These early MOOCs are not targeted at the general public, which is unfortunate
The Malaysia MOOC portal needs to look into more standardised navigation
THERE is a growing trend in tertiary education to use blended learning methodologies in running courses. As a result, my interest piqued when I learned that our local public universities were the first in the world to use Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs).
By using MOOCs, students are able to learn at their own pace as lectures are delivered by video. A student can rewind the video to better understand a difficult concept and pause for toilet breaks.
Also, most MOOCs have online activities and assignments that a student can complete to evaluate their understanding. Their progress through the MOOC can also be tracked.
In general, MOOCs are popular worldwide and I use MOOCs to pick up new knowledge too. Some of the top universities in the world provide access to their courses, online, for free. World-class knowledge is no longer out of reach of anyone with an Internet connection.
But at first, the cynic in me suspected that our public universities were outsourcing education by getting the students to learn from MOOCs instead of their lecturers.
But after reading the article, I realised that they were actually producing MOOC content – Islamic Civilisation and Asian Civilisations (TITAS), Ethnic Relations, Entrepreneurship, and ICT Competency. This got me truly excited.
I quickly checked out the reported MOOC portal but that URL turned out to be a dud. While I think that the Government and media should get URLs right in this day and age, I overlooked this typo as long as students are able to find it.
After using a little Google-fu, I was able to find the correct Malaysian MOOC portal that contained the said courses.
It sure looks nice but beyond the beautiful facade, come the implementation details.
Each subject is produced by teams from different universities. As such, they each have a different layout, quality and structure.
For example, to get to the course materials, you have to navigate under ‘Topics’ for Introduction to Entrepreneurship, ‘Units & Activities’ for ICT Competency, ‘Topik & Aktiviti’ for Ethnic Relations, and ‘Modul & Aktiviti’ for TITAS.
Being a Coursera user, this was rather confusing for me. While things are also organised differently in Coursera, at least the ‘Video Lectures’ are labelled as such under different courses from different universities.
Therefore, I think that this is something that our Malaysia MOOC needs to look into – some form of standard navigation structure so that students do not expend unnecessary brain power trying to navigate the system, especially if they intend to extend the MOOCs to cover all courses in Malaysia.
Some courses have an introductory video and text on the front page, while one only had a video and no text.
I think that having a written introduction is important as not everyone will load the videos due to bandwidth constraints. The written introduction would let them decide if a course is right for them, particularly those who are not required to sign up for the course.
However, I get the sense that these early MOOCs are not targeted for the general public, which is unfortunate because these localised MOOCs could benefit a much wider audience than mere university students.
The first thing that they ask for when you sign up for a course is which public university you come from and what your student ID is.
However, I have to add that it does not restrict sign-ups to public university students. Anyone can sign up for the courses including the general public, without keying in any student ID.
Therefore, this exposes these courses to public scrutiny like never before. Having taken both TITAS and Ethnic Relations before, I have to say that I found some of the material offensive. With the general public able to experience these courses first-hand, I hope that these courses will be improved in quality over time.
I would also like to see this effort extended to all existing courses in Malaysia. The success of various existing MOOCs has shown that it is a viable way to provide quality undergraduate-level education to anyone with an Internet connection. Having more MOOCs, particularly localised courses, will benefit the general public.
Also, there is no reason to stop at university courses. Any Neal Stephenson fan knows that this concept can be extended to all levels of education. Knowledge deserves to be set free. Imagine a Malaysia where anyone can have access to quality education, any place, at any time.
In conclusion, I have to state that I am not against the idea of using MOOCs in our public universities and I am not being critical of government effort in this field.
However, as with all early efforts, there is plenty of room for improvement and I hope that our public universities get things right, ultimately.
Dr Shawn Tan is a chartered engineer who has been programming since the late 1980s. A former lecturer and research fellow, he minds his own business at Aeste while reading Law. He designs open-source microprocessors for fun. He can be reached via Twitter as @sybreon.
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