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Sixth form students give us their take on MOOCs

A set of students from Ousedale School in Newport Pagnell and Olney in the UK are using a MOOC on FutureLearn to strengthen their university applications and become more independent learners.

Ousedale School students from left to right: Harry, Emma, Robin, Sam and Joe
Ousedale School students from left to right: Harry, Emma, Robin, Sam and Joe

After hearing about FutureLearn and the Begin Programming course in particular, two computing teachers signed up for the course and encouraged a handful of their best students to join the course and learn alongside them.

One of the teachers, Doug Abrams and four of the students, Robin Stephenson, Harry Hawks, Emma James and Edward Dean talked to us about their experience on FutureLearn so far and the impact that it could have on their future.

So, what do they think about the course ‘Begin programming: build your first mobile game’ course so far?

Harry thought that “the first week of the course was quite straightforward. They eased us in slowly and it was focussed on installing software where we all helped each other. Now we have got really into it, it’s great and we’re already starting to come up with our own game ideas. I have been surprised how effective it is to learn online”

It soon became clear, that one of the most important benefits of learning a course on for sixth form students like these was its ability to make them stand out among the thousands of other students applying for the precious university places each year.

“Taking a course on adds to our personal statements and gives us something to talk about when applying to universities. It gives us some real world experience” said Emma.

Mr Abrams highlighted another trait that would appeal to admissions officers saying: “It shows students as independent learners who enjoy the learning experience.”

He was keen to see this spirit of self-reliance extended to every step of the course and the preparation for it. He said: “Our technicians at one point asked whether they should install android for these students and I said no. Installing the software is an important part of the course, it teaches students to be independent learners.”

“FutureLearn offers a more grownup approach to learning and encourages the students to be more self-motivated which is exactly what the universities want to see.”

Robin agreed saying: “I am interested in learning things about computing that we don’t necessarily cover in class. The fact that I can also put it on my CV is nice considering the fact that it is pretty hard to find jobs in today’s economic situation.”

The Ousedale students were being encouraged to ask questions and discuss ideas with people other than their teachers and classmates as part of the Begin Programming course. Age barriers were diminished and, where these 16 and 17 year olds might normally turn to those older than them for help, they were often the ones offering help to a wide variety of people on the FutureLearn site.

Edward said: “I don’t feel like there is a barrier with age. I don’t feel like I shouldn’t be helping people that are older than me. I don’t think anyone really cares about age on the course, whether you’re a teacher or student or professor.”

The students also felt more confident as a result of the course, with Robin saying: “It is good to know that I am learning at the same level as lots of other people.”

So, could this be the future of learning for staff and students across the world? Mr Abrams said: “I see this as the future of my subject area in terms of delivery.”

And as for students studying for their A-levels and starting to think of venturing to university or stepping into the working world, perhaps FutureLearn and its partners’ courses could offer them the platform they need to step up and above the competition.

Student, Emma, said that FutureLearn is: “Interesting, enjoyable and an opportunity to gain an advantage in a competitive world.”

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