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Learning Design for Online Ed: An Interview With Gilly Salmon About Her Carpe Diem MOOC

The video below is an interview with Professor Gilly Salmon, who has been a guest before talking about her extensive research in online education and pedagogy and what she has observed about MOOCs so far. Now, the first MOOC that she is leading is about to launch. “Carpe Diem—Learning Design” starts on March 10, and we took the opportunity to discuss some of the differences between course design for “traditional” online learning and for MOOCs. We also dig a little bit into the resources that were required to build this MOOC.

Carpe Diem Learning Design

Dell Inc. via Flickr

As I pointed out during her previous visit, Professor Salmon is the author of a foundational text on distance learning, E-tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning, which is now in its second edition. She is currently the Pro Vice-Chancellor of Learning Transformations at Swinburne University of Technology, in Melbourne, Australia.

The sign up page for Carpe Diem-Learning Design is active, and you can read more about the research being done at Swinburne University on Professor Salmon’s blog.

Some excerpted highlights from the interview are below the video player.


On the subject matter of the course:

It’s about learning design. It started off ten years ago as a research project looking at how we can get teams together to very quickly and effectively do future-looking design, either blended or entirely digital courses.

I’ve been publishing the Creative Commons handbook for Carpe Diem design for some time. But lots of people said, “We’d like to have a way of actually trying it out and understanding it better.”

. . . .

It starts out by developing a blueprint . . . . We help you work out what the key components are of your course up front just in the same you would if you were building a building . . . . It may seem a complete blinding flash of the obvious to do that, but . . . people don’t do that. They launch straight into doing the course without doing the design first.

We then encourage people to look at the various components of the course. In the second week we’ve got storyboarding. You can do this for building a fantastic online course. You start with the end in mind. . . . You work back to the activities that the learners are going to do. And only then do you turn to the content. So we’ve kind of turned the process on its head. We get people actually doing storyboards for their groups . . . . That’s a rare joy to have someone critique your work, because you’re often doing that completely on your own in the middle of the night.

We’re hoping by the end people will actually go away with their action plan and quite a lot of the e-tivities built.

On how the E-tivities framework applies to this course:

What I write about is based on a simple scaffold of cohorts working through material together in an active way. We’re used to small groups working together with a facilitator, the person I call the e-moderator. That wasn’t really possible where you’ve got thousands of students. But we’ve done our best. We’re going to put everyone in groups of 25. We’re pretty certain that colleagues will have a good go at . . . experiencing group work online for themselves so they can ascertain how they can transfer that understanding to their students.

On the teamwork approach to course design:

The typical thing is people try to do it on their own, but Carpe Diem design is about involving subject librarians, knowledge advocates, people who understand social media and learning technologists as well. You put a team together to do this quickly.

Why do this in MOOC form?

Quite simply because we wanted to spread the word. . . . We know [Carpe Diem] is a fabulous way of changing the world of online and blended learning, too, and we simply wanted to get it out there. It’s always been an open process anyway. . . . We really thought [the MOOC] was just a fantastic way of opening it up to the world and getting feedback on it and building on the process. The opportunity of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people trying out the process to critique it, as researchers, it’s just made in heaven for us.

On the differences between a MOOC and other online classes:

[The main difference is] working out how can have the feedback component, how we can have the facilitation component, kept as light as possible for the volume, because it obviously wasn’t possible for us to allocate a facilitator for free for every 25 students.

On choosing the learning management system:

It’s too soon for me to give advice, to be honest. We’ve been very happy for certain types of MOOCs using the Australian Open2Study platform. We’ve done five with them, which are running well. But they’re on things really showcasing our subject areas — things like robotics and physics and chemistry. . . .That’s fine, but they were very much based on really good video and discussion boards. I thought they worked well for short courses that were a quick intervention. . . . But it would have been ironic to try to teach collaborative learning design in teams through that method.

We use Blackboard as an LMS across the university, so our learning technologists and ourselves were very familiar with it. We run a lot of courses on it, so that’s why we decided that we could probably make the best of the affordances of Blackboard rather than try to look for a new platform. So it chose itself, really.

On resources needed to build and run a MOOC:

We were designing a brand new graduate certificate in learning and teaching entirely online, and we developed the MOOC in parallel with that and used more or less the same team. I suppose it’s passion more than anything else that’s driven us on a daily basis . . . . I suppose in a way we’ve diverted resources and done it as far as possible as part of our regular job and our regular workload rather than brought in a whole lot of resources from somewhere else. I suppose there’s been an opportunity cost since we’ve done that and not something else.

What does the university get out of offering classes for free?

We are launching a graduate certificate which is for academic staff at the same time. We think it could lead to course registrations. I don’t it’s a major driver, but I’d be very surprised if we don’t pick up a few people who will know about Swinburne and our high-quality learning teaching offerings . . . .

But otherwise I think it’s really an experiment in massifying the work that I’ve been doing on a somewhat smaller scale until now. And we have a research unit that’s interested in these things.

We really do need to experiment with these things. I don’t mean experiment on people. But it’s a way of developing ourselves to have the chance to try things. And Swinburne is an innovative place and wants us to have the opportunities.

A lot of our registrations have been from our own staff, as well. Every university in the world knows that to inspire your own faculty to take part in any form of professional development is probably one of the hardest things we ever do . . . . That in itself would make it worth it for me.


Robert McGuire (52 Posts)

My content marketing services firm provides all-in-one external staff solutions for companies looking to grow their business through thought leadership. I started MOOC News & Reviews in 2013 out of a fascination with the economic, demographic and technological forces impacting edtech, online education and higher education, and I wanted to provide a forum for serious discussion of this new phenomenon. I love building communities of writers engaging in lively critical dialogue about emerging issues.