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MOOCs are great branding for universities. But what are they exactly?

Online teaching — The University of Copenhagen has offered online courses since 2013. The demand for them has skyrocketed during the corona locked down 2020. Now the people behind the online courses want to extend them to the normal curricula.

You can attend 20 different courses at the University of Copenhagen without being enrolled as a student. Online courses organised by the university’s instructors are freely available on the internet.

The 20 courses are called MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses. They are free online courses that are open to the wider public, and over the course of the last seven years, the University of Copenhagen has had 889,966 course registrations.

This large number has accumulated since 2013. But 2020, in particular, was a boom year for course registrations at the University of Copenhagen, with a four-fold increase in MOOC registrations: 196,104 compared to 46,892 registrations the year before.

»In the MOOC world we attribute it to Covid-19. Different organisations use them, in particular, as courses for employees who have been sent home,« says Anne-Marie Mosbech, head of section at the Centre for Online & Blended Learning at the University of Copenhagen.

Education programmes are branding of universities

When the first MOOC course was made available at the University of Copenhagen in 2013, Flemming Konradsen, a professor of global health, and his current PhD student Lasse Jensen, were behind the initiative. They saw a potential in the University of Copenhagen being present online.

»MOOCs have given us a huge reach at the University of Copenhagen,« he says, and adds that the education programmes and the branding are intertwined. The university should brand itself, he thinks:

»We can do this by producing [scientific, ed.] articles and citations and so on. But to market yourself on the basis of a good educational product is a very strong form of branding. This is one of the things that what we want the online courses to do. This was the idea from the beginning.«

The 20 courses represent all six faculties and an information search course for all faculties. 14 of the courses are in the health field and are conducted by lecturers from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

If you want to register for the course, it is generally free. The courses are of varying length. Most of them last between 7 and 25 hours, while one law course takes 40 hours. All of the courses are in English as a minimum, but several of them are also offered in several languages.

During the course, you will face a multiple choice test, and if you answer 85 per cent correctly, you can get a certificate for your course completion for a USD 49 fee.

Online teaching is here to stay

If you ask Flemming Konradsen what we have learned from the online teaching as a result of the locked down 2020, he replies that neither the in-person nor the digital teaching can stand on its own.

»We have become better at understanding what makes sense to put online, and what does not make good sense,« he says.

Flemming Konradsen uses the concept of blended learning – the combination of digital and physical teaching – as a concept to think about the teaching of the future. »It all blends together,« he says.

All the things where repetition make sense, where it can be difficult to grasp the first time: Here it is a strength to be able to revisit a lecture.

Flemming Konradsen, professor

»All the things where repetition make sense, where it can be difficult to grasp the first time: Here it is a strength to be able to revisit a lecture.«

But, according to Flemming Konradsen, online teaching cannot create the same contact between an instructor and a student as the physical classroom.

»As a teacher, it is sometimes difficult online to sense if the students are not thriving, or if they are lagging behind. In the physical space, you can catch someone before they fall.«

In-person teaching has a power of creating a community that does not exist in the digital world.

»People obviously, are dying to meet up socially and academically with others. To be able to see the teacher in person. In this way, we have also found out what it is that cannot be replaced by pure online teaching,« says Flemming Konradsen.

Head of section Anne-Marie Mosbech also sees a potential for MOOCs as a natural part of the University of Copenhagen’s education offering.

»There is potential in considering MOOCs as an integral part of the courses that we already have at the University of Copenhagen. One of the courses, for example – called Origins – covers a whole block of teaching. You use the material from the MOOC as preparation for the teaching, and then you have some teaching that is more activating on campus,« she says.

With the digital teaching material, MOOC organisers hope to be able to »free up time to do what makes sense to do in a physical, in-person space,« says Flemming Konradsen.

Only time will show how things go with disseminating online teaching when the campus starts to open up again in April. You can find the University of Copenhagen’s online course offering, and many other universities’ offerings, on the Coursera site here.

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