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John Couperthwaite's Design Narrative

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john couperthwaite
26 March 2014

Title – Transforming a traditional teaching course into a MOOC



I was the technical lead in the production of three ‘mini-MOOCs’ (Massive Open Online Course)in my College of Medical and Dental Sciences at the University of Birmingham.



The University have recently joined the Open University and several other Univeristies in a consortium aimed at delivering MOOCs to an international audience. This follows early successes by EdX, Coursera and Udacity in this field. It is seen as an opportunity to boost the institution’s reputation, and ideally attract students onto academic courses. Several potential courses had been selected by the Unversity to represent the ‘brand’. I was responsible for producing one of the first ‘wave’ of MOOCs, on brain neurology, called ‘Good Brain Bad Brain’.



We were keen to produce an academically stimulating course, attract as many learners onto the three-week MOOC, gain positive feedback and potentially encourage a small number onto one of our undergraduate healthcare courses. Even just one student recruited to a course would cover our costs.



-          Identify a suitable course (we needed a course which could be delivered in three weeks but academically attractive and challenging; the GBBB course is a shared undergraduate module, having a level 1, cross-disciplinary audience making it an ideal candidate);

-          Define the likely audience (pre-University and year 1 in any subject interested in brain science)

-          Understand the tools available in the learning environment, and how learners are expected to engage in the course (the website was evolving and no courses were live when we began; our plans evolved with the site; constraints in the site features simplified our design process);

-          Understand the style guidelines defined by FutureLearn (though limiting, these helped create professional media and have benefited our other media production for the College);

-          Recruit a production team and subject matter expert (the academic lead for the module was willing to be involved, but no time was created for her to spend on the project; we therefore relied on goodwill and lots of cajoling);

-          Design the learning sequences (the sequencing is defined by the site features, creating a very linear series of sequences; short videos and discussions dominate);

-          Produce and source suitable learning materials (copyright was a great concern; we therefore produced Khan-style whiteboard video clips, led by the teacher narrating to camera);

-          Publish the content to the FutureLearn site (this was quickly accomplished, though was reviewed and queried at the last minute by FutureLearn on each occasion);

-          Recruit facilitators to assist the teacher (we replied heavily on Postgraduate students to help the teacher with the discussion boards);



Expected outcomes:

The first course attracted over 12,000 learners, and all three together over 25,000 learners. This was an excellent return on one academic lead, one web/video producer and myself working over a couple of months.


Weekly attritition was approximately 40%, actually less then typlical MOOCs.



Unexpected outcomes:

Discussion activity was incredible, with often over 1000 daily posts. This was immensely challenging for the teacher and PG facilitators to monitor and engage with.


The overwhelming praise for the course was very pleasing and somewhat a surprise considering the volume of production input and minimal facilitation permited by the academic team and the clunky discussion board.



-          These courses are not difficult to produce and can create strong educational content for a large number of users.

-          Active engagement with users reduces attrition and improves learner satisfaction.

-          Similar courses could easily be run for distance-based undergraduate teaching, together with CPD.




Extra content

Embedded Content


Yishay Mor
11:01pm 22 May 2014 (Edited 11:04pm 22 May 2014)

Hi John,

We're collecting MOOC design narratives - our workshop on Tuesday -


Would you be willing to add yours to our collection?



john couperthwaite
7:46am 23 May 2014

Yes Yishay, please do.

Best of luck with the event too. I had wanted to attedn but am currently serving notice on my current post before moving on.

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