Setting up courses in the cloud is a trend in online learning. Whether you are a training company, a non-profit trainer, an experienced hobbyist, or an educational institute, at some point you will want to tap into the cloud, attract new learners from around the globe, and start learning collaboratively.

In this first part of a six-part series, you will learn about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which are courses in the  cloud. You will also learn how to set up the core spaces for MOOCs. The articles that follow in the series will move from basic to more complex course features. Having organized MOOCs myself, I admit that for newbies it might look a bit scary at first, but it sure is worth the result.

There are many ways to set up your own cloud course, but sometimes it is nice to have an example to start from. I’ll be presenting an adapted design of the Massive Open Online Course because:

  • It is free – it only costs you the time you put in it,
  • You can attract a massive amount of learners,
  • It enables all of the course participants to collaborate and learn from each other, and
  • It will enhance knowledge, both in experts and novices.

What is a MOOC, or course in the cloud?

A course in the cloud is a course in which content and interactions are situated in the cloud, that is, on the Internet. A MOOC is one possible format for a cloud course, based on the concept and design of courses organized by Stephen Downes and George Siemens.

What do the terms in the MOOC acronym mean? “Massive” means that anyone interested in following the course can do so. This often results in 500 or more participants; as one example, Stanford’s AI course had 100,000 participants! “Open” points to the fact that all the content and the discussions are open to the public, even after the course has finished (an example would be MIT open courseware). The “online” bit suggests that the course takes place completely online, and finally “course” indicates… well, hinting to the fact that it is indeed a course. For those with a visual preference, have a look at how Dave Cormier describes a MOOC and strategies for using one.

Each StartToMOOC article will focus on a particular aspect of setting up an online course: the core spaces, the social media tools you can embed, integrating learning statistics, guidelines on keeping your course participants motivated, how to optimize the course for mobile access, and finally a subject you – as readers – can suggest via the StartToMOOC Google Group.

To give you the full experience, I have set up a sample course that parallels the articles. For this article the first two core spaces are ready now: a StartToMOOC course wiki and a StartToMOOC Google Group. These support the exchange of ideas or questions you might have. The wiki will provide information and help. The Google Group is a place for discussion.

Setting up an online course: the basics

Any course consists of some basic features: there is a schedule, a syllabus referring to content and possibly learning actions (assignments, self-assessments…), and there is a learning space where course participants can meet and exchange ideas on the subject of the course to enhance mutual learning and experiences. A MOOC is no different, but because it is online, the course spaces are as well. The structure of the course, its schedule, and the syllabus reside in a wiki. To enhance dialogue between participants, a discussion group lives in a listserv.

If these are new terms to you, have no fear! The tools are online, they are simple to use, and they are free. Follow the steps here and you will have the core of your first MOOC ready very quickly – in minutes.

Benefits of using a wiki

Wikis offer an easy way to build a course syllabus. All the facilitators and participants can have access, and you can see the different versions of what they have added. A wiki offers an easy-to-read and easy-to-edit space.

Five easy steps to set up a wiki for an online course:

  1. Select a type of wiki, for example: wikispaces. (Figure 1) These wikis are free for educational use.

    Figure 1: Wikispaces

  2. Name your wiki, choose your username and password, and complete all the required information. (Figure 2)

    Figure 2: Creating the wiki

  3. Be careful to set up the management of the wiki (who can read, who can write or edit, whether the messages are moderated or not, and so on). (Figures 3 and 4)

    Figure 3: There are a number of settings to choose when setting up the management of a wiki

    Permissions are a very important element.

    Figure 4: Pay attention to the way you set up Permissions

  4. Edit your welcome page (by clicking the edit button). (Figure 5)

    Figure 5: The next step is to edit the Welcome page

  5. Add pages to give some structure to your wiki. Click on the “+” sign next to Pages and Files in the left menu bar (Figure 6) and add any content (text, movies, images) or learning actions you would like to have in the course (Figure 7). Beware: long scrolls are not pleasant, so divide your content into readable chunks (for example, chapters).

    Figure 6: Add pages to your wiki

    Figure 7: Add content to your pages

Benefits of using a listserv

Learning online is all about easy interactions. By keeping online courses simple, learners with limited digital skills will also be able to follow the course and engage with it. At the core of any learning you will need to discuss the content, new ideas, or knowledge that all participants like to share on the subject of your course. In order to do this, you need to provide a space where discussions are easy to start and follow – an online discussion group. One such space is a listserv. A listserv enables easy communication via e-mail. With a listserv you will only have to send e-mail to one address to reach out to all the course participants.

Five easy steps to set up your online discussion group

  1. Choose the listserv of your preference and make sure you have an account (e.g. Google Groups, Yahoo Groups…). (See Figure 8)

    Figure 8: This is where you start setting up a discussion group in Google

  2. Give your discussion group a name and a description.
  3. Figure 9: Name your group

  4. Make sure you get the settings right (who can read, who can post, what is done with possible spam, message footer, etc.). (Figure 10)

    Figure 10: Take care of the necessary management details.

  5. Edit your e-mail digest status (otherwise you risk being inundated by mails). (Figure 11)

    Figure 11: It is important to give some thought to the way you set up your e-mail

  6. Set up your group’s welcoming message.

That’s all there is to setting up the core elements!

Once you have set up your course wiki and the discussion group, you are ready to organize your first basic online course. Good luck!

Your questions and remarks matter! If you have trouble setting up one or both spaces, share them in the Google Group. You will get answers!

Online spaces related to the StartToMOOC articles:

Wikispace: StartToMOOC
GoogleGroup: StartToMOOC