I have been following (and quite enjoying) Dr Dominic Bryan’s FutureLearn course: Identity, Conflict and Public Space. It began last week and runs for the next six – as seems to be the typical MOOC norm. I have joined in (and only completed 1) of about 6 or seven different courses over the past two years. One or two have really shone in my estimation. I just want to reflect quickly and build on an earlier tweet as to what seems to strike as differentiators between them and what makes one over another click for me. 

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 09.45.22One very superficial aspect (but am not dismissing the importance of this in the least) that jumped out with this latest course has nothing to do with Dom’s delivery. The overall aesthetic of the FutureLearn delivery platform has a well thought out minimalistic graphic treatment – and it really works. I find the look and feel light, but extremely airy and intuitively navigable and this does make an immediate and important connection with me. I like looking at the screen. Things don’t feel cramped. It all feel professional and this creates an environment that makes me want to engage with. If I am put off by look and feel at this point, it’s going to be an uphill battle. UX with a site starts here and this site suits.

This is not at all to take away from the instructor/facilitator/coordinator. The introductory video form Dr Bryan (you may have to register to see that one – so do it!) is very important and supremely well scripted and delivered. It’s punchy and gesticulated and this is the instructor being himself and being genuine. There is high production value evident in the shooting as well as the choice of situation.  The quality of video production all around is high quality an this too is a crucial aspect of delivery via MOOC. When I think of the courses that have stuck, those have been ones where the online interaction with instructor has been shot professionally. I know that the ones I have delivered via homemade screencast were undoubtedly a challenge for my own students. However, I’d note that when making ‘amateur production’ bear it in mind and keep the videos short. If you don’t have a camera person, why not use an interactive screen presentation along with an inset of yourself. In the case of ICPS, the quality shows through and makes for great engagement.

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 09.46.25The panel discussion format illustrated above worked quite well as the professional camera work zooms, pans and focusses on the speaker or the interaction between two discussants. Dr Bryan’s questions are well scripted and probe and keep the discussion pertinent and hard hitting. The situation in the Titanic Quarter is inviting and open and feel like the site itself – light, airy and fresh

But the interaction is the real challenge and coupling the video with a asynchronous engagement with the wider community is the MOOC nut to crack. I think that FutureLearn has raised the bar a both on this. The comments are displayed to the right of the main presentation so that the discussion feels to happen parallel. This is a subtle but nice step. There is thus far particularly vibrant discussion and reading a degree of critical mass in this is another aspect for MOOC success.

These are a few quick thoughts. Hopefully I can find a chance to add some more as the course goes on and I find a chance for further reflection. I encourage participation in the course. It’s a keeper.

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