MOOC Madness

Image taken from

I have been watching with interest the recent growing storm of new sites, courses and the associated discussion and debate surrounding MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses. I think its fair to say that MOOCs are currently the Zeitgeist educational technology trend. I don’t intend to share too many of my own thoughts on the subject in any great depth in this post except to say that I think, as with most innovations, that there are some exciting aspects to the MOOCs concept that I think need to be seriously considered by educators but also that  it is important that we see through some of the hype (and there is lots of that) that is being thickly troweled onto these systems. Sure, there seems to be lots we can learn from the implementation of MOOCs, I’m particularly interested in how these things scale (or not!), but much of what I have seen so far ‘grates’ against what I know to good pedagogical practice. Watching videos and completing online quizzes seems to be the de rigueur delivery and assessment model in many MOOCs. Is this really the best we can do today given the technology at our fingertips?

Anyway, regardless of this, I am still excited by the possibilities of MOOCs but am really seeking something better which is why I was pleased to see a recent article in Forbes entitled “Unishared: Revolution in Online Education Beyond Coursera, Edx, and Udacity” [you can read the first part but the rest seems to be behind a paywall]. The article focusses on a new system, Unishared, developed by Clément Delangue (which I have not even looked at yet but that’s not really the point). What I really liked was the quote at the top of the article by François Fourcade, Scientific Director at CIRPP (Innovation and Research Center of Pedagogy in Paris), Researcher at CRG Ecole Polytechnique of Paris, and professor at ESCP Europe (wow!) in response to the question “Why is there an eminent revolution about to happen in the way students learn?”, François said:

“For three main reasons. First, the teaching activity must be focused not only on the content, but more on the student learning processes. Second, the  teaching activity  must develop not only positive contents, but also soft skills and what we call “meta competences” such as the ability of oneself to feel that he or she is  actually learning. Finally, at the end of the day, the teaching activity must ensure a life-long employability of the students.”

Abso-flippin-lutely! This quote exactly sums up my thoughts on learning and teaching and what is also clearly absent from most MOOCs. It’s hardly revolutionary is it? I would hope that any half decent educator would read that statement and think…”errr…and…so what?” but in the context of MOOCs this would be, in my opinion, a massive leap forward. If these crucial elements can be integrated into an online system such as a MOOC then I think we will have made huge progress. But how can this be done.

Having spent a few minutes playing with UniShared (and to be fair it has only been a few minutes) I don’t think that this  is the platform which will revolutionise MOOCs, and to be fair to UniShared that is not what they are claiming.  There model is to build a social learning platform using Google Docs which allows online course participants to more easily collaborate. I see this as one piece of a larger online learning system but I’m not convinced that we have anything which is joined-up enough to provide the experience described by François Fourcade yet. I might just have to go and build it myself.


Using Games to Enhance Learning and Teaching – The Book

Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to co-author a chapter in a book about using games in learning and teaching. I’m happy to announce that the book is now published and available to buy from Routledge directly and Amazon.

I think this is an excellent book, but I would say that! The book is written for educators of adults rather than younger learners (who seem to have been well catered for in other other publications) and specifically for those who have little or no experience of using games in the classroom. Sceptics should also read this book!

The book opens by laying out the pedagogical rational for using games and then illustrates how game principles can be applied effectively in education. The rest of the book provides practical examples and case studies of where games are currently being used in the classroom.

If you are interested in games and learning, I heartily recommend the book. If you are interested in innovation in teaching and learning, you should also give it a whirl.

Here’s the link. We’d love to know what you think.


This week I was invited to present a webinar to a group of academics residing at a multitude of universities from across the USA. The event was organised by Jason Rosenblum of St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas after a discussion which was started on the website. I presented a variation of a talk I gave at IEEC10 in Cardiff, entitled “Alternate Reality Games for Enterprise Education – Bridging the reality gap between simulation and authentic experience”. You can listen and watch below:

April 2011 Webinar on learning in ARGs with Simon Brookes from Jason Rosenblum on Vimeo.

Porthampton City is growing!

When I first started developing the idea for my enterprise Authentic Learning Activity (ALA), which is set in the virtual city called Porthampton, I always had a vision that the city would expand to contain more “properties” than the small number that I initially “built”.  This sounds like a rather daft statement – what do I mean?

My vision is that other teachers (within my university or externally) would decide to develop similar units, using the same ALA principles, but rather than re-inventing the wheel, and developing the whole thing from scratch, they would set their activity within Porthampton also.  This opens up lots of exciting possibilities, including:

  1. Sharing of common resources such as the Porthampton Council and Porthampton Bugle websites. So, for example, any teacher could write and publish any number of  stories relevant to their own context on the Bugle website.  This would also have the effect of increasing the content richness of these sites, which in turn means they end-up looking and feeling more realistic (I tried to do this myself initially by adding content which was not at all useful for my students such as the Porthampton FC weekly match results).  Why is this advantageous? A site like the Porthampton Bugle that only contained information that was relevant to the unit’s context would look contrived (and I am trying to make this look as realistic as possible) but also I think it is important that the students have to work at seeking-out important information whilst filtering content which may not be so useful. It is cognitively more challenging and encourages them to think more deeply about the context.
  2. The potential for students to collaborate across programmes and institutions.  My ALA  students are learning basic business knowledge and skills and putting these into practice by dealing with a simulated client (a rather dodgy clothes shop with lots of problems).  With careful coordination I can imagine a scenario where students, who for example are participating in a web design ALA, might work in collaboration with my students to quote for and build a website for this client too.  My students would have partly answered their brief by recommending that they develop a new web presence for the client whilst the web design students would develop the site.  Another example might be to engage students from a journalism ALA unit to develop and put into to operation a PR strategy for the same client (the Porthampton Bugle site would provide the perfect platform for delivery of this).  I love this idea of students having to collaborate professionally in this way – it really extends the traditional classroom based learning paradigm.
  3. Each ALA is likely to be fairly unique, each requiring at least one new business or organisation to be “present” within the City.  This will mean more Porthampton based websites which can be inter-linked and added to the growing city map.  The simulated environment becomes so much richer for participating students as a result and the richer the environment the more realistic it feels.

I can announce that we have two new ALAs currently in development by academics who are really excited by these possibilities and who are therefore building their own scenarios within the walls of Porthampton City.  One is at Leeds University and will be a social enterprise unit and the other is at Abertay University and is related to health sciences.  How cool!  We are currently developing the new ALA’s in collaboration and, although it is early days, have some exciting ideas about how we can start to blur the boundaries between each of them so that the students will interact with each other.

Both new units will run in 2011-12 academic year so watch this space.  I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, if you fancy developing your own ALA unit please get in touch.  There’s lots of real-estate available in the City, the planning process is a doddle, rents are cheap and we’d love to have you.

The Mayor is waiting for your call. 😀


    Essential Tools for Entrepreneurship 2.0 – HEEG 2010

    I was lucky enough to be invited to speak on a panel at this recent HEEG conference.  HEEG partly funded my project to develop an Alternate Reality based unit so a big thanks to them for that.  The slides are,as usual, on slideshare:

    Radio Interview

    Last week (Sep 9th) I was asked to do an interview on ExpressFM, a local Portsmouth radio station.  I’m always happy to talk about my work to anyone who will listen.

    Here’s the interview in full with the presenter Sally Cronin.

    Don’t laugh!

    National Enterprise Educators Awards 2010

    I was absolutely thrilled to receive a “Highly Commended” award at this years IEEC conference in Cardiff.  My award was in the category of Enterprise Educators and was given for my work on Authentic Learning Activities .  A great night was had by all.  Thanks very much to the team at EEUK and NCGE!

    Shortlisted Group

    The NEEA Shortlist

    Award Winner

    Yours Truly with the Highly Commended Award (cheese!)

    You can find out more about the awards at the IEEC website: