UM’s Signature Courses to Be Launched on MOOC Platform

Text│Ella Cheong, UM Reporter Tiffany Wang
Photo│Ella Cheong, Jack Ho

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) have transformed learning by blurring geographical and temporal boundaries of the classroom. Indeed, MOOCs are all the rage, with universities from around the world scrambling to launch different courses on this new platform. Last year, the University of Macau (UM) signed a collaboration agreement with MOOC-CN Information Technology (Beijing) Co., Ltd. This year, some UM courses will become available on Tsinghua University’s online course platform, Several UM professors have formed teams to prepare for this project. The challenge is designing courses that are attractive, creative, and distinctive.

Promoting Signature Courses to the Whole Country

Lionel Ni, UM vice rector for academic affairs, is a staunch supporter of the university joining the MOOC platform. According to him, MOOC is more than online education; it is individualized learning that encourages teachers to be creative in their instruction. In fact, one of the advantages of the MOOC platform is that it can cater to students’ individual needs. Teachers can upload course-related content to MOOC for students to study beforehand. They can then monitor the students’ progress by checking when the students studied the content and the amount of time they spent on it, thereby revising the content according to the students’ progress.

Prof Ni explains that of all universities in mainland China, Tsinghua University has devoted the most resources to developing MOOCs. In fact, Tsinghua has signed agreements with Coursera and edX in the United States, which enables Tsinghua and these two platforms to access each other’s online courses. ‘What impresses me the most is that there are 200 full-time staff at Tsinghua working hard to develop various technologies to help teachers innovate their teaching,’ says Prof Ni.

Officially launched in 2013, Tsinghua’s online course platform,, is operated by MOOC-CN Information Technology (Beijing) Co., Ltd. By the end of the year 2016, it had already grown to be the third largest MOOC platform in the world, with over 8.2 million registered learners and more than 1,000 courses collectively subscribed over 10 million times. One of the highlights of Tsinghua’s MOOC platform is that it uses big data and smart computing, which not only improves teaching and learning outcomes, but also makes possible a mode of learning that is cross-discipline, cross-institution, cross-border, and cross-age group.

Prof Ni believes that teaching Portuguese language to people whose native tongue is Chinese is one of UM’s strengths. Trough Tsinghua’s platform and technologies, UM will be able to promote its signature courses to students all over the country so that more students can learn Portuguese. Faculty of Arts and Humanities Dean Prof Hong Gang Jin and Prof Yao Jingming from the Department of Portuguese are already in the process of developing MOOCs in English and Portuguese. Prof Ni is confident that these courses will have a greater impact once taught on the MOOC platform.

Rector for Academic Affairs Prof Lionel Ni hopes to help students retain what they learn through high-tech solutions

Prof Jin is a linguist, whose research interests include second language acquisition, cognitive processing of languages, and transfer of learning. Prof Jin is especially interested in integrating technology in the teaching of languages and literature. She is now busy designing a MOOC in second language acquisition. ‘Macao is a multicultural and multilingual society. Language courses are the signature courses of our faculty. So we hope to introduce these courses to more students through the MOOC platform,’ she says.

The MOOC in second language acquisition, which was designed by Prof Jin herself, is now in its final stage of production. Prof Jin was named the 1998 CASE National Outstanding Baccalaureate College Professor of the Year. She received Hamilton College’s 1963 Award of Teaching Excellence in 1996. She is also a two-time recipient of the NCOLCTL Walton Lifetime Achievement Award. Aside from being an accomplished educator, she also has a wealth of experience in creating online courses. While in the US, she published various audio-video teaching materials. According to Prof Jin, the distinctive feature of this course lies in language acquisition and cognitive processing. ‘MOOCs differ from conventional courses in many ways,’ she says. ‘They have special requirements for content and format. They require a different theme for each class which must be limited to ten minutes, and they also call for flexible teaching methods to stimulate learner interest.

Faculty of Arts and Humanities Dean Prof Hong Gang Jin

MOOC Teams

At the end of 2017, Prof Ni arranged for faculty members interested in launching MOOCs to visit Peking University and Tsinghua University to gain hands-on experience. Tsinghua University even organized a workshop for the UM delegation. According to Prof Ni, four faculty members from the Faculty of Education (FED), including assistant professors Li Zihao and Hsiang Tien Ping, travelled to Beijing to attend the workshop to learn how to use Tsinghua’s online course platform, how to design courses, and how to stimulate student interest through innovative teaching methods. Last year, Prof Ni introduced faculty members from FED to Tsinghua’s MOOC technologies, hoping to motivate them to participate in the MOOC project. But at that time, they didn’t show much interest. Later, Prof Hsiang visited Shanghai to attend a conference on education. A participant at the conference mentioned the impact of MOOCs, which made Prof Hsiang realise the necessity of keeping pace with the fast-changing world. Upon returning to UM, she expressed her eagerness to join the MOOC team. She is now busy designing a MOOC in Hanyu Pinyin.

Last year, Prof Li Zihao won the Silver Award from the International Outstanding e-Learning Awards and UM’s first Teaching Excellence Award, in recognition of his innovative teaching methods. One of the general education courses he teaches is theatre. In teaching this course, he departs from the traditional approach and adopts a ‘flipped classroom’. He combines this student-centred, outcome-based approach with the latest technologies in augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and zoom, in order to create an interactive learning experience for students. The course has been very well received. When he first offered this course in 2016, only 20 students enrolled. A year later, the students had to beat a long queue for this elective course.

Prof Li’s team is designing a MOOC which aims to bring out the creativity hidden in every student. He has been actively recruiting talented people in order to create a MOOC team at UM. He invited Katrine Wong, associate professor from the Department of English and director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning Enhancement (CTLE), to be in charge of the part of the course related to theatre and music. Prof Davood Gozli from the Department of Psychology is tasked with the job of analysing the patterns and underlying laws of creativity. Prof Li himself is responsible for exploring relationships between body, mind, ideas, and creativity. ‘The biggest characteristic of this course is that it brings together people with different talents, so we can create something that’s both fun and practical for learners,’ he says.

Prof Li Zihao’s courses aim to promote learner creativity

The MOOC in creativity will be open to students from all over the world, regardless of their age. It will cover of-discussed topics directly related to everyday life. One of humanity’s greatest assets in the 21st century is creativity, because this is one area in which machines can never replace humans. But unfortunately, there are very few courses in creativity. The three or four MOOCs currently available on this subject mainly deal with business, architecture, and music. The course designed by Prof Li’s team, however, is different. ‘There is something for everyone in this course,’ says Prof Li.

CTLE Providing Technical Support

Currently, the MOOC team has teachers from each faculty. They meet regularly to share thoughts and exchange ideas. The CTLE provides technical support for the MOOC team. Prof Ni explains: ‘Each course is different in terms of course content and teaching methods. That is why it is important for teachers from different faculties to share experience and come together to brainstorm ideas. This is the first time we have designed MOOCs, so there will be a lot of cost involved. But it’s still worth doing because the platform can reach an astounding number of learners. We also hope to help students retain what they learn through high-tech solutions.’ Prof Ni hopes to eventually launch more MOOCs related to the culture and history of Macao and China.

The faculty team behind the creativity MOOC

The MOOCs developed by the two current teams will be completed and launched within this year. Compared to MOOC teams at other universities, which can have dozens or even hundreds of members, UM’s MOOC teams are very small, with only five to six people. But the team leaders refuse to compromise on quality simply because of size or constraints in resources and manpower. Indeed, they have been meticulous in preparing every aspect of the projects, from the duration of the course to presentation skills. Prof Ni is very impressed with the persistence of the two teams, saying, ‘Not only are they willing to rethink and redesign their teaching with limited resources; they are also willing to do it during their spare time, which is even more admirable. They are our MOOC talent seed or pioneers. When our first MOOCs become successful, they are bound to attract more faculty members to join our team and grow our MOOC capability.’

ISSUE 18 | 2018

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