I Lectured to 27000 Students This Week

Please do forgive the bragging in this post’s title. But I have. I have lectured to 27000 students this week.

Our MOOC went live on Monday and people are still signing up, which is all kinds of mindblowing. From the moment that button was pressed on Monday morning, people have been meeting in the forums, watching our videos, working through our interactive sessions and this has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my career.

The diversity of people on the course has amazed me, from the school kids who help out in animal shelters at the weekend, to people who have real power and influence on a global scale, and what’s more – these people are talking to each other in the same thread.

I have a confession to make. Before this week began, this post was going to be full of summary numbers, bragging, essentially, about our reach. Because I’m really proud of that. But I had always seen the MOOC as a bit of a ‘flash in the pan’. I was pleased it was on my CV, and pleased that it was running, and I was sure our students would enjoy it and would learn something, but I thought MOOCs as a concept were going to fizzle out.

I’ve changed my mind. While advertising the MOOC a little while ago I said it would ‘democratise education’. I was using buzzwords, but I don’t think I was far off. The discussions we’ve been seeing on the forums has shown me that people are genuinely interested in learning science, and will be passionate as they engage with that science. There are people logging on from areas that are threatened with terrible violence. Little girls in countries that don’t have equal rights for women. Yes, it’s ‘just’ an introductory course, but its real strength lies in its community, in the learners who are taking it and using it to build their support networks. MOOCs have a huge amount of power, not because they allow universities to share their research, but because they invite universities into peoples homes.

As somebody who has lived with universities for all of my adult life, I had underestimated this. We might complain about student fees and the business like nature of the modern university, but they are still places of tremendous innovation and power. And I am so, so proud of what our students are doing.

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