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Simone Buitendijk: ‘MOOCs are no hype’

Vice-Rector Simone Buitendijk doesn’t believe for a single moment that Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are just hype. This is what she said on 13 March at Campus the Hague’s InspirationLab on ‘Open Education’. Buitendijk wants Leiden University to be at the leading edge. ‘MOOCs and online innovation in education support our strategy.’

Seventy attendees

Almost seventy people, primarily from Leiden University but also from outside, came to the InspirationLab. More specifically, the topic of the meeting was MOOCs and SPOCs. The latter are a closed variant of the MOOCs for a limited number of participants. Leiden University is currently offering one SPOC and eight MOOCs that can be enrolled in by anyone, anywhere in the world. That means tens of thousands of participants per MOOC. 

Due to their global character, MOOCs are always about topics that are of global interest, such as Terrorism and Counterterrorism, The Changing Global Order and — the newest one — Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics.

Students have to become world citizens

MOOCs and SPOCs aren’t hype. If they were, we wouldn’t have anything to do with them,’ emphasised Buitendijk. She said that Leiden University aims to turn students into ‘world citizens’. Students can go abroad either to study or do an internship (‘although there are still far too few of those’) but taking a SPOC as part of your normal coursework is another way to come into contact with foreign countries. That is because this form of instruction by definition entails intensive, substantive contact between the participants, making it an international classroom. ‘And as a tool of innovation, MOOCs and SPOCs are also good for improving teaching strategies both in the lecture hall and in tutorials,’ she said.

InspirationLab is a monthly hour-long lunch meeting addressing varying topics, organised and hosted by Campus the Hague. Starting time: 12:00. It is an initiative of Campus the Hague’s Centre for Innovation. At each meeting a scholar/theoretician and someone from the field present a brief introduction to the topic, which is followed by a discussion in which the audience can participate. People from outside the university are also welcome, which creates a very varied audience. 

Confronted with ‘bias’

Edwin Bakker, Professor of Terrorism and Counterterrorism, agreed whole-heartedly. He developed a MOOC in his field of study that attracted 25,000 participants. He says that he gained a lot from it that he can use in his regular classes: ‘Developing a MOOC forces you to be very precise, because in a video you have to get to the heart of the matter in a very short time. And this form of instruction puts you in direct confrontation with any biases you have. In spite of my international orientation, I was trained in the Netherlands and still have a Dutch point of view. The reactions from the students show you that. It’s very instructive.’

Integrating MOOC into regular courses

Bakker is now working on integrating the MOOC into regular courses. He is substituting some lectures with elements from the MOOC, which the students watch at home. The lectures are then more focussed on assimilating the material through discussions. Bakker is a true advocate of MOOCs. This sort of course is quite suitable for nuanced treatment of topics that are sensitive internationally, such as terrorism, he finds. ‘Precisely because so many opinions and approaches come up in the classroom.’

‘MOOCs are empowering’

And Bakker praises the empowering character of the MOOC. People who for whatever reason do not have access to higher education now have a way to take courses. He considers it to be a real enhancement that academics taking refresher courses and professionals without an academic background meet each other in a MOOC classroom. ‘A course like this helps bridge the gap between the academic world and the field.’

MOOCs still in their infancy

The audience had lots of questions for the speakers. Buitendijk emphasised that MOOCs and SPOCs are currently in their infancy and that there is still a lot to be done. For example, offering this type of course-based instruction as regular coursework with academic credits requires adapting the rules. Additional issues: what is the situation with the copyright on materials used, and do you want to completely release the rights to your own material? ‘The MOOC and everything else that will follow from it is still in the starting phase, but it’s not going to disappear.’

Leiden MOOCs

Under development:

  • The Global Promise of Federalism (starts in June)
  • Complex anatomy explained and clinically applied (starting date to be decided)
  • Clinical Transplantation (starting date to be decided)

Go to the MOOCs site for the latest news


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