Academics call for MOOC content

Academics supporting the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in the UK are calling on publishers to provide more free content. MOOC platform FutureLearn was launched by the Open University last September and partners with 18 universities, including Bristol, Cardiff, King’s College London, Leeds, St Andrews and Warwick.

In January, Edinburgh became the first UK university to partner with the Stanford-based Coursera consortium, which brings together universities from around the world to offer free MOOCs. Edinburgh offered six courses in humanities, engineering and science; 300,000 people signed up for the courses—10 times more than the number who physically attend the university. Edinburgh is currently researching more courses to provide later this year.

Sian Bayne [pictured], senior lecturer in Edinburgh’s department of Higher Community Education, said publishers needed to make more content available. “For teaching teams who are putting together MOOCs, it is difficult because we cannot necessarily use the resources we want to, because they all need to be Open Access. There are a lot of good Open Access modules out there, but a lot of research material we need is on closed platforms.” She added: “I don’t know if MOOCs are on publishers’ agendas . . . There are advantages for publishers, because we are working with such massive numbers. There is a reputational benefit for authors and publishers if they provide free content.”

Academic publishing consultant Graham Taylor said he detected “intense interest” around MOOCs, resembling “the same rampant idealism that was around Open Access”, although the two were very different propositions for publishers. He said: “It is early days for MOOCs. Publishers might want to be part of a programme and have their brand in there, so long as it is not cannibalising sales—which I don’t think it would, because the people who sign up for online MOOCs are different to those on the campus.”