‘MOOCs are close to my heart,’ stated UCT’s Vice-Chancellor, Dr Max Price at the launch of Writing Your World, on 18 September 2017, as he commended the MOOC design team, and described MOOCs as a priority for VC strategic funding.
Writing Your World is the tenth UCT MOOC designed for learners. It is a free online gateway course preparing students to meet the academic demands at university, particularly in relation to academic writing. It runs over four weeks on the Coursera platform and has been designed jointly by staff in the Language Development Group (LDG) and the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT).
‘This is a first for CHED and will be useful to people across a very broad spectrum,’ announced Assoc Prof Ermien van Pletzen.
The Acting Dean of CHED, Assoc Prof Madiba noted that the launch celebrates innovation and hard work over the past two years. He sees this MOOC’s potential among high school learners and their teachers, some of whom may have different views of academic literacy. He commented, ‘The curriculum states that learners must be able to develop advanced language ability to function. The problem is with the way it is translated’. He sees the MOOC as helping students transition from high school to university.
Similarly, Dr Price pointed out that marketing the MOOC to high schools could improve students’ performance and success rate at university. He added, ‘It is one of the ways that the university is adjusting to the students, rather than simply expecting them to adjust.’ He emphasised that we need to think differently about learning modalities to reach out to the new generation of students.
Furthermore, Dr Price envisions that offering a MOOC from the African continent could promote African scholarship and be one vehicle to ‘reverse colonial education’. He found the course themes of ‘identity’ and ‘mobility’, through which writing skills are taught, particularly interesting for their global relevance.
Locally, the MOOC comes at a historic time when students are calling for free education. From a UCT perspective, Dr Price noted that ‘The reason we’ve been involved in it as well, is in response to education that is free. These are resources that are part of promoting social transformation and social justice’.
Indeed, the key purpose of the MOOC is to democratise access to higher education. For this purpose, the MOOC team will be working in tandem with the Schools Development Unit to further widen access, by reaching out to high school teachers and students, specifically at high schools in Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain.
It is noteworthy that the course platform, Coursera has its own App, which allows MOOCs to be accessed directly via one’s smart phone. Ms Walji from CILT noted that MOOC videos can also be downloaded and accessed offline, especially for students who do not have frequent internet access.
In terms of appeal, the statistics on the Class Central website show that three UCT MOOCs are presently in the top 50 in the world. It is the VC’s vision that Writing Your World will make an impression on the continent and further afield because of its topical themes, and gain as much traction on the international stage.
Article by Dr Aditi Hunma
Photographs: Top Right: UCT Vice-Chancellor, Dr Max Price; Middle left: Acting Dean of CHED, A/Prof Mbulungeni Madiba; Next left: The Writing Your World MOOC Team (from left) Dr Cathy Hutchings, Dr Aditi Hunma; Dr Moeain Arend and Dr Gideon Nomdo.