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Why the Coursera Online Course on SEO works


I feel that I have been challenged by the latest Coursera SEO Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that I have done.

I was carefully taken through the detail of what I needed to know by the host Rebekah May from the University of California Davis, earlier quizzes had tested my knowledge as we went along and when it came to the formal quizzes (the ones that count towards your final grade and being able to continue the course) – there was no easy way to pass.

Twice in the module I had to go back a second, or a third time to make sure I had understood something before I could pass the ‘multiple choice questions. This was straightforward: I could listen and watch through all the video content – around two hours worth. Or try to identify the segment of 6 minutes or so that might give me the answer.

I took notes throughout this Coursera MOOC on SEO.

I am an active listener. These are sometimes enough to help me pass the quiz.

In this course the ‘Multiple Choice Questions’ and answers were carefully written and planned. They were a learning experience in themselves. They made you think. It made the learning stick.

For the last part of this module on Search Engine Optimisation I went back five or six times and was forced to concentrate, obliged to properly look at the extra reading and only then did I pass with the requisite 80%. You need to focus. You need to clear your head of other distractions.

Putting demands on the online learner in an online course, such is this MOOC from Coursera, is crucial

I’ve done online courses where 40% is acceptable as a pass mark and doing only 50% of the course is enough to count. This diminishes the learning experience and value.

Finally, the end of module assignment, probably far tougher than had been planned for, really did need the 8 hours as suggested to complete.

Once again, knowing my peer group, I knew that I would not be let off easily so I took my time, took care, did a draft, ‘slept on it’, added to it, checked again, then did my utmost to follow the requirements to the letter to make it easier for others to assess it. How I learn is informed by another Coursera Course from Barb Oakley: Learning How to Learn! I know that effort, that ‘time out’, that not understanding is part of the learning process … you just have to persevere.


Development of the digital ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’


Prof. Gilly Salmon at a Coursera Event in The Hague, The Netherlands

Cousera has ‘more than’ 18 million learners. In her keynote at a the recent Coursera Partners Conference, Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller said that Cousera is  “so much more than a platform, it is  movement”.

It is this very quality that is already recreating the ‘Oxbridge tutorial‘ online because where hundreds of mentors come forward, or are recruited ‘pro them’ to contribute and to take part in discussion, and to view assignments and even ‘buddy up’ with newcomers, part of the joint, collective outcome is ‘tutorial like’. This is possible even where several or even many different people are playing the role of the tutor as they are, as part of a common ‘movement’ ‘speaking with the same voice’.

Understanding how ‘movements’ come about, from the informality of a nebulous Zeitgeist to common political views, lifestyle choices and behaviours and religions would all help to recognise this. Having taken a Masters degree online and completed or taken part in well over 30 MOOCs my experience is that of the insider; as a learner, a lurker and ‘wannabe’ course creator. I have studied online with The Open University, Oxford Brookes University and through many universities on the Coursera, FutureLearn, Edx and Udacity platforms. What’s more, I have being sharing and learning online since 1999 and working in the world of ‘corporate training’ – I’ve been immersed in it for long enough to feel I have some sense of where it has come from and where new developments are founded. Perhaps this experience, knowledge and studying of online learning makes me better able than many to see and imagine where it could be headed.

Mobile is missing from the term ‘Massive Open Online Course‘, yet I’d argue that this too is enabling the recreation of the ‘tutorial’ because it is at the same time ‘intimate’ – two people in an exchange and shared – there are other ears in on the discussion. In ‘micro moments’ throughout the day we carry on multiple conversations through the devices we have in our pockets and bags. I have been part of collaborative groups of four to six people or so who over weeks from our locations on different continents around the world having tackled a problem and even become friends ‘of sorts’. I’d even say we from time to time, like students on campus, ‘broke out’ did our own thing and were disruptive.

I am privileged, for sure, to have experienced the ‘Oxford Tutorial’ first hand as an undergraduate studying Geography – my first degree in the 1980s. In a model Gilly Salmon uses to imply that education has been Education 1.0 (one point zero) and struggles to become Education 2.0 let alone to achieve the goals across nine criteria of Education 3.0′ yet I can argue and provide ample evidence that the collegiate, tutorial system, that has been the Oxford model for centuries (my college, Balliol, was founded in the 13th century) delivers Education 2.0 as its standard. It does this through ‘intimacy’ you are a small cohort, niche in terms of subject, housed in a college of a few hundred that includes the academics: lecturers, senior lecturers and the tenured professors.

It makes me realise too that when it comes to harnessing the power of learning through exchange between two, or a few people the Oxford I know – a model matched at Cambridge and Durham I believe in England, provides much more than just a professor and two or through students sitting in his or her study for an hour per week per topic.

Oxford fosters and nurtures making mistakes, through forming your own opinion rather than regurgitating and quoting back those of others, and in casual and formal debate you ‘construct’ meaning of your own.

‘Collegiate’  rather than campus, staircase rather than corridor in a hall of residence, eating together and ‘doing’ together is all part of this: you don’t just study together in a ‘tutor group’ but you may row, act or be in any of many other groups or associations – it’s the whole package that makes the tutorial possible.

The MA ODE that I did, I am a ‘Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education’ was, like many Open University courses based around a ‘tutor group’. The OU, founded in the 1960s as ‘the university of the airwaves’ to exploit radio and television as platforms for offering higher education ‘to all’ is a distance learning specialist, using course books too, and DVDs, though quickly online, as early as 1992 putting an MBA module online. I personally did a Masters level module entirely online with The OU in 2001. I only returned to complete my MA though in 2010-13. A cohort of 60 in five tutor groups of 12 or so study together for a ‘module’. There might be five modules you need over three to seven years to earn a degree with in my case seven only to pick through (though I have since ensured that I have done all seven). In theory I am on my way to earning an MEd too. It isn’t scalable in the sense of ‘massive’ – some tutors struggle with a handful of students and in the time they are paid to spend with students and marking three or four formally submitted assignments only a few can and want to take on the ‘tutor role’ as mentor and lead educator too.

All of these experiences though, the good and the bad, indicate to me what is possible and what is likely to happen. The nature of MOOCs and their attractiveness to all kinds of learner, from the ‘newbie’ to the Masters student wishing to refresh their knowledge means that ‘the community’ can, like globules forming and breaking apart in a lava-lamp, support multiple tutor groups. Indeed, FutureLearn, does this as they have addressed the problem of massive forums or discussion threads. How do you tame a thread then runs to over a thousand contributions from many hundreds of people? The answer is to support people to ‘edit’ down by their choice those they converse with, enable the picking out of replies personally to you and encouraging a mindset that dips in and out selectively rather than ever trying to follow every word of ‘the crowd’.

Aren’t tutorials one of the most natural human conditions? Is that not what, in part, parenting is? The knowledgeable parent passes on their experience and behaviour to the ’empty’ mind?

23 ways to an e-learning fix

Fig.1 Grab from a BBC Horizon programme on the brain. 2014.

The courses I’ve done with FutureLearn over the last 18 months.

  1. World War 1: A history in 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Medicine and the Arts: The University of Cape Town 
  3. The Mind is Flat: University of Warwick 
  4. Understanding Drugs and Addiction. King’s College, London 
  5. World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism. University of Leeds
  6. Explore Filmmaking: National Film and Television School 
  7. How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham
  8. Start Writing Fiction: Fall 2014. The Open University
  9. Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: The Open University 
  10. World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham 
  11. World War 1: Paris 1919 – A New World: University of Glasgow 
  12. How to Succeed at: Writing Applications: The University of Sheffield 
  13. Introduction to Forensic Science: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow 
  14. Shakespeare’s Hamlet: University of Birmingham
  15. Climate Change: Challenges and Solution. University of Exeter
  16. Managing my Money: The Open University
  17. Community Journalism: Cardiff University
  18. Developing Your Research Project: University of Southampton

Those I’m on or have pending

  1. World War 1: A 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Start Writing Fiction: Spring 2015: The Open University
  3. Monitoring Climate From Space: European Space Agency
  4. Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum: University of Leicester
  5. Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales:  The Hans Christian Andersen Centre

How we create fictional characters in our mind.

How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham [Two Weeks] (3 hours pw)

100% completed

Aimed at undergraduate academics of English Literature, possibly even third year or masters level. I have had to spend more time with the reading than I expected in order to grasp the main thesis relating to ‘Theory of Mind’. It is proving complementary to ‘Start Writing Fiction’ as it shows how we conceive of, and follow imagined and real characters in a world, in our heads, that is always part factual, part fictional.

Here’s where to learn for free about filmmaking …

Explore Filmmaking: National Film and Television School [Six Weeks] (3 hours)

A very practical, grounded course where anyone with a smart phone and a computer can both take production tips from students and experts in the field, while having a go and penciling in a storyboard, adding sound, or shooting a cutting a scene. Thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone with an interesting in storytelling through film or video, or even interest in how series like Game of Thrones or films like Skyfall are made. The language of film is the same, whether you’re using 35mm film or a smartphone. Tell you nephews and nieces about this one. The next ‘presentation’ starts in June.

Where to learn about drugs and addiction

Understanding Drugs and Addiction. King’s College, London [SIx Weeks] (4 hours pw)
91% completed

A serious subject covered comprehensively through short pieces to camera by a team of experts. The rich conversations with every activity feed off some important lessons on addiction in relation, specifically to tobacco, heroin, cannabis and alcohol. The quizzes complement the course: masterfully written to test and reinforce the lessons. With just enough further reader.

Why the mind is flat … in 100 lessons, in 30 hours over six weeks!

The Mind is Flat: University of Warwick [Six Weeks] (5 hours pw)


A challenge in many ways. As Nick Chater carries the entire course, with aplomb, one feels as if you are in the presence of Socrates: there is a dominant voice – his. Perhaps because he is the expert in this niche. That said, there are many interviews, which although he may conduct are carried substantially by the interviewee. The subject matter is mind boggling and breathtaking. If you’re not familiar with the subject it can take a few reads of the transcript to get on top of it. The weekly roundups and better than anything I’ve come across: a comprehensive, reasoned selection of the key ideas and the thinking behind them. The ‘experiments’ are exceptionally good – a treasure to indulge and a surprise always with the results. The FutureLearn quizzes are used less well: too much like multi guess, that multi-choice.

Why I’m loving learning about medicine and the arts

Medicine and the Arts: The University of Cape Town [Six Weeks] (3 hours pw) 68% completed

A couple of weeks to go. I’ve been on track and usually with fellow participants on this exciting, invigorating, inventive and important course. I would hold this up as the standard to copy: a team of contributors, the most senior and influence academics, and many other vibrant educators, health staff, performers and creatives. Most if not all the FutureLearn learning tools are used, so activities include short videos, all professionally shot and modest in length, micro-assignments of 350 that are peer reviewed, well-thought through multiple-choice quizzes, additional reading and of course rich, insightful discussions with fellow participants. The icing on the cake are the glorious mosaic graphics: photographs of a huge mural on the University of Cape Town campus.

Who are we?

From E-Learning VI

Fig.1. © University of Cape Town CC-BY-NC-ND

It has been a lifelong, and rather futile quest of mine expressed in writing and art, diaries, blogs and stories and fed by academic study and non-academic spiritual and cranky pursuits to understand who I am – not what I am. There is in consciousness something rather odd going on that no amount of research into my ancestry, or to living relatives, no amount of writing or painting or visualising of ideas can explain. Is it not a trait of being a teenager to feel alien to the world? Although in my fifties I don’t think the euphoria of being a teen is a phase I’ve yet to pass through smile

This online course from the University of Cape Town has been fascinating.

I could study neuroscience or get drunk and paint a mural on the side of the house like Jackson Pollock, but I don’t think it would get me any closer to finding an answer … even if I had fun doing so. To sum it up for all of us, to excuse and explain all behaviour from Gandhi to Hitler, from Hockney to Terry Gilliam, Richard Dawkins to Robert Winston, I simply think that each of us is unique – yet ironically society and others repeatedly fight to contain us. 

I’ve been prompted to express this by a question posed to participants on the course ‘Medicine and the Arts’ from the University of Cape Town on FutureLearn. 

An utterly absorbing, heartfelt conversation so sympathetically and convincingly shared. Worth of many return visits and further deep study. I’m driven by a limiting interest in everything. My curiosity knows no bounds – which is limiting, as it might be enlightening.

It is easy to visualise the dog chasing its tail, though in my mind, excusing the vanity and narcism of it I see myself more as that omnipresent foetal child from the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

5 Free Online Courses on the First World War from FutureLearn

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.1 The Response, Newcastle

There are several ways to enter thinking relating to the First World War courtesy of Open University subsidiary FutureLearn. Each of the First World War courses takes a different tack: aviation, Paris Treaty, idea of heroism and coming up soon, through one hundred personal stories.

During the recent course on heroism we were asked to share images of out favourite First World War Memorials.

Born and raised in Newcastle my late mother went to the Art School on the other side of the road, then King’s College, Durham. She often talked of this memorial, knew its history and had done studies of it as a student.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.2. Lewes War Memorial

I know Lewes War Memorial as I have lived here for nearly 15 years. As a member of a bonfire society we stop at the memorial every 5th November … so whether there is a centenary or not, we make a lot of fuss about it. This memorial features online where Steve George has pinned every name to an address in the town. This make for very painful viewing as you realise how many households lost husbands and sons to the war.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.3 My late mother and grandfather at the Tynecot Cemetery marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Ypres).

If I were to add a couple of other memorials it would be the extraordinary First World War memorial to mariners at Tower Hill with sumptuous stone carvings around the miniature garden where it is set, and the oddly incongruous memorial to the Machine Gun Corps at Hyde Park Corner which shows the figure of Boy David. I was a standard barer at a memorial to the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Machine Gun Corps in which my late grandfather had served … he was there too, age 94.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.4. The Tower Hills memorial to mariners of the First World War

And most recently, at my daughter and son’s school, I came across this extraordinary mural that fills the assembly hall of the old Grammar School. Surely this achieves its goal of creating a lasting memory amongst students?

Fig. 5 Brighton Grammar School First World War commemoration mural

My First World War Future Learn (MOOCs) … online courses:

Coming up:

World War 1: History in a 100 Stories Follow at #FLww1stories  Starts 13th April. Duration Five Weeks. Study time: Four hours a week.

Completed with repeat dates:

World War 1: Trauma and Memory Follow at #FLTrauma15  Starts 25th May. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Two hours a week.

World War 1: A New World Order (The Paris Treaty of 1919) Follow at #FLtreaty Starts 22 June. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Five hours a week.

World War 1: Aviation Follow at #FLaviation Starts 13th July. Duration Three Weeks, Study time: Three hours a week.

World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism Follow at  TBA. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Four hours a week.

Having completed all but World War 1: History in a 100 Stories my sincere suggestion would be to set aside seven hours a week. I aim to do an hour a day during the week and complete on Friday. I generally achieve this unless I get deeply engrosses in the conversation, or have to go over a point a few times to understand it. Maybe 45 minutes every day then. Skip the discussions and these are easily done: then it becomes akin to watching a bit of TV and reading a few leaflets – not the same as testing your thoughts, and having your ideas tested, turned around, built upon and altered.

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