17 Jul 2013

“MOOCs and Libraries: the good, the bad and the ugly” – July 12th 2013, London

Guest Post by Laura Connaughton, Assistant Librarian, NUI Maynooth

I attended the First European MOOCs and Libraries Conference, “MOOCs and Libraries: the good, the bad and the ugly” in Central London on July 12th 2013. This event was hosted by the Open University Library in partnership with OCLC Research and JISC. The aim of the day was to “focus on the challenges MOOCs pose to the traditional delivery of library services, and the opportunities they offer for libraries to rethink and revitalise their proposition”. The morning part of the conference concentrated on updates on MOOC development in the UK. Unfortunately due to a flight delay I missed the first speaker, Hugh Davis of Southampton University. However, I was just in time for Sian Bayne, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, who spoke about developing, designing and successfully running six MOOCs with Coursera covering a wide range of topics. Sian spoke particularly about the MOOC on “E-Learning and Digital Cultures” and how the participants used open access resources, videos, articles, readings, Google hangouts, blogs, Twitter etc. during their participation in the course. Some participants relished this kind of interaction whereas some felt it was overwhelming. Feedback also raised the concern of the lack of a visible presence of a “teacher”. This is something that will be looked at in their review process. A full MOOCS @ Edinburgh Report can be found here.

Next up was Merrilee Proffit, Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. Based on OCLC research, Merrilee spoke about the involvement of some libraries in the US with MOOCs. Libraries that have been proactive in their involvement possess strengths that matched the needs of MOOC development such as copyright expertise, resource expertise, knowledge of licensing, fair use knowledge, linking, library research and instruction. The OCLC research showed that MOOCs are highlighting the fact that libraries need to rethink, for example, information literacy and how we can (and should) adapt it to support this form of teaching and learning. The rising cost of Higher Education in the US is one of the main reasons for the continuing fast-paced emergence of MOOCs there. In conclusion, Merrilee suggested attendees sign up to a MOOC to become more aware of that kind of MOOCs are available and get thinking about how libraries can participate in them.

Following on from Merilee was Jennifer Dorner of the University of California, Berkeley. Jennifer spoke about the MOOC experience offered by Berkeley. There was an initial lack of involvement or consultation with librarians at the outset, however, they became more involved when some librarians got together themselves to look at their ‘perceived’ role and potential for development. University of Berkeley librarians decided to focus their support on the ‘teachers’ rather than the MOOC participants directly as they felt this would be unsustainable. This librarian working group also are looking at developing a Research Skills MOOC including looking at helping MOOC participants navigate open resources, be aware of and how to use these resources. This nicely followed up a point made by Sian Bayne earlier regarding information overload among participants and how to ensure its avoided.

The second part of the day had one formal presentation from Sally-Anne Betteridge, a Graduate Trainee from the University of Birmingham who is a regular MOOC participant. She spoke of her experiences in participating in MOOCs. Her first MOOC was one in Gamification, she then participated in the “E-Learning and Digital Culture” which Sian spoke of earlier in the day (her favourite MOOC so far), she also signed up for “Aboriginal World Views on Education” and “The Camera Never Lies” – both decent MOOCs but lacked the excellent delivery of the University of Edinburgh one. Her general feedback was positive; certain aspects she preferred such as in-course assessments and certain content, use of Twitter instead of Discussion Boards and good interaction with fellow participants using social media. She disliked recordings of lectures (felt like an outsider watching these), endless multiple choice assessments, and difficulty of accessing some course resources (available in certain countries only). Overall she seemed to have enjoyed participating in MOOCs but didn’t feel like she got an ‘academic purpose’ from them so she wouldn’t substitute them for her formal education. However, following her participation in the Digital Culture MOOC from University of Edinburgh she did browse (and consider) their Masters course.

The final part of the day was a participatory workshop facilitated by JISC. In this workshop, we discussed the potential impact of MOOCs on our services, how we can better understand the challenges MOOCs present to libraries and the provision of information and content for teaching, learning and research. We, as librarians, have the skill-set to add value to MOOC design and development such as expert knowledge in areas such as copyright, knowledge of resources both paid for and open, fair use knowledge, library research and instruction, content accessibility, terms of use etc. Our library instruction and teaching support may be redefined in conjunction with the continuing development of MOOCs. Some of the main outcomes were to get the library involved from the beginning i.e. work with academics on building a MOOC, get up to date with licensing and access laws, create our own MOOC, support the MOOC faculty, support MOOC students rather than being a hidden resource, create in person support opportunities, reassess library assumptions and practices and importantly take a MOOC – to further our own knowledge of how they operate.

All in all, I found the conference extremely interesting and thought provoking. MOOCs are very much in their infancy, however, they’re growing at a furious pace and it is vital that the library is aware of what we can offer in terms of support and development.

Image Credit: Mathieu Plourde


  1. Many thanks for this helpful summary. I've added a link to this post from the Higher Education Library Technology (HELibTech) page on MOOCS-the section on resources.
    That page also has other information & links on MOOCs
    Ken Chad (Ken Chad Consulting)

  2. Thanks a lot Ken - great resource you have set up!