use of the campus and the facilities needed fully to support learning in a hybrid mode.

5. Open educational resources offer many benefits but they need to be well designed and embedded within a rich learning environment to be effective.

6. The increasing availability of OER, open textbooks, open research and open data means that in future, almost all academic content will be open and freely accessible over the Internet.

7. As a result, students will increasingly look to institutions for learning support and help with the development of skills needed in a digital age rather than with the delivery of content. This will have major consequences for the role of teachers/instructors and the design of courses.

8. OER and other forms of open education will lead to increased modularization and disaggregation of learning services, which are needed to respond to the increasing diversity of learner needs in a digital age.

9. MOOCs are essentially a dead end with regard to providing learners who do not have adequate access to education with high quality qualifications. The main value of MOOCs is in providing opportunities for non-formal education and supporting communities of practice.

10. OER, MOOCs, open textbooks and other digital forms of open-ness are important in helping to widen access to learning opportunities, but ultimately these are enhancements rather than a replacement for a well-funded public education system, which remains the core foundation for enabling equal access to educational opportunities.


Chapter 10 on Modes of Delivery and Open Education is now published.

Chapter 11 will be on design strategies for ensuring high quality learning. Since it is based on an earlier series of blog posts called Nine steps to quality online learning, I will not be publishing blog posts on the book version. This should be ready by the end of next week.

I will however publish blog posts on Chapter 12, the concluding chapter, as I develop it. Chapter 12 will discuss issues around faculty development/training, institutional strategies for teaching and learning, and likely developments for teaching and learning in the near future. (Any other suggestions for topics for this last chapter will be much appreciated, as I need to focus on key issues that have wide interest that have not been covered elsewhere in the book.)

I will also start returning gradually to reviewing new developments, research articles, conferences, etc., as before I started on the open textbook project.