Indians love philosophy, football: online courses draw them to top university | education | Hindustan Times
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Indians love philosophy, football: online courses draw them to top university

Of the 2.2 million participants in Edinburgh MOOCs, an average of 7% of overall participants have come from India

education Updated: Jan 18, 2017 16:50 IST
Prof Sir Timothy O’Shea, principal and vice chancellor of the university, is currently researching massive open online courses or MOOCs.
Prof Sir Timothy O’Shea, principal and vice chancellor of the university, is currently researching massive open online courses or MOOCs.(Handout)

Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, known for its research, is attracting a number of Indians through its massive open online courses or MOOCs. And they’re logging on to learn lessons on two vastly different themes – philosophy and football!

Of the 2.2 million participants in Edinburgh MOOCs, an average of 7% of overall participants have come from India. This translates as 150,000 overall enrolments and 75,000 active participants across all courses on all platforms used by the university, including EdX and Coursera.

Prof Sir Timothy O’Shea, principal and vice chancellor of the university, who is currently researching MOOCs, expresses surprise at the Indians’ interest levels. For Coursera’s Introduction to Philosophy, Indians comprise 6.1% of 33,6298 visitors and 12,3189 active learners. For Football, More Than a Game by FutureLearn, 9% of 619 joiners are Indians. “High school students join as learners asking what it might be like in university as they don’t have philosophy in school,” he adds.

Involved with e-learning for a long time O’Shea says he was “lucky” to be in Stanford in 2012 when the first successful MOOC was done to reach more than 100,000 people.

And there have been no end to surprises. The best course completion numbers were logged at Edinburgh University’s MOOC on Introduction to Equine Nutrition. People “came from all over. It was a bit obscure, really, and we thought the reason was that a majority of people who were doing it had a horse and everybody was serious. They wanted to have a better understanding of how to feed their horses or alternatively they were interested in serious veterinary studies. So it had very good retention,” he says. On future MOOCs, using the ecology metaphor, O’Shea’s view is that they will fit into the university ecology. It will be like the important lecture series on campuses but with more access for anyone who chooses to attend. He also expects MOOCs to be included in undergraduate courses.

At Edinburgh, video material from a MOOC with Nobel laureate Peter Higgs (he of the Higgs Boson fame) on understanding of the Higgs Boson was used for one of the university’s UG programmes.

MOOCs will also be increasingly used with flipped classrooms, predicts O’Shea. Lectures are going to be recorded and students will come to class just to interact with each other and ask questions. They will be an important part of a university’s ecology, he adds.

The ideal scenario would be to have courses similar to the one started by Arizona State University for people who do not have the right qualifications and get them ready to go to university – “So its going to be a set of MOOCs on writing and reading skills to get you into university. We know we need more access courses in all countries. We have a problem with students from poorer families who find it hard to get the right credentials to get them ready to start university. These are the places for MOOCs to exist, though I don’t think they will kill the conventional courses”, O’Shea says.