MOOCs in the Netherlands by Surf Academy

The SurfAcademy, a program set up to encourage knowledge exchange between higher education institutions in the Netherlands, organised a seminar on MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, on 26 February. Several Dutch institutions have started with MOOCs on various platforms and subjects, so the special interest group Open Educational Resources (OER) of Surf thought it was time to share experiences and open up the discussion for institutions that wish to jump on this fast moving train.

The Koninklijke Bibliotheek does not normally provide education as the National Library of the Netherlands, but we do work together with the Dutch universities (of applied sciences) and we are happy to share knowledge with our colleagues and users. Also, as one of the founding members of the impact Centre of Competence in text digitisation, we were asked to think about how we can best share the knowledge that was gathered in the 4 year research project IMPACT. Perhaps a MOOC would be a good idea?

The afternoon has an ambitious program, but is filled with experiences and interesting observations. I thought the most interesting parts of the afternoon were the presentations of the universities that are currently working with MOOCs in the Netherlands. Those were LeidenUniversity, presented by Marja Verstelle, the University of Amsterdam, presented by Frank Benneker and Willem van Valkenburg on the work the Technical University Delft is doing with their MOOC.

It is interested to see the different choices each institution made for their own implementation of a MOOC. Leiden chose to work with Coursera and TU Delft joined EdX, while Amsterdam built their own platform (forever beta) in only two months and just 20k euro with a private partner. Each have their own reasons for these choices, such as flexibility (Amsterdam), openness (Delft) or ease (Leiden). Amsterdam is the only university that has started its MOOC already with great success (4800 participants in the first week), Leiden plans to start in May 2013 and Delft follows in September.

Another interesting presentation was the one by Timo Kos, both from KahnAcademy and Capgemini Consulting. He shared the results of two projects he did on OER, including MOOCs. As he showed us that MOOCs are not a technical hype, because they use no new technologies, merely combine existing ones for a new purpose. However, MOOCs can be indicated as a disruptive innovation, but as he says in the panel discussion at the end of the day we do not have to fear that real-life universities will be pushed out by MOOCs.

All in all, I thought it was a very educative day with lots of food for thought. Most presentations are unfortunately in Dutch, but can be found on the website of the Surf Academy, where you will also find the videos made during the seminar. The English presentations have been embedded or linked to in this post.

Some of the questions and insights I took home with me:

  • Leiden and Amsterdam chose to create shorter videos for their MOOCs, while Delft will record regular classes. When do you choose which approach?
  • Do you want to use a platform of your own or will you sign up with one of the existing ones? (Examples: Coursera, EdX, Udacity, canvas.net)
  • Coursera takes 80-90% of the money made in a MOOC and they sell their user’s data to third parties. (Do have to say that I did not did a fact-check on this one!)
  • Do you want to get involved in the world of MOOCs as a non-top-50 university or even as a non-educational institute? The BL will do so, by joining FutureLearn.
  • PR of your MOOC is very important, especially if you use your own platform. However, getting a news item on the Dutch 8 o’clock news will probably mean one server is not enough for the first class.
  • The success of a MOOC also depends on the reputation of your institution.
  • Do students feel they are studying at an institute/university or at i.e. Coursera?
  • Using a MOOC towards your own degree is possible when you take the exam in/with a certified testing centre, such as Pearson or ProctorU.
  • If you plan to go into online education, when do you consider it a MOOC and when is it simply an online course?

2 thoughts on “MOOCs in the Netherlands by Surf Academy

  1. Interesting questions, why hasn’t there been anyone yet trying to answer them? Let me start then, hope others will start commenting, too:
    Leiden and Amsterdam chose to create shorter videos for their MOOCs, while Delft will record regular classes. When do you choose which approach?
    ^It depends on the character of the content, and the creativity and finance to increase the ‘information thickness’. Say more with less. Sometimes written texts do this, sometimes animation, sometimes statistics and well made visuals, sometimes the order in which topics are introduced, usw. There is no one formula, but quality should be encouraged and likely content specialists can enter the arena somewhere at some point.
    Do you want to use a platform of your own or will you sign up with one of the existing ones? (Examples: Coursera, EdX, Udacity, canvas.net). ^Likely the big names will have a door policy to ensure/prevent crap recordings (with bad spoken English, terrible soundrecording, amateuristic camera control, usw) made in The Netherlands will not enter these platforms; that is part of the answer I suppose. But I would look forward to have content of http://www.medischonderwijs.nl, with medical step-by-step explanations and well made quizzes and illustrations available through their systems, as I, as most people, like to stick with a trusted party. A new platform has to have a much better proposition to lure me into another new password and login fuzz. Maybe a proposition like: “If you succeed in successfully completing five paid courses of say the University of Twente, you get five free, financed by this and that company that likes to invite you for a Meet Up session after successfull completion.”
    Coursera takes 80-90% of the money made in a MOOC and they sell their user’s data to third parties. (Do have to say that I did not did a fact-check on this one!) ^So far, as a user of Coursera, I haven’t paid a penny for jaw dropping content, and would be happy and even extra motivated if my results would be brought under the attention of a prospect company to work for – and Coursera being paid for the connection made. It’s bad enough at this very moment Dutch universities aren’t able to work together and enable Dutch students to get the best thinkable introductions tot statistics made for them – what a waste of tax/public money, and the student’s efforts to cope with crap content.
    Do you want to get involved in the world of MOOCs as a non-top-50 university or even as a non-educational institute? The BL will do so, by joining FutureLearn. ^Definitely the KB should be involved and definitely non-educational institutes should. There is just too much content out there that doesn’t make it through the universities for some reason, but is too important to ignore to not open it up for the bigger, ready to learn, public.
    PR of your MOOC is very important, especially if you use your own platform. However, getting a news item on the Dutch 8 o’clock news will probably mean one server is not enough for the first class. ^Consult Surf for this, I suppose, and use their cloud solutions?
    The success of a MOOC also depends on the reputation of your institution. ^Not if channelled through a Coursera or Khan Academy and the like. The reputation will be built by the quality offered in the contents of the course. The rest of the reputation will come through other forms of contact with the students, and with so much competition around, first time ever, we may expect the universities to redesign their process and rethink what they really should offer the students with regard to developing the ‘wholeness’ as a person. That is a target that cannot come through only and just online learning but is often related to real people and places, and dynamics.
    Do students feel they are studying at an institute/university or at i.e. Coursera? ^The question assumes there is a latent need for students to deeply feel part of a brand name (i.e. institute/university) but they have no incentive to do so.
    Using a MOOC towards your own degree is possible when you take the exam in/with a certified testing centre, such as Pearson or ProctorU. ^Hope there will come many more with competitive prices for taking exams!
    If you plan to go into online education, when do you consider it a MOOC and when is it simply an online course? ^Rethink the question in relation to the way in which our education system is financed to better judge the relevance of it?
    And KB, please continue in this field, as I think you are the best party to pull all strings together and possibly give higher education back to our society. It has become too expensive for young people now to study at average universities with ofter under average coaching and expensive readers and books (like some of Pearson’s….), and overpaid boards and management, with unclear declaration behaviour. Time to clean up – the tools are there. And keep an eye on the blind and deaf usw. when thinking through what you can do for the broader of society re the tech specs.

  2. Hi Marjanne, thanks so much for your reply! I’d love to start a discussion here. This comment contains my personal views by the way :)

    I agree with you that it would be interesting as the KB to get involved in the wonderful world of online education, but I am unsure whether that would be as the initiator of the course. I also feel our institution has a lot of knowledge to share on many different topics, and we do already contribute to courses of for example the Universiteit Leiden and Hogeschool van Amsterdam. I believe that this is a role that fits our institute more naturally, that of supporting the Dutch educational system and not necessarily being a supplier. This day was set up by Surf and I do hope a follow-up will come, where the three universities can again share their experiences with the different platforms, courses and students when they’ve all run for some time as I am very curious!

    The door policy of the bigger platforms might be very strict, but I think that once an institution decides to go for MOOCs this step forward will not be taken lightly and much time will go into preparing the courses. And, as Delft and Leiden have shown, Dutch universities are accepted on at least EdX and Coursera. It is also possible of course, as one of our colleague institutions in Spain has done, to host a course in the native language. Dutch might not be the ideal language, but it could be worth a try?

    We will continue to keep a close eye on the developments around MOOCs and will surely update here with a new post when/if we take a step in this direction!

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