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Instructors’ experiences with MOOCs: Interview with Prof. Christos Tsinopoulos

Christos Tsinopoulos developed and taught Durham University’s first MOOC (massive open online course). In this interview he reflects on his experience, and current problems and opportunities associated with MOOCs.

Instructors’ experiences with MOOCs: Interview with Prof. Christos Tsinopoulos
Picture: Geralt/Pixabay

Durham University has made its first foray into the exciting realm of MOOCs (massive open online courses).

The free Open Innovation for Competitive Advantage course teaches how businesses can use external and internal ideas (for example from suppliers, customers, and competitors) to increase performance. 

The MOOC is listed in our directory for everyone to discover and join (alongside hundreds of other business courses.)


Course overview

The course takes three weeks and encompasses four hours weekly study. 

The attendees have the opportunity to learn from an experienced and respected expert in the field of operations and project management - free of charge and accessible from anywhere at any time. 

Among the topics that the Durham MOOC on Open Innovation covers are:

  • Processes of Open Innovation
  • Sources of Ideas and Innovation
  • Processes and benefits of supply chain innovation
  • Impact of information on managing the innovation process 
  • Introduction to absorptive capacity and its impact on open innovation

The course has had about 2000 participants so far. It is not running at the moment. The MOOC will start again at some point in 2020.


"It was an experiment that required a lot of learning and that was part of the reason we did it." 

(Prof. Tsinopoulos about the motivation of Durham University to produce its first-ever MOOC)


We spoke with Prof. Christos Tsinopoulos about the experience of developing Durham's first MOOC on open innovation. (The interview is slightly abridged for better readability.)

Edukatico: You developed and delivered Durham University’s first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). How did Durham University decide to produce its first MOOC?

 Prof. Tsinopoulos: The university was reluctant at first so we had to do a little bit of convincing. They were afraid to damage their reputation if something went wrong. 

But we started that because we thought that would have been a good mechanism to learn about the technology but also to promote the research on open innovation we do at Durham University. It was an experiment that required a lot of learning and that was part of the reason we did it; to learn but also to promote our own work.  

Edukatico: How did you personally experience the production of your first MOOC?

Prof. Tsinopoulos: There was a lot of learning to be done. First of all, there was procedural learning. There were two organizations, one being the university and then FutureLearn. Each organization had slightly different expectations that they were trying to achieve. There were also challenges associated with the kind of technology that FutureLearn was using. It was slightly different to ours so we had to learn a little bit about that as well. So there were procedural and technical challenges there but nothing that could not be relatively easily overcome. 


"When you are teaching a MOOC you need to be not just concise, but simple."


From my perspective as an educator, I had to learn to speak slower, I had to learn to be able to articulate often very complex messages in three minutes, I had to come up with exercises that were self-evaluative, that did not require someone behind it to be able to do the assessment formerly. So there was significant learning there but overall it was a very interesting experience that fed into my other types of teaching.  
I‘ll give you another example. When you are delivering a MOOC, you need to articulate messages much more concisely. When I am holding a lecture I have one or two hours to explain a topic. But when I am teaching a MOOC, I need to articulate the message much more concisely. That’s one way. Another way in which I learned a lot is about the assessment through multiple choice questions. And not only how to assess but also to encourage learning through mutliple choice questions.What I learned from the MOOC is I had to push myself to think how I can ask questions to students that require not simply memorizing questions but that make people think before they answer a multiple choice question. Another key thing is that I had to think very carefully about how to communicate complex messages to a non-specialist audience, not just people who have an academic background. When you are teaching a MOOC you need to be not just concise, but simple.  
Instructors’ experiences with MOOCs: Interview with Prof. Christos Tsinopoulos
Screenshot/Edukatico

Edukatico: Will MOOCs be a game changer in higher education or is that an exaggerated expectation?

Prof. Tsinopoulos: No, I don’t think that they will be a game changer because the education sector is changing as well. It is difficult to determine whether the education sector is changing as a result of MOOCs or whether MOOCs are the result of changes in the education sector. Online education has been around for quite some time. For instance, we are now recording all of our lectures at Durham University. We are posting our education online. We are doing all that stuff which maybe five to ten years ago would have been seen as a part of the MOOC environment. But we are not doing it because of MOOCs. We are doing it because this is how things are changing. Nowadays, students are expecting a Youtube style education. Both MOOCs and the education system are changing simultaneously, that is what I’m trying to say. 


Top tips for getting the most out of MOOCs: 1. Keep an open mind. 2. Watch the MOOC all the way until the end. 3. Try MOOCs on random topics. 4. Interact with other learners.


Edukatico: Do you think that distance education will rival attendance study in the future?

Prof. Tsinopoulos: The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that unless traditional educators keep up with the newest developments the answer could be yes. For instance, we are designing modules for students who are at Durham University. We are designing modules where some of the teaching happens online and then students come to the classroom in order to interact and solve exercises and that kind of stuff. So if we fail to adjust to the new expectations the answer would be yes. But my honest answer would be no because we are keeping up with the times.

I‘ll give you another example. On my MOOC, we have videos where we explain what absorptive capacity is (absorptive capacity, it is one of the concepts of open innovation). In my normal class, I use the same video and then ask my students to come and discuss the content of the video. We are trying to experiment with those ideas where we use technologies to boost the classrom experience as well.

Edukatico: Will MOOCs lead to more equality in higher education or could they even aggravate existing inequality? 

Prof. Tsinopoulos: I think they will lead to more equality. There is a little asterisk here and that is part of the reason why Durham University was reluctant to offer MOOCs. Universities are getting a bit risk averse about evaluating and giving degrees based on the outcomes of MOOCs. So that can be a barrier to equality. Unless MOOC providers are able to demonstrate that when someone goes through MOOC education they actually know what they claim to know then universities will be reluctant to issue degrees. Unless that happens the equality gap may not close. To me that is an open question. It can go either way. 


MOOCs are useful, but you need to manage expectations.


Edukatico: What, in your opinion, are the downsides of MOOCs? 

Prof. Tsinopoulos: They are amazingly costly for people to develop and run. So unless there is a strong case for having MOOCs, educators might start getting a bit reluctant to do it. From my personal point of view, one of the obvious things that we found is that there is a high dropout rate. A lot of people sign up but by the second week participation goes down. It could be that this is because the MOOC is not interesting but I don’t think that this is the reason. The motivation gets significantly reduced

And the final thing is that MOOC providers are trying to oversell what they do. I have seen students that are applying to Durham. They think that because they have completed some sort of MOOC they have higher chances of getting accepted. That might be the case but that is not formalised anywhere. Some of the MOOC providers have told them that this is the case. The applicants are in for a big shock when they hear that MOOCs don't help them getting into university. What I’m trying to say is that one needs to manage their expectations and make sure that people know what they are in for

Edukatico: Do you think that completing a MOOC in a relevant subject can help school leavers with university application?

Prof. Tsinopoulos: If I were to see a personal statement that only said „I completed a MOOC,“ then no. But when the statement says „I saw that MOOC and because of that MOOC I learned something, which then inspired me to apply for a course at university x,“ then probably yes. Because that shows you spent time seeing the MOOC; you learned from it so it shows critical thinking. But simply the completion of a MOOC is probably not enough. By the way, the same holds true for degrees. Rather than simply telling your prospective employer „I’ve got a degree, give me a job,“ say how your degree developed your skills and how that makes you a valuable employee.

Edukatico: What is your advice to MOOC participants to make the best of their learning experience. 

Prof. Tsinopoulos: First of all, keep an open mind. Watch the MOOC all the way until the end and also try MOOCs on random topics. Try to interact with other participants because that is how we learn. Most of our effort went into designing the exercises, not the videos. The videos have a lot of effort but much of the effort was designing the exercises in a way that if the candidates engage through the MOOC they learn from the exercises. That is my strong advice.

Edukatico: Thank you so much for this interview!


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