MOOCs and the MSc

Good morning, everyone! We wanted to give a quick summary of the happenings around the University of Edinburgh’s recent joining of the Coursera consortium, which will see a number of academics and programmes in the University developing MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses).

The MSc in E-learning is producing one of these MOOCs, on the theme of E-learning and Digital Cultures, and this is going to run for the first time in January, in parallel with our MSc course of the same name. The development of the MOOC is being led by Jeremy, whose PhD research is exploring open online education, and several others of the programme team are also actively involved (Sian, Jen, Hamish and Christine).

There are many interesting challenges associated with developing a course at MOOC scale, and we’ve reflected on some of these in a recent newsletter article for the UK’s Association for Learning Technology. One of our goals in getting involved in MOOC development is to explore what is possible in relation to both contact and “digital difference” – two themes that are important to the programme team in both our research and teaching. To that end, you may be interested to know that we are planning for MSc students enrolled on the 20-credit EDC course in January to play a significant role in relation to the MOOC – we’re still refining our plans, but suffice to say that if you’re considering taking EDC, this January will be a particularly exciting time to do so!

Ringing the changes: our VLE and blog environments

hi everyone! Hope you’re having a great summer. I wanted to post to let you know about two big changes to our programme environments this coming academic year. You’ll have access to these new environments by the start of orientation week (10 September). In the meantime you can check out all the details in the new Technologies Handbook.

First, the programme has moved from WebCT to Moodle as our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). This is in response to the development of the University’s Distance Education Initiative – all distance programmes now have the option of using Moodle (the alternative would have been a move to Blackboard Learn 9, which replaces WebCT for the rest of the University this year). As before, different courses will use the VLE differently – some very substantively, some fairly minimally. You’ll get all the relevant guidance in your course handbooks in due course.

Second, we have upgraded our blogging environment to the latest version of Elgg, and moved the site. It will be accessed from . The updated site will be available to everyone, but continuing students will also have the option to continue using their existing blogs (we are working on being able to move these into the new environment, but this may not be possible this academic year). The existing site (currently at will be moving next week – stay tuned for more on this.

In both cases, the new environments have a lot going for them – they have up-to-date interfaces and functionality, and new features that we think you’ll appreciate. At the same time, they’ll retain many familiar aspects that we value (discussion boards and course content in Moodle; fine-grained access permissions in the blog). It will take some time for all of us to get used to the changes, but we hope that you’ll find them to be positive ones.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me ( or comment here.

Request for Help

We have received the following request for student input from the University’s Online Distance Learning Group.  It would be great if some of you from the MSc E-Learning Programme could contribute your insights.  We hope that you will all respond to the Distance Education Student Barometer survey, and perhaps some would like to respond further, as outlined below.  If so, we would encourage you to contact Amy Woodgate directly.

Improving the ODL Student Experience – students needed!
In Autumn 2012, the Distance Education Student Barometer (DESB) will be sent out to all current ODL students to gain insight into their overall experience of ODL at the University. This is a very useful tool for general trends and we will circulate further information nearer the time.
However, to supplement this information, we are looking to identify a few ODL students who would be willing to talk to us (either via Skype or email) about their individual experience and gain insight into any issues not raised through the DESB.
If you know of any students, from your ODL programmes, who would have time over August to help, please contact Amy (

Life on Mars?

An artist's impression of 'Curiosity' Mars Rover
The 'Curiosity' Mars Rover

With the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory eagerly awaited in the next few days, you might like to be aware of a close link that we have with the project.  One of the Programme alumni, Hugh O’Donnell, who teaches at Dunoon Grammar School on the west of Scotland, has been doing some great work, along with his colleagues, to  stimulate cross-curricular engagement of the pupils around ideas relating to the potential of a human colonisation of the Red Planet.

You can find more about the work on Hugh’s blog.  A particular coupe, and confirmation that there are some nice people out there, has been the response of one of the NASA scientists, Dr Ryan Anderson, to overtures from the school.  Dr Anderson has agreed to act as a resource for the Children’s work; and has received some goodies in return.

Follow the Mars Curiosity Lander on Twitter.