Section 9: Institutional Issues


Whereas many individuals may need to control the cost of building a MOOC because they have no organisational support, there are many institutions who might consider encouraging staff to build MOOCs if it could be done at lesser costs than those suggested by large institutions who are currently building them.  In such a situation, the institution would need to consider how teaching staff, who have significant domain expertise and good presentations skills might be encouraged to build open courses.  Such teaching staff are unlikely to have the learning technology skills to build courses on their own, in which case the institution needs to consider how it can cost-effectively provide facilities and support to minimise the new skills teaching staff need to learn and minimise their workload while keeping the cost of centralised services under control.

  • The first principle that can be applied here is “division of labour”.  It is not effective to ask people to acquire skills that they will rarely use as they will not carry out those tasks efficiently and they will need constant support.  
  • The second principle to be applied is “simplification”.  Much time and effort is consumed on communication and simple systems that can minimise both communication, and the opportunities for errors will result in significant savings.  This may result in some reduction in quality but it may be necessary in order to achieve significant savings.

Hardware, Software, facilities and Support Services

In an institution it may be preferable to provide a higher specification of hardware and software for content development in a central location rather than upgrade and support the hardware and software on the personal computers of many subject matter experts (SME).  This might be done in a small self-service studio or booth.  Such a studio should be located near to support staff to ensure it is maintained well and so that support is at hand when the SME is using it.  If demand is high, more than one may be justified.
The following equipment might be provided in such an studio or booth:

  • High specification PC.
  • A good quality webcam.
  • A second screen where the SME can keep an open document that can easily be pulled into a screen that is being recorded.
  • The main recording screen may be a “tablet” screen that can be used for sketching or writing while presenting.
  • A visualiser that can be used if the SME prefers writing on paper.
  • A pleasant backdrop behind the presenter (or a green screen for later addition of a backdrop).
  • A simple teleprompter.
  • Another piece of equipment which could be used instead of the visualiser and tablet screen is a light-board. This may be difficult to set up with the above equipment and may need to be installed in a separate location.  This is essentially a large piece of plexiglass which is flooded internally by light using a strip of LED lights around the side, on which the SME writes with a fluorescent marker. More information on this idea is available here:

It is important that the software used for recording is simple.  This could be a simple screen recording system that may record any activity on the computer or recording software that is build into the presentation system (e.g. Powerpoint).  Many institutions are beginning to use lecture capture which allow lecturers to very easily record their classroom activity (screen, audio, video) and automatically publish it.  These tools can also make recording and saving very easy in a studio setting.  Editing tools might well be provided in a recording studio but it might be best if the raw recordings were saved where they could be edited, post-processed and uploaded to the course by support staff.
In a small institution it can be more difficult to provide support for MOOC builders.  It is unlikely that providing a dedicated MOOC support person is justifiable so the support needs to be integrated into normal IT support services.  Several support persons should be trained in using the equipment and software and should also be capable of carrying out post-processing and course assembly work.  A self service support page should be provided with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) which are constantly being kept updated.  When queries come in they should be added to the page and accompanied by a link to a short “how to” video demonstrating the solution which can be very quickly generated.  Queries can come in asynchronously using a help “ticketing” system or via a phone/video-conference hotline, or even in person if the booth is located beside the support personnel.

Division of Labour

To address the issue of division of labour it is useful to ask the question: “What tasks can be removed from the Subject Matter Expert (SME) and carried out more efficiently by others”?.   We will now look at answers to this question under 4 headings.

Instructional Design

To build a MOOC, SMEs need some help from an Instructional Designer (ID).  Bearing in mind that teamwork is expensive we should try to simplify the interaction between these two.   A simple approach to instructional design can help, possibly recommending a simple learning strategy and using templates to get information from the SME.  A template could be supplied where the SME is asked to indicate from a list, the types of learning objects (videos, static documents, quizzes, discussion fora, peer assignments etc.) that they would like to use in their MOOC (after an explanation to the SME of the usefulness of each type – possibly in the form of a recorded video).  This template might also include somewhere for the SME a list of desired learning outcomes with suggestion on what learning objects might be used to achieve these outcomes.  A single meeting with an instructional designer might be enough to discuss this simple design and make recommendations for any modifications if necessary.  It should be noted that templates can be used as well to make the creation of learning objects easier for the SME.  Branded Powerpoint slides which might include animation in the starting slides as well as space on each slide reserved for a headshot may make it easier for an SME to quickly put together shore presentations.  Word documents for assignments or discussions can draw attention to key information needed by an ID to assemble thes on the platform.  Using standard formats (such as GIFT) makes it easy for an ID to import questions into a platform.

Subject Matter Expert Training

Given that the aim is to minimise the new skills required of a SME the following would be required:
Simple Instructional Design skills showing how to define learning outcomes and match with suitable learning objects and assessments (including the use of templates)
Useful simple Powerpoint practices for recording.
Simple use of a recording system using shared storage to pass the recordings on for editing, post-processing and assembly on the platform
It should be noted that it is very useful to certify this training on a competence basis by asking the SME to carry out these activities once on their own in order to verify that they are competent in carrying out the tasks.

Creation and Sourcing of Content

After training, SMEs are expected to either create or source the content for their MOOC.  A shared spreadsheet should be provided with a list of all learning objects and a column where the SME will place a link to open materials available on the web for a particular learning outcome (with an accompanying explanation) or the filename of an object that they have created and saved in a shared online folder.

Video Editing and Assembly

A Learning Technologist or eLearning Instructional designer will be needed to carry out the assembly of the course on the platform.  Working from the shared spreadsheet of learning objects this support person will do the following tasks:

  • Format the course with headings, indicating the learning outcomes of each section.
  • Copy in any guidance text from the SME that has been shared in the storage area.
  • Insert links to external open resources and accompanying explanations.
  • Edit any raw video files provided, removing errors or pauses.  These will then be post-processed and uploaded to a video hosting platform (which can be the learning platform or another private or public platform like Youtube).  Links to the videos with accompanying explanation will be placed in the course.
  • Import any quiz questions into the platform setting up the delivery specifications supplied by the SME.
  • Set up any assignments or discussions specified by the SME.

The assembled course can then be reviewed by the SME and any modifications made.

Quality Assurance

In order to control costs, the following steps are recommended:

  • Avoid increasing the team size and the workload.
  • Accept that there will be a limit to production quality and that errors will have to be accepted.
  • Build the QA activities into the workflow.
  • Certify training to decrease the probability of errors from SMEs
  • Include the MOOC design document as part of the certification.
  • Use templates
  • Use the editor to check for errors and authorise them to fix the problems where possible and to give feedback to SMEs.
  • Be prepared to release the MOOC quickly to get feedback from users that can be used to improve the MOOC for the next delivery (Continuous Improvement)
  • Where possible you should react quickly and fix the problem for the current delivery.

Lean Workflow

To control costs it is important to design a workflow between team members that minimises the overhead of communication and other activities that do not necessarily add value.  This describes an example of how workflow might be designed to enable a SME and an elearning technologist to work together to design and create a course with particular reference to the creation of video lessons.

An overview of a proposed workflow.

The above diagram shows an overview of the interaction between a Subject Matter Expert and support staff in an institutional context.  Although this diagram shows two separate support functions, instructional design and e-learning technologist, often these functions may be carried out by one person who has both instructional design and e-learning technology skills.

Training and Design

The instructional designer should run a training session for one or more subject matter experts to cover the following:

  • An overview of the tools or types of learning objects available to facilitate learning in a MOOC, including advice on their pedagogical usage or suitability for achieving different types of learning outcomes.
  • Advice on using a design template for their course in order to specify the types of learning objects they will use in their course and how they will generally achieve the learning outcomes of the course.

The SME should then work on their course design template and when it is completed meet the instructional designer to discuss it and make agreed modifications.  Depending on what types of learning objects the SME intends to use, the SME will undergo some training on specific tools they will be using, for example:

  • A template for the creation of multiple choice quizzes and questions.
  • A template for the creation of Peer assessments.
  • A template for the creation of discussion assignments.
  • A template for creating a detailed project plan including all objects to be created or sourced, and dates for their completion.
  • Software for creating unedited learning videos.
  • How to use a simple workflow system for passing on materials to an e-learning technologist for editing and assembly.

Content Creation and Editing

At this point the SME should be able to start creating materials according to the agreed schedule which can be passed on to an e-learning technologist.  For much of the content (e.g. quizzes) these may be in the form of Word documents using a template.  A simple way of passing these onto the technologist might be by saving in a shared storage area and contacting the technologist by email.  The support technologist will then take these materials and assemble on the course platform.  For videos, the work involved may be more specialised and this is dealt with below.  The SME will, of course, have the opportunity to examine the content on the delivery platform before the course is launched.

Delivery and Feedback

A low-cost  approach to MOOC creation will necessarily result in a less than perfect course.  However, in the spirit of “agile development”, where a product can be released to the public in a beta format as early as possible, the feedback from the first users of the MOOC can be used as a low-cost testing method that can yield important information for immediate improvement of the MOOC.  If this approach is chosen it may be worthwhile restricting access to the first delivery to a relatively small number of people in order to be able to actively engage with all the participants and solve the identified issues quickly as well as minimise the exposure of an “incomplete” course.  In subsequent larger scale deliveries of the MOOC this “continuous improvement” process should be repeated at all iterations.

Lean Workflow for Video Production

Because learning videos might be considered to the most challenging type of content to be developed, the following more detailed description of a possible efficient workflow is suggested.
In this workflow, after simple training, the Subject Matter Expert (SME), working alone, records short videos.  If the SME makes an error during recording they can leave a small silent gap, and then repeat from just before the error and then continue with the recording.  In general, it is a useful technique for the SME to leave gaps if not working with a script rather than saying “em” as many tend to do.  Either way, the editor can spot these gaps and “em”s later and remove them.  If the above technique is used, one recording take is all that is required, and this can be saved in a shared storage area and an editor is alerted.
In the next step, an editor who is familiar with e-learning technologies, will edit the raw recording, removing any errors and possibly adding a standardised start and end (“top and tail”) before processing into the required format (e.g. mp4).  They can then be loaded onto the desired media hosting platform (e.g. Youtube) and a link created in the course to the video.  In the unlikely event that the raw video is not good enough for editing the editor may need to contact the SME to advise them on how to improve the recording process.
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