First MOOCs for Denmark, European universities sign up

Copenhagen University is to offer four initial massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Already 40,000 students have registered for four courses starting in September and up to 100,000 are expected. MOOCS are beginning to take off in higher education across Europe.

Two other Scandinavian universities – Technical University Denmark and Helsinki – also have MOOCs plans, and for the 2013-14 academic year more than a dozen European universities have announced MOOCs or that they are developing such courses.

Out of 362 courses for the coming year on Coursera, the MOOCs consortium based in California, some 50 are offered by European institutions. École Polytechnique Federale in Switzerland is the European university most advanced along the MOOCs road.

As has happened elsewhere, Copenhagen University has been surprised by public response to its MOOCs. Rector Ralf Hemmingsen pointed out in the university’s newspaper that the 40,000 registered MOOCs students already outnumbered its 38,000 in-house students.

The focus is on developing MOOCs in areas where the university has international research standing.

From September, Copenhagen will offer “On the Nordic Diet: From gastronomy to health”, “An Introduction to Global Health”; “Constitutional Struggle in the Muslim World” and “Søren Kirkegaard: Subjectivity, irony and the crisis of modernity”.

The courses will run over six to 10 weeks. In February 2014 another course will begin, “Scandinavian Film and Television”, and three more courses are being planned.

MOOCs across Europe

Copenhagen University has thus joined the still exclusive but quite rapidly growing group of European universities offering MOOCs, most of them through Coursera.

École Polytechnique Federale, or EPFL, has been running successful MOOCs, notably in computer sciences and programming. It is with the EdX platform, launched last year by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. The University of Geneva is participating in Coursera.

In Spain, IE Business School in Madrid and Autonomus University of Barcelona are participating in the Coursera consortium; in Italy it is La Sapienza in Rome; and in Germany the Technical University and Ludwig-Maximilian University, both in Munich.

In the United Kingdom, the University of London and Edinburgh University are on the Coursera list. In The Netherlands, Leiden is participating in Coursera and the Technical University has joined the EdX platform.

Helsinki University developed and has been running several MOOCs in computer science on its own platform. Helsinki is also the only university that is giving credit for the computer language course SCALA.

Both the SCALA language and the MOOC were developed by EPFL’s Professor Martin Odersky. He has said that of 53,000 students enrolled for the SCALA course in 2012, 10,000 completed and had certificates issued – more students than he had ever taught in traditional classes.

Odersky formed discussion groups and internet forums during the course, attended to by his doctoral assistants, gathering 2,800 discussions and receiving 12,000 posts.

EPFL has now established a master project “MOOCs COCKPIT” that will help lecturers assess how their course is progressing, handling large and complex data with various scripting and visualising techniques.

Together with Technical University in Munich, Technical University Denmark and Technical University Eindhoven, EPFL has established the EuroTechUniversity network aimed at developing a series of ongoing MOOCs covering green technology and the life sciences, targeting professionals with first degrees who are seeking additional qualifications.

European universities are using MOOCs to promote both centres of excellence and some of their most high-profile academics.

In June the University of London is starting “Creative Programming in Digital Media and Mobile Apps” and “The Camera Never Lies”. A month later Munich’s Maximilian University is launching a course on “Programmed Cell Death” and “Volcanic Eruptions: A material science”.

In September Autonomus University of Barcelona will start a course on Egyptology taught in Spanish, and under planning at La Sapienza is a course by Italian archaeologist Paolo Matthiae, famous for discovering the ancient city of Ebla in Syria in 1963, on “Recovering the Humankind Past and Saving the Universal Heritage”.

Edinburgh University is working on a course in “Equine Nutrition” and another in “Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life”, while Leiden University is working on a course in “Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing theory and practice”.

Professor Jaakko Kurhila, head of studies in Helsinki University’s department of computer science, told University World News that the department had prepared a MOOC for computer programming “that serves as an extensive entrance exam. It has proven to be a very viable concept, as it helps to identify talent and enables a flying start for students.

“Other, more generic MOOCs from all over the world can and have been incorporated into higher education in versatile ways. Moreover, many students are already doing a lot of MOOCs for their own benefit, without notifying their home institution. That is smart, and we encourage them to do so”.

The QS university ranking company’s 2013 survey questionnaire asks two MOOCs-related questions: whether respondents think their university will allow MOOCs within the next two years; and whether they think academic recognition will be awarded to MOOCs in their university or country within the next five years.

The results could provide interesting insight into the development of MOOCs globally.

Academy Cube

Academy Cube, which launched last month, is an online education platform under development by SAP, a world-leading software company headquartered in Walldorf, Germany, with offices in some 130 countries.

It has MOOCs running through the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany, in IT systems engineering, and at Leuphana Universität Lüneburg.

Academy Cube is supported by the European Commission Digital Agenda programme and its objective is to tackle youth unemployment by providing jobless youngsters with IT skills via learning management systems.

It is being developed by SAP with Microsoft, Linkedln, Software AC, Thyssen Krupp, the German Federal Employment Agency and academic institutions, and they are discussing MOOC operations with the European Institute of Technology’s EIT IT-LAB, which is a high-priority European ‘knowledge and innovation community’.

Dr Eilif Trondsen of Learning, Innovation and Virtual Technologies for Strategic Business Insights, located in Menlo Park in California, is monitoring industrial MOOCs in Europe. Regarding Academy Cube, he told University World News:

“I think the chances are good that this could be an interesting initiative that will also hopefully advance online learning and perhaps produce MOOCs or MOOC-like learning opportunities across Europe.

“Of course, it will likely be months before we really get a better idea of how well the initiative (and platform) will work, as the pilot or test-bed for Academy Cube apparently will focus only on Spain.”

A coordinated European platform?

Trondsen said Academy Cube might offer “high quality courses that the EIT ICT partners from across Europe will produce, and will help prepare students” for jobs. If the pilot project was successful, “they will hopefully be able to scale up their effort and expand”.

If the EIT was open about the initiative and platform, researchers might be able to learn from Academy Cube and allow comparison with US initiatives such as the EdX consortium, leading to merging of the Class2Go and EdX platforms into a powerful open course platform along with other European initiatives such as FutureLearn, led by the UK’s Open University.

“Such openness and transparency will benefit everyone considering launching MOOCs or MOOC-like initiatives”.

Helsink’s Kurhila is also optimistic about the role of Academy Cube and EIT Labs. The concept of a MOOC, broadly defined, was bigger than the two combined, he told University World News.

“I am not saying that there will be rapid changes in existing universities, but smart people can tap into the potential from a multitude of angles. EIT ICT Labs is a setup that would allow it to become a major player for European MOOCs. It will not be the only one.”

There are several voices for a coordinated European platform to run MOOCs. At a conference at the University of London in February, The New York Times reported Professor John Zvereff of Universitat Oberta de Cataluyna as saying:

“Europe is desperately playing catch-up. The European Association of Distance Teaching Universities is pushing for a European MOOC platform. This seems to be all about the business model.”