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Could a MOOC help teachers master the new computing curriculum?

This summer saw the first run of UEA’s open online course ‘Teaching Computing’. 10,000+ teachers, over 8 weeks, engaged with 80 learning steps and between them posted nearly 15,000 comments. To say it has been busy has been an understatement, but it has been the kind of engaging, thought provoking busy that made me come into education in the first place. I have always believed that the best teachers were also good learners, and that good learners make the best teachers, so the prospect of being able to engage with thousands of teachers was too much for me to resist when the opportunity arose to create the course in 2013. Working in partnership with BT and Computing at School, as well as local advisory teachers and CAS Master Teachers we planned and created the course that went live in February with part 1 and June with part 2.

The project’s primary aim was to help teachers develop the confidence and competence they need to approach the new computing curriculum, but there was also a pressing question for me as a scholar of open online learning about whether this might be a useful way approach to professional development for teachers.

Massive open online courses (sometimes known as MOOCs) have been regarded as higher education’s latest fad by some, many of whom predict the demise of either the genre or higher education itself as a result of the flexible, free nature of the learning. However I was hopeful that its accessibility would appeal to teachers, given that lack of time and the pressures of the day job, as well as financial restrictions often constrains teachers’ abilities to engage in open online learning.

Anyone who has lead a staff development session with their colleagues will know that teachers are connoisseurs of learning, and many have particular preferences about how they would like their professional development to be delivered. This was my greatest challenge.  We know from large surveys of MOOC participants that video is often a preferred learning style. This wasn’t different for this group who reported both before and after the course that video was their preferred way of learning. The learning objects on the course were nearly half videos or screencasts in response to this preference, and interestingly featured in both comments about the participants’ most and least favourite part of the course. Comments in the course also showed a great engagement with the quizzes and self assessments which enabled teachers to check their knowledge and understanding.

We know from our surveys that the course increased participant’s confidence in teaching the new curriculum with the number of participants reporting as feeling confident or very confident nearly doubling as a result of the course. But we do know that teachers still feel they need help on the course, judging by the response to the final self-evaluation and the survey, and teachers identified their professional development needs in ascending order (with the most needed area at the bottom of the list):

  • Subject Knowledge in Digital Literacy
  • Subject Knowledge in ICT
  • Ability to plan effective lessons
  • Awareness of pupil learning strategies
  • Content and knowledge of the curriculum
  • Subject knowledge in coding

The question I began with was about whether this is a useful form of CPD for teachers. Certainly compared to typical completion rates, the percentage of fully participating learners (34%) is well above average for a MOOC and amongst the most successful in the regard of the FutureLearn courses. FutureLearn are attributing this success to the social design of their learning, platform, and while I’m sure this has helped, I think it is probably the grit and determination of the teachers who completed that has led to the high completion rate.

The course has gone some way towards being successful in answering my questions. Overall feedback on the course has been positive and teachers have welcomed the opportunity to learn in flexible ways and become part of an online community. There is still work to be done on providing diverse enough learning materials to suit all needs and on providing participants feedback on their own learning through peer reviews and automated testing. I’m improving and updating the course at the moment for the Autumn run and you can sign up for part 1 here:

Certainly this course isn’t the only way for teachers to prepare for the new curriculum, but we hope it is an accessible way to start to understand what the new curriculum is all about.

Posted by Helena Gillespie on Thu, 2 Feb 2017

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Helena Gillespie is Academic Director for Learning and Teaching Enhancement at UEA and the Lead Educator for the 'Teaching Computing' MOOC run in partnership with FutureLearn.

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