Learning How to Teach Online: A Rapid Massive Collaborative Response to Covid-19

Brown, Mark, Nic Giolla Mhichíl, Mairéad and Costello, Eamon (2021) Learning How to Teach Online: A Rapid Massive Collaborative Response to Covid-19.


On Friday 13th March 2020, higher education institutions throughout Ireland closed their campuses in response to the Covid-19 health pandemic. This decision resulted in what has become known as the rapid pivot to Emergency Remote Online Teaching. In response to this crisis, on Monday 16th March a team in the National Institute in Digital Learning (NIDL) at Dublin City University (DCU), in partnership with two European professional associations (EADTU & (EDEN), hosted a special webinar on Moving Swiftly to Online Teaching. Later the same day a meeting took place with FutureLearn to discuss the idea of designing a new online course to support educators to learn how to teach online.

By Wednesday 18th March, the course outline, structure and learning steps were already taking shape. Coincidently, prior to the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the OpenTeach team in the NIDL had already scheduled to offer a free course on teaching online through Moodle. To support the proposed FutureLearn course, a group of experienced online educators and researchers were recruited, involving contributors from a number of UK universities as well as Dublin City University. Three members of the NIDL team were invited to join this group, tasked with (i) helping with the course design, (ii) contributing relevant online content, and (iii) serving as official course mentors.

By Thursday 19th March, the course, Learning How to Teach Online: Providing Continuity for Students, was sufficiently developed that FutureLearn issued a media statement announcing the initiative. This statement included a link to the course landing page and reported registrations would open on Monday 23rd March. In other words, the course was open for registrations after only one week of planning and development.

Within hours of registrations opening over 2,500 people had signed up, including several hundred Irish educators. By the time began at the start of April over 30,000 educators from over 130 countries had registered, with this figure quickly increasing to over 50,000 participants by the end of the first course offering. Notably, by December 2020, almost 90,000 educators had signed, with high levels of learner engagement and an overall completion rate of over 20% and course rating of 4.8 out of 5.0.

This paper reports reflects on the course experience drawing on platform analytic data along with preliminary quantitative and qualitative analysis of thousands of online discussion posts. It illustrates through this research how the course successfully built on FutureLearn’s social learning ethos and platform design to develop capacity for teaching online. The research illustrates how learning online when purposefully designed can be a highly social and knowledge building experience. In this respect, the study contributes to new knowledge by challenging the traditional content delivery metaphor for online teaching and raises a number of interesting questions about mass pedagogy, and the effective design of professional learning for educators.

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