Category Archives: MOOCs

Can anyone be an entrepreneur?

We had the chance to ask Sir Richard Branson a question at a ‘Mentor Me Branson’ event held at Newcastle University in March 2015.

Katie Wray asked the panel: ‘do you think any type of person can be entrepreneurial?’

After Jimmy Cregan and Sir Brian Souter answered here’s what Sir Richard Branson said:

I’ll try to be a bit more controversial.  I think that if you have got an idea that can make other people’s lives better, but you think I’m not necessarily entrepreneurially bent, I would say just forget that thinking and just try it. And I do think that, most people, if they try it, they’ll learn about it, and they may not become a serial entrepreneur, which is not necessarily a good thing, they may just want to specialise in that one thing that they have got a passion for.   So I think most people ought to be able to become entrepreneurs, if they put their mind to it.

We love this answer and will be exploring the theme of “enterpreneurial mindsets” further in the early stages of our  Enterprise Shed: Making Ideas Happen course.

Katie Wray (Lecturer in Enterprise) is the lead educator for the four week course starting early in 2016.


Wallsend’s Wonky Wall

In between posting comments on our Hadrian’s Wall course,  Dr Rob Collins has been out and about on the Wall itself.


“Yesterday I had the privilege to visit and examine recent excavations outside of the Roman fort at Wallsend, Segedunum. A recent grant has allowed Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) and the WallQuest project to explore a stretch of the Wall curtain just northwest of the fort and the bathhouse to the southwest of the fort.

The stretch of Wall curtain is extremely interesting. As you can see from the photo, this stretch of the curtain is best described as wonky!   But this wonkiness, and detailed examination of the stonework reveals vital information. For one thing, there was a stream that the curtain crossed (which thanks to recent rainfall is very visible in the photo) and which ran behind the Wall. This stream seems to have destabilised the land on the eastern side of the stream, and made the Wall lean and probably collapse. You can see this from the very sharp angle of the lowest building courses in the picture. Subsequently, there were a number of rebuilds of the Wall curtain in this area, which canbe broadly dated with pottery. This seems to show that the curtain of the Wall was repaired and refurbished until at least the later 3rd century.

Wall excavations

The bathhouse has been excavated over recent weeks, and this is the first bathhouse along Hadrian’s Wall to have been excavated under modern standards. Only the lowest courses of the building remain, as the bathhouse seems to have been dismantled or demolished around 1814 when it was encountered by builders. The remains of the walls of the structure reveal a number of phases of activity,  proving that the Hadrianic bathhouse – that is the original bathhouse – was in use and adapted over at least a century, possibly more.

Results will be published in due course (though this can often take many years from completion of fieldwork), but for those that live locally, there is a conference in South Shields on Sat 14 November, where Dr Nick Hodgson will present the results of the excavation to date.”

Translating education offline to online – Katie Wray on building The Enterprise Shed

The video presentation from Katie Wray (below) outlines her experience of translating classroom entrepreneurship education to an online course. We enjoyed working with Katie on delivering ‘The Enterprise Shed’, the third of our FutureLearn courses. Here she describes the process we went through and the pleasing results.

See also “A toast to post it notes” for more details on how we planned the course together as we sought to make things as collaborative as possible.

Writings on the Wall

We asked some of the Wall experts you have met during the Hadrian’s Wall MOOC to each recommend 5 books on the topic. This is what they came up with. There is duplication and difference in their choices. You can suggest other books or add thoughts/reviews on those below through the comments.

 David Breeze:

1. S. Johnson, Hadrian’s Wall, London 2004  – offers a general introduction (available on Amazon)
2. D. J. Breeze and B. Dobson, Hadrian’s Wall, London 2000 – This is the basic text book on the Wall
3. D. J. Breeze, J. Collinngwood Bruce’s Handbook to the Roman Wall, 14th edition, Newcastle 2006  –  this is a detailed guide-book to the Wall (available at  and Amazon  – discounts available from to FutureLearn learners – if you contact them by email or phone)
4. P. Frodsham, Hadrian and His Wall, Newcastle 2013 – examines the relationship between the Wall and its builder (available on Amazon)
5. D. J. Breeze, The Frontiers of Imperial Rome, Barnsley 2011 – places Hadrian’s Wall in its international context. (available on Amazon)

Frances McIntosh:

1. D. J. Breeze, 2006. J. Collinngwood Bruce’s Handbook to the Roman Wall, 14th edition, Newcastle (available on Amazon)
2. D. J. Breeze and B. Dobson 2000. Hadrian’s Wall, London
3. E. Birley 1961. Research on Hadrian’s Wall (available on Amazon)
4. P. Bidwell (ed) 2008. Understanding Hadrian’s Wall, Arbeia Society (available on Amazon)
5. P. Hill 2006. The Construction of Hadrian’s Wall, Tempus (available on Amazon)

Lindsay Allason-Jones:

1. D. J. Breeze and B. Dobson 2000 (4th edition) Hadrian’s Wall. Penguin
2. Richard Hingley 2012, Hadrian’s Wall: a Life. OUP (available on Amazon)
3. W. F. Shannon 2007, Murus ille famosus (that famous wall): Depictions and Descriptions of Hadrian’s Wall before Camden. C&W Tract Series XXII. Kendal (available on Amazon)
4. L. Allason-Jones 2005, Women in Roman Britain (2nd ed.) CBA (available on Amazon)
5. L. Allason-Jones 2008, Daily Life in Roman Britain (Greenwood World Publishing). (available on Amazon)

Rob Collins:

1. D. J. Breeze and B. Dobson 2000. Hadrian’s Wall, 4th ed, London: Penguin
2. P. Bidwell (ed) 2008. Understanding Hadrian’s Wall, Arbeia Society (available on Amazon)
3. N. Hodgson 2009. Hadrian’s Wall 1999-2009, SANT & C&W (available on Amazon)
4. R. Collins. 2014. Hadrian’s Wall and the End of Empire, Routledge (paperback ed – a bit of a vanity, but otherwise very little coverage of the most interesting late period of the Wall) (available on Amazon)
5. S. Johnson 2004. Hadrian’s Wall, London: History Press (available on Amazon)

We also have a downloadable reading list (pdf) of primary and secondary sources

A toast to post-it notes (for learning design)

A learner from the Enterprise Shed (Newcastle University’s third MOOC) shared one of his favourite TED talks, in which Tom Wujec, a designer who has studied how we share and absorb information, explains how he watched many people try to effectively describe and solve a ‘wicked problem’, such as the best way to make toast.

What was the most effective approach Wujec found?  Getting people with a range of skills to work together with post-it notes and paper to perfect the workflow. Interestingly he suggests it is even more effective when they work silently.

MOOC design

This struck a chord with us as we tend to work in similar ways when designing our MOOCs – though our team rarely work in silence (maybe something to try next time). We take cues from the JISC ViewPoints project and constructive alignment to plan and assemble each week of the course. With the academic team, we establish the audience, our motivations as well as those of the learners to clarify the aims and outcomes. We then use rolls of brown paper to create a course timeline, writing down what the learners must be able to do at the end of the course and for each week that they couldn’t do before they started. We ask how we/they will know they have attained this learning (some form of assessment in the loosest sense) and then plan activities and content that will get them to that point.

Post-it notes have the great advantage of being movable, whilst also allowing multiple people to contribute and collaborate on the whole. This is something Wikis aim to allow (though not always successfully). Started with pen and paper, rather than technology, helps us collectively produce something we can use very quickly and without many of the restrictions electronic tools tend to entail. As my colleague Nuala says, technology can get in the way at this stage.

Once planned on paper, we have found that using Trello is a bit like using post-it notes online, but with added ‘to do list’ and project management functionality. After planning on paper and in Trello, we then create the shell of the course in the FutureLearn platform. This helps visualise and restructure further, before testing on willing guinea pigs, and changing the design again. The bits we change and iterate the most tend to be the highest quality and most positively received elements of our courses.

MOOCs and collaboration

MOOCs themselves can become great collaborative spaces. We had many wonderful contributions from learners on our courses. For The Enterprise Shed, this was one of the lead-educator Katie Wray’s aims. The whole course was a bit like a World Cafe. We did as much as we could with the tools available to aid collaboration.  We crowd-sourced ideas links and videos (including favourite TED talks such as the one at the start of this post) . Learners also shared  designs through Padlet, another free collaborative technology which is a bit like paper and post-it notes. This is a great tool for sharing, but it could do with a commenting feature to facilitate feedback on posts.

Learners were able to gave each other feedback on ideas through comments in discussion and through the peer review tool in the platform.This was a really valuable element of the course, and something we would like to do more of.

Making MOOCs more collaborative

One of the tension for us with our courses at present is that the busier they are (the more active users) the harder it is to track what is going on in discussion boards, both for us and for the learners. It would be great if learners could tag posts so that people could find like-minded people and relevant posts more easily.

Small group discussions are coming in FutureLearn, but it will be wonderful if tools within MOOCs could be developed to aid the formation of groups around shared interests. Better still if we could have tools to collaborate in a way more like being in a room with paper and post it notes. We could really make a virtue of the Massive in MOOCs if we had these tools.


In the first week of this course we have been delighted have our distinguished Visiting Professor David Breeze, as a guest expert. As many of you will know, David’s jointly authored classic ‘Hadrian’s Wall’ (written with Brian Dobson) and his edition of the ‘Hadrian’s Wall Handbook’ are the most widely read studies of the Wall ever published.  You’ll see David’s contributions in steps towards the end of week 1.  We particularly liked his statement “…part of the fun of the study of Hadrian’s Wall is that certainty is difficult to achieve..” – no doubt a theme we will revisit as the course unfolds!

To hear more from David you can view the panel discussion we recorded last year on “Why build the Wall?”

Video length

On location at The Wall.

On our second run of Hadrian’s Wall we’ll be using this blog to address some of the frequently asked questions that arise on the course.  A couple of learners have asked about the length of the videos.

You’ll find that all of our videos are under 5 minutes in length. That has been done intentionally so that no single step requires too much time. While this can be disappointing for a topic you are interested in, it works very well in practice, particularly if you consider the course in full with approximately 20 steps in each of 6 weeks.  The short videos also force the educator to distil in a clear way what the main points are.

We know from research (eg this paper from Philip Guo) that when videos are longer that learners can lose interest.  If you’d like to read a little more about some of our thinking on building the course have a look at our blog post on Educational Vodka.

Jack Fisher’s story – becoming an ultra-lapse film maker


We feature clips from many enterprising people in the Enterprise Shed. We haven’t always had the opportunity to expand on their stories and how they made their ideas happen. One person featured is Jack Fisher ( a Newcastle graduate who now specialises in motion-based Time-Lapse photography.

We love Jack’s work. See Newcastle in Motion for example.

Jack has always been interested in films and time lapse photography. His hobby has become his business in the last year. So how did he make it happen?

His advice is to just get out there and do it. Jack noticed that there were not many people making time lapse films in the UK and Europe. He was given a new film camera for his 21st birthday which he used to make a short film about the town he grew up in (Bath). He showed it to some city councillors who were so impressed that they commissioned a longer version which went viral. Jack has been inundated with work since then.

Jack used the Internet to research how to make these films. He says he was then in the right place at the right time, but the important things were having a go and showing people what he could do.

People are really getting into ShedTalk!

The Enterprise Shed: Making Ideas Happen is Newcastle University‘s third free online course on FutureLearn. It started today and runs for four weeks with around three hours a week needed to keep up. Or you can join anytime before Sunday 26 April, and work through it at your own pace.

I’d really encourage you to sign up and take part whilst the course is running though, as this course is a little different to the two we have developed and run previously. The Enterprise Shed is almost entirely dependent on learners interactions and participation.

It’s you that will make or break this course, and it has been really encouraging to see how readily people are connecting, sharing experiences, helping each other, and sharing ideas so freely and openly.

After only a day it’s turning out to be a really inspirational space to be in.

If you haven’t signed up, there’s still plenty of time. Come and join us in The Enterprise Shed, and help others make their ideas happen, as well as get support to develop and refine your own.

You never know, it might be the start or something new for you….