25/09/2014 - Correspondence with Prof. Griffiths, Leiden University, on sharing materials through MOOCs

Dear Richard

Thank you very much for your kind reply, for the information and encouragements.

I have used today two of the video clips you developed, in a module called "International Development" which I teach to third year students in the department of Development Studies. I did follow the exact instructions you give in your email, which I happened to read on the day after emailing you, in the web page indicated at the end of the video clips.

Before sharing with you impressions from the experience I think I owe to explain a bit more how I used your videos, and give some information on the context - Apologies for the long email... I am hoping it will answer your question.

The tools I use in class include videos (mainly your materials and relevant TED talks), data sources (e.g. the "worldometers.info" and others) and a software for data visualisation (Gapminder, developed by Hans Rosling's team in Sweden). The aim is to provide students with a practical, evidence-based approach to learn the subject while at the same time stimulate their thinking, and of course keep their interest high and give them an enjoyable experience.

This is pretty much exceptional in the context of a public university here in Kenya where teaching is still very traditional and lecturers rely mostly on not-so-updated textbooks, and the only source of knowledge for students are (unfortunately often bad) lecturers' and their notes. Students who join the university in their first year are usually keen and bright, some still are so in their fourth year, but many more become sadly passive and much enthousiasm and willingness are killed in the process. Such a shame.

You ask for an evaluation of this 'experiment, well I asked to my students for feedback, to say openly whether they find this informative, useful and enjoyable. The response by the students is overwhelmingly positive. Your videos are powerful learning tools, I can use them not only to provide students with high-quality knowledge and to engage them, but also to enable them to build a set of skills which they lack - And while I didn't have any doubt on the former results, the latter is a discovery that became clear today while I was running the 'experiment'.

I gave to the students a number of questions before playing the videos, which could be answered while listening, I did this to keep their focus and attention high. I then realised that while learning about the topics discussed, they were also at the same time building listening skills, the ability to pay attention to details, the skill to select information, to summarise it and take note effectively. Not least, a better understanding of proper English pronunciation. And these skills are at least as important as the knowledge they are gaining.

Believe me, these skills are hardly built by students in this context: many students in their fourth year are unable to identify relevant information, summarise it and communicate it effectively, and do not pay attention to details (they constantly misread exam questions or instructions); sadly the only thing they become good at is taking note of what the lecturer say in a non-selective, a-critical passive way (and then memorise it for the exam). Students are generally not used to ask questions, are not used to discussions or group work.

So, basing on my experience and not only on students' feedback, the use of your videos is a total success, and I am grateful (in fact we all are) for the materials you developed and made freely available, which bring so much value to our learning experience.

I have discussed with the students the origin of the materials, which also gave me the opportunity to introduce them to the MOOCs. They felt like the world was opening up to them. They hardly knew before where the Netherlands are but they definitely know Leiden University now, and Professor Griffiths there. It would be great to have the chance to meet you on Skype, and a wonderful opportunity for the students.

With much appreciation,

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