Last updated: 19.04.13

UK MOOC 'develops community spirit'

Despite some teething problems, the University of Edinburgh has garnered positive results from its decision to create a virtual learning environment using massive open online course (MOOC) platform provider Coursera.

Initially, the move led to a number of hiccups, but the university soon found that groups of engaged students began to emerge.

Many of these individuals took to interactive forums and social media platforms to discuss subjects such as artificial intelligence, astrobiology, critical thinking, e-learning, digital cultures, philosophy and equine nutrition with fellow pupils.

"There was a very engaged group that began forming a community before the course even started,” Jeremy Knox, a PHD student and instructor on the university's E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC, told the Times' higher education supplement.

He added: “They were using social media to meet each other and were very happy with the idea of self-directing their study. They got it."

Senior lecturer Sian Bayne said she was "astounded" by the amount of people getting online to discuss their course subjects, with the venture's Facebook group alone quickly being used by more than 4,500 members.

A further 700 tweets using the course's #edcmooc hashtag were posted each day on average on Twitter, while on some days this number topped 1,500.

The university said that overall around 42,000 people enrolled on the five-week courses, with approximately 17,000 of that number logging into the MOOC system at least once during that time.

While this represents less than half, Ms Bayne said she is pleased with the numbers.

"Enough people completed it and enjoyed it to have made it an absolutely worthwhile adventure," she stated.

In an article produced for the Guardian recently, Alex Katsomitros, research analyst at the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, said that Europe needs one big MOOC structure so there can in effect be an online university for the entire continent.