Universiteit Leiden

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MOOCs more than online education

Leiden University now offers almost 20 Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). The enthusiasm displayed by participants makes it rewarding to develop and teach such courses, say MOOC lecturers Marlies Reinders and Edwin Bakker. But that is not all, ‘You bring together a global community.’

Marlies Reinders is a doctor of internal medicine at the Department of Kidney Disease at the LUMC and project leader of the MOOC Clinical Kidney Transplantation. This MOOC was launched at the start of 2016, and about 8,000 people have already followed it. Erwin Bakker is Professor of Terrorism and Counterterrorism. He developed and teaches the MOOC Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice. This MOOC from 2013 was one of the first MOOCs launched by Leiden University. More than 100,000 people have registered since and it was recently revised to include the latest developments in the field.

Knowledge of the world

MOOC participants are very committed. Bakker: ‘Professionals from other countries contact me: researchers with suggestions for PhD programmes, police officers who have followed the MOOC and for a while I was even in touch with someone from a Pakistani anti-terrorism think-tank. This exchange of knowledge is great and inspiring too.’ Doctors and students from all round the world follow Reinders’ course. ‘They therefore gain a good understanding of global differences in medicine. In one case study, for example, we discuss two different forms of medication. Someone remarked that neither was available in their country, and asked what the best approach would be. Such a real-life example is very educational.’

Innovation in clinical training

Reinders has been involved in educational innovation and curriculum development for some time already: she worked on the big review of the Medicine programme in 2012. As project leader of the biggest MOOC team at Leiden University, she is on her way to becoming a MOOC expert too. Specialists from all disciplines involved in kidney transplants, from the clinical and research sides, helped develop the course. ‘We wrote about our experiences in an article on how MOOCs can foster innovation in clinical training. For medical professionals in particular, who tend to be very busy, this is the ideal way to keep their knowledge up to date: you decide for yourself when and where you follow the course.’

Inclusive education

The Clinical Kidney Transplantation MOOC is accessible to all: medical professionals, students and anyone else who is interested and has some medical knowledge. ‘Patients or family members of patients also follow the MOOC, so that they can better understand their treatment,’ says Reinders. The language of instruction is English, and as the course is free, it really is accessible to all. ‘You therefore build a global community that focuses on a specific topic. A MOOC is a particularly inclusive form of education, which reaches a very diverse group of “students”.’

Flip the classroom

Developing a MOOC also helped both lecturers in their offline teaching. Bakker uses the MOOC Terrorism and Counterterrorism for a flip-the-classroom approach: his Bachelor’s students watch the online lectures in the MOOC in preparation for seminars. ‘For them the MOOC is an introduction to a further exploration of the literature.’ Based on this experience, Bakker has written a book, which uses literature to further explore the content of the MOOC. ‘The book is useful for students, but MOOC participants can also use it to further their knowledge.’ Since developing the MOOC, Bakker has therefore completely revised the structure of his Bachelor’s course.

Different uses for material

Reinders also uses ‘her’ MOOC in different contexts. Students on the Honours programme in Medicine can follow the MOOC to earn credits, and students who want to participate in the Leiden Oxford Transplantation Summer School must have passed the MOOC beforehand. Certain parts of the course are also used in courses on the Bachelor’s programme in Medicine. ‘And I sometimes use parts, such as a short film, in lectures for peers.’ Reinders believes that the ability to use elements of the MOOC in different contexts is an important aspect of this form of education. ‘Right at the start, before you start developing the MOOC, you should already consider where else you might use the material. You should make as much possible of it, because it takes a lot of work to develop and keep everything up to date.’

Innovation and change

Bakker agrees. ‘The MOOC in Terrorism and Counterterrorism was developed by a small team, but I would recommend to colleagues that they work in a larger group. Then you can make the MOOC modular in structure, which is good if you need to update sections.’ Bakker recently updated the contents of his MOOC, and now makes a separate monthly video in which he discusses the latest developments. Reinders advises anyone developing a MOOC to already think about which contents will or are likely to change, and which knowledge is more or less fixed. ‘It’s not a good idea to present something in a video that will probably soon need to be changed.’

MOOCs for prospective students

Bakker also sees the possibility of using MOOCs to recruit foreign students. ‘You can highlight aspects of your teaching and thus fire people’s enthusiasm for Leiden University or a specific programme.’ It could also be a good idea for prospective students from the Netherlands to follow a MOOC. ‘An introductory MOOC about the programme they are considering will help them decide if the content and level suits them. And they will already come into contact with lecturers and students. I believe that would be a big advantage, and such an approach might even reduce the dropout rate.’

Lifelong learning

Bakker and Reinders are convinced that MOOCs are a beneficial form of education. The MOOCs deliver inspiration, insight and materials that they can use in their offline teaching. And of course, following a MOOC is beneficial to participants too. Bakker: ‘Continuous learning is so important, and MOOCs make it possible.’

Photos: Recording a video lecture for a MOOC in the Online Learning Lab, in het Centre for Innovation at Leiden University.