This month we travel to the US and one of its top public universities, the University of Michigan. By partnering with FutureLearn, Michigan furthers its commitment to shaping the future of learning which perfectly aligns with our vision of transforming access to education. Its first three courses on Python, Sleep Deprivation and Successful Negotiation started in October and we caught up with Charles Severance, the lead educator on the Python course, to discuss what makes a good online course and what his first impressions are of the social learning experience on the FutureLearn platform:
I really enjoyed bringing Python for Everybody to the FutureLearn platform. In a lot of ways, teaching on FutureLearn is like teaching an on campus course. By having cohorts that start a few times per year, each time the course runs, we can develop social relationships among learners and between the teaching staff and the learners. Each course session has its own rhythm and over time builds its own sense of community and a bit of a “vibe”. I think that FutureLearn attracts the kinds of learners that want to learn alongside other learners.
FutureLearn is the perfect partner for my “For Everybody” (4E) approach to online teaching. The first goal is to produce a course with no pre-requisites and moving through the course material at a pace that anyone can follow. The learning objectives are constructed so that any learner can achieve them by the end of the course. This means that 4E courses are a great “entry point” to learning new material.
Another important aspect of the “4E” concept is to use 100% free, open and reusable course materials (Open Educational Resources – OER) with an eye to remixing and reusing. The idea is that if we truly want “everybody” to know how to program Python, we need to train new teachers and provide them high quality course materials and tools so that they can go back and teach these topics to younger students in their classrooms. We don’t just need a free course – we need a free set of “publisher quality” materials that are OER.
I have been hard at work developing a series of these courses covering Python (www.py4e.com), Web Applications in PHP (www.wa4e.com), and Django for Everybody (www.dj4e.com). My colleague at the University of Michigan School fo Information, Colleen van Lent, has developed a course in the series called Web Design for Everybody (www.wd4e.com).
One of the goals of a MOOC platform like FutureLearn is to educate everyone regardless of ability to pay or physical access to learning facilities. My courses are intended to remove the barrier of a learners lack of pre-requisite knowledge for topics that need to be taught widely.