Attending lectures with students from all over the world. It can be done through MOOCs, i.e., massive online open courses, which are offered free of charge by universities across the globe. The University of Twente has recently joined these universities. Last October, the department of Technical Medicine taught the first ever Twente-based MOOC, entitled ‘Ultrasound Imaging: What Is Inside?’, which can be accessed through the FutureLearn platform. Wiendelt Steenbergen and Ineke ten Dam told us what they learned from establishing their MOOC.
The Ultrasound Imaging MOOC explains ultrasound technology. However, students are also taught how to use this technology in medicine and how a good understanding of the technology helps them improve the medical care they provide their patients. The course load is about three hours per week. After completing the six-week course, students can apply for a certificate stating that they took the MOOC, through FutureLearn.
This, too, is the University of Twente
The University of Twente was keen to start offering MOOCs of its own to show the public at large in what fields it is active. Initially, the Executive Board allocated funds for the development of four MOOCs. “The Technical Medicine department immediately jumped at the opportunity,” programme manager Ineke ten Dam told us. “The MOOC allows us to show our expertise in the field of health care. It allows us to present our university to an international audience, which will hopefully attract new students.”
A whopping nine thousand students enrolled in the UT MOOC. Half of them did actually start the course. “This is very common trend,” said Wiendelt Steenbergen, the lecturer in charge of the MOOC. “Since MOOCs are free of charge and you can take the course from the comfort of your home, students don’t feel obliged to study. It’s easy to take a break and pick up the course again at some later time.” In the end, some three hundred students completed the entire MOOC. “That’s not many if you consider the number of students who enrolled, but it’s a lot compared with the number of students attending my regular lectures,” said Wiendelt.
Linking medical and technological health care
Over half the students taking the course were from a medical or paramedical background, according to the results of the survey conducted before the start of the MOOC. “What was great about the MOOC was that we really linked ultrasound technology to medical applications,” said Ineke. “During Week 1, we introduced five cases. Doctors explained in videos for what purposes they use ultrasound technology, and what kind of problems they tend to encounter. Then Wiendelt would explain the technology, answering questions such as: What is sound? How does sound behave when it meets tissue? How is it reflected? How do you create an image out of signals? It was all explained very systematically. During the final two weeks, we linked the technology back to health care, thus completing the circle.”
The better prepared you are, the more successful you will be
“Preparing a MOOC takes a lot of time, but actually teaching it takes a lot less time than teaching a regular course,” stated Wiendelt. “Fortunately, in preparing the MOOC, we received a great deal of assistance from one of the coordinators, Jordy van Zandwijk, and a multimedia producer, Arthur Veugelers. They saved us a lot of work. Jordy wrote much of the text material and Arthur helped us come up with an attractive way of presenting our material. It takes some getting used to not being able to interact with your audience, so it’s vital that the material is presented in a way that is easy to understand. We asked other lecturers and teaching assistants to serve as beta readers and beta viewers.”
Response to UT’s first MOOC was favourable. “FutureLearn indicated that it was a very strong course, with a high level of education. This is reflected in the assessments we have received,” Ineke proudly stated. Even so, she thinks some aspects could be improved. “When doing another MOOC in the future, I would like to add more exercises, to allow the students to use the subject matter more actively.” In addition, Wiendelt and Ineke recommend designing MOOCs in such a way that they can be used for more than one purpose. Ineke, “Videos, for instance, can quite easily be used in other courses, which makes MOOCs more cost effective.”
Sound basic knowledge
Henk-Willem Veltkamp, a Nanotechnology education coordinator, took the Ultrasound Imaging MOOC. “I do know a little about ultrasound, but I wanted to learn more about its medical applications.” Every week, he spent 2.5 to 3 hours reading articles and watching videos. “I had no difficulty understanding the technological aspects. The tougher part involved watching ultrasound images and analysing them ourselves. The MOOC was not long enough to really turn students experts in the matter, but it did provide me with sound basic knowledge. That’s enough for me.”
Organizing your own time
Henk-Willem did not mind the MOOC being taught in English. “The lecturer spoke English very well. It was a great idea to include practical cases in the MOOC. It really helped us understand the applications of the material.” Henk-Willem was highly positive about the MOOC. “It was a high-quality, well-structured course and the videos were nice and short. I also liked that I was able to discuss things with fellow students using the forum.” How does he feel about this form of education? “It took a little while to get used to. It’s very different from physically attending a lecture; there is no interaction with the lecturer. What is great, though, is being able to organize your own time, although that does require great discipline.”
Sharing your knowledge
To Wiendelt and Ineke, developing the MOOC was a great experience. They now help other lecturers develop MOOCs and other types of e-learning projects. “By sharing our tips, we can help them work more efficiently,” said Ineke. Both Ineke and Wiendelt agree that MOOCs are a useful addition to traditional teaching methods, but that they are no proper replacement for actual lectures and seminars. “Some things must be experienced in the flesh, for instance, in a lab here on campus. In addition, interaction with your lecturers and fellow students is vital. There is more to being a student than just absorbing knowledge.”
UT’s Supply Chain Innovation MOOC kicked off on 11 January. Over the next few weeks, UT will start offering Nanotechnology and e-Health MOOCs. If you are interested in offering a MOOC yourself, please contact Wytze Koopal, UT’s MOOC coordinator.
Want to find out more, or to enrol in a MOOC? Make sure to visit the Courses and lectures UT webpage.