One of the challenges of developing a course in FutureLearn is ensuring the content and activities engage rather than overwhelm your audience. The participants have no exam to pass and they haven’t paid a fee. They will have varied education background and different levels of English. Some may be approaching the subject for the first time, others may have a great deal of knowledge. They can leave the course at any time with no repercussion and the only thing likely to keeping them on task is intrinsic interest in the subject.
We know from the statistics we see from FutureLearn that If a video is too long, if a step requires too much scrolling, or if a week has too many steps (more than 20) you will lose a good chuck of your audience. At the same time, we want to facilitate deeper understanding and do justice to the complexity of the material.
Ian Haynes, the course leader for Hadrian’s Wall now views the challenge as ‘making every second count’. Rob Collins, working on the same course, describes it as, not dumbing down, but ‘distilling the essence of the learning, like making educational vodka’.
Educational vodka Recipe Ideas
We are very much still learning but we think the following can help:
Signposting and calls to action. The learner (participant) needs to know what is coming and what is expected of them. FutureLearn often mention ‘Calls to Action’, which in marketing terms is what viewers need to do (sign up or buy something). In FutureLearn make it explicit that the learner should read the article, watch the video and them discuss what they have learnt, take the quiz, or do something with the information
Focus on the key learning outcomes (this will help plan activities). At the same time make sure they are initially presented more like a documentary TV series, with “hooks” and possibly even a 3 act structure. Documentaries start by capturing the viewers’ attention, creating curiosity as a teaser for the rest of the series. Why did they build Hadrian’s Wall? What was it for? How might the skull have been found in the ditch etc. What are the obstacles to answering these questions? In Act 2 of a documentary, the protagonist attempts to resolve the problems, before a resolution in Act 3. It is interesting to think who the protagonist could be in a MOOC. It could be the teacher, academics, the discipline, or the subjects of a study (eg the Romans and Barbarians), but would it be more engaging if it is the learner (participant) who faces the challenges and overcomes at least some of the obstacles themselves?
Journalists use Inverted pyramid writing, presenting the eye catching important information, and the “who, what, when and where” first, and the detail further down.
Less is more. Keep articles and videos as short as possible. In essence, what does the learner know at the start and what do they need to do/discover to get to the next level of understanding?
Balance of activities and engagement. Make sure that there are steps within activities that allow the learners to discuss, self-test or do something. Provide prompts in the form of questions that encourage reflection
Making the Most of the Steps You Have
Each week’s content in FutureLearn is broken into activities which themselves consist of a series of steps. Each activity starts with an image and 230 characters which does not itself count as a step. Use these 230 characters to introduce the content and hook the learner
You shouldn’t put all the answers in the text and videos. The aim is for the learner to engage with materials (not passively receive all the answers). You can gradually reveal information through well facilitated discussions, whilst giving learners the opportunity to interpret evidence you give them, or show off their knowledge if they are more expert. If they make mistakes, that is part of the learning. Other learners as well as moderators can help the best answers float to the surface and steer others back on track. Peer reviews can serve a similar function
Articles and video steps can have additional files (pdfs) attached as well as links to websites. This can be a great way to give extra information to people who may be interested in finding out more. They should not be used for core material
There are weekly emails sent to participants as the course runs. These can be more responsive to learners, again offering links to answers or further opportunities
You could keep an external blog that runs during the course to provide additional information
Live events that take place during the course (eg Google Hangouts) not only provide a sense of interaction between learner and facilitator, they can provide additional content and learning as well. For one Hadrian’s Wall challenge, we are considering using a live event as a ‘reveal’ for an activity with a debate.
Quizzes are 1 step in the platform, but have an introduction page and can have further information and images as part of each question. Could an article be reformatted as an interactive case study style quiz? Could this be a more digestible way of working through the content, checking understanding as you go?
We were extremely grateful to the Senhouse Roman Museum for their hospitality and patience as they hosted a visit from us last week.
The Museum has a great location, with fine views over the Solway Firth – it holds examples of altars, monuments and sculptures most of which come from the Roman fort and settlement at Maryport. (A bonus in the summer months the modest entrance fee includes a tour of the excavations).
Our mission was to interview the site director Tony Wilmott, capture pictures and record students at work in the Roman Temple Project Excavation. Our crack Digital Media Team: Kevin, Stephen and Helen got to work identifying good filming locations and setting up equipment.
Lunch time gave a chance to meet some of the team of archaeologists, many of whom are Newcastle University students. We noted considerable trade in cake from the Museum shop. Clearly cake is as important as sunscreen on site!
Then, a short walk from the museum to the site, to a crafty viewpoint on top of the excavation mound to view the activity at work. Ian skilfully summaried the work to camera before the team were let loose with hand held cameras to film students close up.
We are working with all three faculties here at Newcastle University to produce one course each for delivery on the FutureLearn platform.
All three are now in various stages of production, and our picture research, propping and copyright skills are being tested fairly regularly. For the first time in a long time I am bringing all my experience from all of my career history into use in one delightful and slightly mad course development, production and delivery whirlwind.
All of us are bringing our varied experiences to bear in the team – we are very lucky to have serial MOOCer Nuala working with us with her accessibility experience, and Mike’s calm and measured approach to applying online and distance pedagogy to MOOC development is keeping us all grounded.
Our hybrid project management approach seems to be working, though perceived by some to be slightly unorthodox, we all think we have the right checks and balances in place.
I thought it might be fun to share some of the unusual requests that have come through our office in the last couple of weeks, without (yet) giving away what it is we are actually working on…. public course announcements come a bit later.
So far, we have been asked to:
find a human skeleton (easy, I used to work in the medical school)
find a primate skeleton
buy a very large roll of bubble wrap and a lot of clear parcel tape
employ two compliant actors
source a magic embroidery machine (and operator)
engage a local leatherworker
get packed lunches for 20
mind a large lump of reproduction silver
encourage academics to challenge everything they know about learning and teaching
carry a set of Roman tools around campus, several times
get permission to use a digital reproduction of Raphael’s Transfiguration from the Vatican
think carefully about Game of Thrones and the indyref
Below is the process we are using to ensure we have the correct permissions to use materials on the the FutureLearn platform
Checking/obtaining rights for existing materials:
1. Check the item and associated web pages to see if consent has been granted, for example as a Creative Commons licence that tells you under which circumstances it can be used.
2. If needs be, contact the individual or organisation asking for permission. We have a template from FutureLearn. You need to be confident that the organisation or individual owns the Copyright of the complete materials
3. If permission is granted, ensure that you save the correspondence for future reference. For FutureLearn courses, we also record information to an asset register.
Commissioned or purchased materials need to purchase worldwide rights in perpetuity to be used on the FutureLearn platform
Record the permissions have been granted and keep any correspondence (for FutureLearn, this will go in an asset register
Video materials are essential to distance and on-line education and can transform campus based teaching (see for example flipping the classroom). The filming process is both enjoyable and challenging. Whilst much can be done with simple technologies (web cams, screen-casting software and mobile devices) a film crew (such as Newcastle’s Digital Media Team) can produce polished, professional material.
Planning the filming is essential and will save time and improve quality in the long run. Start by understanding what the video brings to the learning. You can then plan each shoot in detail. Finally, do not underestimate the logistics in bringing everything together.
Plan the learning
Ensure you know what each clip is trying to achieve. What exactly does the learner need from the clip? What will the learner know/be able to do after the clip? What will prompt the user to view the clip? eg watch this video in order to answer a quiz, or participate in a discussion about a particular question.
What steps/activities will set up the learning and follow up on outcomes. Will there be a discussion/test or assignment? what should the learner be thinking about whilst watching?
Remember that people are unlikely to watch long clips. 5 minutes is a maximum for most MOOC participants, but aim for less. Catch their attention in the first 15 seconds
You will need an accessible alternative eg a transcript of the text. This will also help people who don’t necessarily need it for accessibility reasons (for example so they can read it on the bus, make notes on the text etc)
Planning each shot
The film crew need to know exactly what you are aiming for, including what kind of shots, what style and who will be involved. A storyboard and/or detailed textual description will pay dividends
Try to scout the location beforehand and use a mobile device if possible to try out some of the shots and see if they work.
Screen tests for performers can save time later. The film crew can help get the best performance
A script in outline or storyboard can help all participants understand what the shot is about. Who will talk and what about? How long will people speak for? What objects/scenery will they will refer? This helps the film crew plan the shot, and the performer(s) deliver, even when you want them to improvise during filming
As a rule of thumb, allow an hour to shoot a five minute clip. This will depend on a variety of factors, but several takes may be needed and it takes time to set up equipment
Establishing shots help give the learner context, for example, by showing people arriving at the scene, showing a building from the outside. This prepares the viewer for what they are about to see and here eg by explaining why there is background noise so that viewers expect it and then ignore it rather than being distracted by it. Allow time for this
If time, plan to shoot from a range of angles to provide a more interesting sequence. Don’t forget to shoot enough variety of cutaway shots – this can include wide (establishing) shots of the location, shots of hands as people talk, etc.
Allow extra time if detailed shots are required eg a close up of an artefact in a museum
Sequence of the shoot – plan the location shooting to reflect a logical order based not on the final product, but on the most efficient use of resources and travel / location set up
Allow extra time for cutaway shots eg a shot of something relevant that an interviewee is talking about. Cutaways also allow the video to be re-cut in different ways to allow for mistakes in interviews, taking bits out and so on, without having a choppy looking video as a result
Remember that whilst reality TV and documentaries make things appear spontaneous (almost as if they were shot in take), in fact it can require planning, multiple takes from different angles and even scripting to produce something watch-able and seemingly natural
Shot logs – ensure that someone is logging the shots, takes, how it fits into the bigger picture and any potential issues that the post production team might need to be aware of
When arranging transport, allow space for equipment as well as people (crew, academics, any students attending).
Permission for filming must be arranged with the organisation responsible for the location. Keep a copy of documentation related to this permission safe
Remember that Copyright may apply to things in shot eg the cover of a book, an artwork etc
Allow plenty of time for editing after filming. You may also need additional images and footage (with appropriate Copyright clearance) to be cut into the sequence
Editing – think about the pace and especially if dialogue driven. People generally don’t like to watch one wide shot of two people talking for a long time without any close ups of the speaker / or ‘noddies’ of the interviewer
Keep it short. Make every second count
Remember to have a transcript or alternative that gives some meaning to the text.
You can host materials in Youtube or Vimeo, and there can be very good reasons to do so, but the University has a streaming service ‘NuVision‘ giving you more control over the video and who can see it
Many thanks to the Digital Media team and Steve Herron for their input.
A lot awful lot of work has been going on behind the scenes following the University’s announcement of our partnership with FutureLearn to deliver free online courses, starting with our first course on Hadrian’s Wall.
We have a great team in place for this, our first venture into MOOCs and we were really pleased to get “Team Hadrian” together for the first time on Friday.
You don’t have to be around Prof Ian Haynes and Dr Rob Collins for very long to appreciate their enthusiasm for Hadrian’s Wall and what it tells us of the rich picture of life on this Roman Frontier. Our Digital Media Team (Stephen, Kevin, Helen and Dave) will be adding creative juices to bring relics and places to life; and Mike and Suzanne are on hand to pull it all together and offer advice on structure, narrative and engagement.
The day’s agenda covered a close look at the FutureLearn platform; discussion of filming practicalities; and a chance to further refine ideas on content to fit our goals and objectives. As is fitting with a project involving new and ancient frontiers the team moved seamlessly between YouTube, GoogleDocs, BaseCamp and Post-it notes.
Sometimes it is more effective to represent figures in graphical form. One form of representation that is tricky to get right is proportional sizes of shape (square or circle) to illustrate the difference in size. For example, if you want to show one figure is twice the size of another, it is easy to create a circle that has a diameter twice as long as another, but this will be more than twice the volume, thus misrepresenting the difference.
The form at this link from think outside the box helps determine the correct relative size for shapes. You can then produce proportional shapes with an art package or PowerPoint to create your graphic.
This is one example showing the sizes of legions, cohorts and Centuries within the Roman army