A new MOOC centre identifies the most interesting courses and takes them global

A new MOOC centre at the University of Helsinki is tasked with developing web-based teaching and exporting it outside the University, even globally. The centre’s director is Petri Ihantola, who believes that the importance of continuous learning will increase in the future.

The University of Helsinki’s new MOOC centre launched operations in the beginning of 2021, with the purpose of bringing continuity and a systematic approach to the openly available online education offered by the University of Helsinki.

Among other things, the centre helps degree programme teachers design well-functioning online courses and also export such education around the world.

“We already have experience of large-scale projects, such as the Elements of AI course, including its international collaboration activities. Our experience also encompasses smaller projects whose pedagogical rewards are still considerable, such as the course on the basics of programming for which we have been developing automated assessment,” says Associate Professor of Big Data Learning Analytics Petri Ihantola, director of the MOOC centre.

Research involved, role of degree programmes unchanged

The operations of the new MOOC centre are closely linked to research and measures taken to increase the transparency of education.

“We collect user data from our courses to understand what kinds of solutions work or don't work in online instruction. Teachers must be able to monitor in real time how students are faring on a course and trial different ways of implementing the course,” Ihantola says.

The responsibility for individual courses will remain with degree programmes. However, assistance is available from the MOOC centre particularly for teaching that could be scaled up for global audiences, also including novel elements. According to Ihantola, such elements can be, for example, new kinds of interaction or automated assessment practices.

“We want to focus on courses with unique and interesting topics to which new technical solutions can be naturally applied. What's most important is that the teacher has an interesting idea for an online course and the ability to implement its content in practice.”

With the MOOC centre concentrating on individual courses, the role of Educational Technology Services will also remain unchanged. The centre maintains and develops courses on the basis of research in collaboration with researchers and, among others, the Centre for University Teaching and Learning (HYPE).

Increased role for continuous learning

Ihantola believes that the importance of continuous learning will increase in the future, since changes in the labour market make it necessary for employees to update their skills. One way of addressing this is to develop open online education together with businesses.

This has been done, for example, in the case of the Full Stack Open course. Its business partners have produced learning material and undertaken to invite those who complete the course in its more extensive form for a job interview.

One illustration of the increasing importance of continuous learning is a consortium headed by the MOOC centre, with the University of Eastern Finland and LUT University also contributing. Recently the consortium received €756,000 in funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture to provide continuing education in the programming sector and further develop the job interview pledge associated with the Full Stack Open course. 

Start in Kumpula, expand in the future

Administratively, the MOOC centre is located at the Department of Computer Science, but its services can also be utilised by degree programmes in other fields. Initially, the centre is likely to focus on the educational offerings of the Faculty of Science, as experience has been previously gained in that field. The centre's current course selection, available at mooc.fi, revolves around computer science.

Down the line, Ihantola also envisages collaboration related to the development of shared educational technology with other universities. That would also considerably increase the amount of data available for research.