What we can do with MOOCs?

Following the launch of the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) of the School, the E-learning Team interviewed Dr Bruce Cheung, an instructor of the MOOC, titled Buddhism: Diamond Sutra and World Peace, on Thursday, 31 January 2019. As the Senior Programme Director of the College of Life Sciences and Technology, he shared his views on MOOCs and his valuable experience in MOOC development of the School. Below is the record of our conversations.
How do you view e-learning in the School?
Our School plays an important role in e-learning in the region. In 1999, HKU SPACE pioneered and invited some University of London graduates to develop the SOUL platform, a SCORM*-compliant learning management system. In 2000, we introduced artificial intelligent induction (machine learning) and outcome-based (task-based) learning in online course development under the SmartTutor system with which teachers were guided to use a top-down approach to setting up online courses. The system was featured by the deployment of adaptive learning and encryption technology in e-book content. Under adaptive learning, learners were advised with their personalised learning paths based on their prior knowledge and learning progress.
In 2001, we launched a 100% online course titled Diploma in Database Management. Positive feedback was received. We also conducted an online experience survey which was not very popular at that time. In 2003, in collaboration with the HKU Faculty of Medicine, HKU SPACE developed another online course supported by SmartTutor on sex education. Students interacted effectively with overseas tutors with the aid of technology such as online forums and chatrooms.
In 2004, we worked with an education centre on the testing of e-book content development with favourable results. With the trend towards open sources, the School’s learning management system was migrated to Moodle in 2008. As you can see, HKU SPACE has always a pioneer of e-learning in terms of technological deployment and pedagogical innovation.
How do you view MOOCs?
The development of MOOCs at HKU SPACE could have been earlier. The emergence of the MOOC came with the move of a number of world-class universities putting their open courseware online for free access. I consider a MOOC platform on which massive and open courses can be established, developed, and delivered. Open courseware’s transition to MOOCs is natural. A large number of distinguished professors on a great variety of topics place their content online in the form of quality MOOCs.
What are the lessons you have learnt from the MOOC development?
There are a number of points I want to mention. Firstly, we need to get ready for the MOOCs; it is very critical to our School. With the MOOCs developed, we can show the public our outstanding courses and topics. Secondly, we need to choose the best teachers of the topics to develop high quality content. Thirdly, timeliness is imperative; we need to produce MOOCs on hot topics in order to attract more learners. Fourthly, we need to choose topics that demonstrate our leadership in these areas, like Chinese medicine and acupuncture. For instance, traditional Chinese medicine works such as Treatise on Exogenous Febrile Disease <<傷寒論>> can be chosen in MOOC teaching and course delivery.
Regarding MOOC speakers, they should have rich teaching experience, and should be well-prepared and present the course content in a clear and concise way. In addition, they should also have a passion for teaching and be able to identify the key performance indicators of learning.
Lastly, the design of MOOC activities is vital. It includes the proper selection of reading resources, meaningful design of teaching-learning materials, and systematic construction of assessment methods. Learners who take the MOOCs may have a higher expectation than traditional face-to-face programmes, as most MOOCs only last 6 weeks. Therefore, a well-designed course structure is essential.
What are the challenges encountered?
Some topics about religion are very sensitive to certain people and/or religions. To remain neutral, therefore, we have been careful about the ideas and information introduced to the course.
As a MOOC teacher, what is your advice to other Programme Teams or teachers who may wish to produce similar courses?
The first advice is about the choice of topics. As Fintech, information technology, health care are well developed in mainland China, we may not have much competitive advantage in MOOC development in these areas. We had better shift our target students to the West and the Asia Pacific region. Topics like Buddhism, Chinese Medicine and Start-up Business can be favourable to the West and other places outside Hong Kong.
For teachers who want to produce MOOCs, they should expect that there will be long content preparation and video shooting time. For Programme Teams, as experts and top-notch teachers in their disciplines and fields will be invited to produce MOOCs, the Programme Teams must budget for paying the teachers.
*SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model.