Excerpt

MOOC transportation sciences is a fully accessible Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) that is developed at the University of Hasselt. This course is offered completely free of charge to anyone all over the world. It was developed as the first course that implemented Blended Learning, thereby combining technology with traditional classroom methods to educate people in an online teaching and learning environment. The aim of this project is to make the University of Hasselt’s Master program in Transportation Sciences more visible and accessible for future and potential students from all over the world.

Narrative, origins and objectives of the initiative

What kind of project is this? Please give a short description (summary) of it.

MOOC transportation sciences is a fully accessible Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) that is developed by Mario Geelen at the University of Hasselt in collaboration with some professors of the Master Transportation Sciences program. This online course is offered completely free of charge to anyone with an interest in educating themselves in multiple aspects of transportation sciences (such as predicting travel behaviour and impact of mobility). The MOOC is also integrated within the program of the Master Transportation Sciences at the University of Hasselt.

This MOOC was developed as the first course that implemented Blended Learning, thereby combining technology with traditional classroom methods to educate people in an online teaching and learning environment. The aim of this project was to make the University of Hasselt’s Master program in Transportation Sciences more visible and accessible for future and potential students from all over the world.

Please tell us why, in general, this project is considered a successful one?

By offering the course online for free, along with both online and physical meet-ups, the master program has a bigger outreach to people worldwide. By following the course, students can grasp the content of the master program, without having to pay college tuition. To participate, students don’t have to be physically present at the University of Hasselt in Belgium. Essentially, anyone at any place in the world can enroll for this MOOC and participate in the program as long as they have access to a working computer with internet connection.

The modules in the course reflect topics that are discussed in the program of the Master Transportation Sciences. Students that successfully finish the MOOC transportation sciences receive a certificate that can be converted to formal study points (EC) for the Master Program of Transportation Sciences. To do so, the students have to pass an oral exam to establish if they really participated in the MOOC. Therefore, this MOOC is considered a success since it also supports students in preparing for the Master Transportation Sciences and ensures a smooth transition to the program.

And why would you consider it a grass-roots initiative?

The MOOC was not necessarily developed as a grass-roots initiative, but it aimed to attract a more diverse and international student population.

What challenges needed to be solved in this project?

The MOOC for the Master Transportation Sciences was the first project of its kind at the University of Hasselt. The time investment of setting up a MOOC is high and this proved to be intimidating at first. But this MOOC is considered to have set an example and built a framework for other programs to be able to work with and start their own MOOC’s. However, other faculties find this is challenging because they are enthusiastic about the working methods of this MOOC but have insufficient funds and resources to invest in setting up their own online programs.

A second important factor that had to be solved was the unexpected challenge at the beginning when the MOOC was launched. Peer learning is implemented in the MOOC, but one of the challenges was that there seemed to be a clear distinction between students that needed to finish the course in order to receive their master's degree and students that are enrolled by free will. This disparity shows that there are different incentives for completing the program, so it remains challenging to keep students on board and the drop-out rates are high.

Lastly, the MOOC implemented peer learning in the course with the aim to let the students learn from each other and to support qualitative feedback. However, not all international students are experienced in giving and receiving feedback. Since peer-to-peer learning is proven to be effective for the academic development of students, this challenge was solved by grading the element of peer-to-peer learning. Critical thinking and giving constructive feedback became an integrated part of the curriculum.

Is this initiative based on any particular theoretical framework? Which one?

The MOOC is based on the theoretical framework of Blended Learning. This framework combines classical classroom practices, such as lectures, assignments and presentations in an online environment to provide education to people that are not physically present at the lecture. Blended Learning provides students with diverse, rich content and material to enhance education. The key aim of this framework is that education and knowledge is presented in a way that it is accessible for everyone. It also makes it possible to explain current theories in detail online.

(Appendix) Is your intervention standing on its own or is it a part of a bigger and more holistic approach?

The initiative is part of the approach of Open Access Education that aims to provide knowledge to everyone in the world. 

Please describe the group(s) intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Why has this group (have these groups) been chosen?

The MOOC was initially developed to increase the numbers of students that are enrolled in the Master Transportation Sciences. The MOOC makes it possible to efficiently include cultural and geographical backgrounds of the enrolled students and provide a broad target group with new knowledge of transportation sciences. Also, this target group is chosen to support future students who want to enroll in the Master program of Transportation Sciences and help them get a head start.

Could you please tell us something about the relative size of the (of each) target group, within the school/university population, region and/or country?

The first cohort of students that were enrolled in the MOOC started in 2016. Every semester, the MOOC is opened up for new enrollments. In each group, about forty students participate that study the Master Transportation Sciences at the University of Hasselt. At first, between 100 and 200 of other students were enrolled in the MOOC. That number grew to over 300 online students in the last run, so the amount of registered students definitely increased. The MOOC is still implemented in the program of the Master Transportation Sciences at the University of Hasselt.

Which social characteristics are taken into account and what is the geographical area covered?

Since the MOOC is accessible and open to everyone, no specific social characteristics are taken into account. Students that later want to enlist for the Master Transportation Sciences can use and integrate the MOOC in their program.

On which level is the project implemented?

Please describe the political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Did the initiative have political support?

Since the University of Hasselt is subsidized by the Belgian government, the initiative indirectly receives financial support of the government.

How did it fit with local, regional or national policies?

Who are the stakeholders supporting the initiative?

  • The University of Hasselt
  • Lecturers and professors of the Master Program of Transportation Sciences
  • The Rector
  • Headmaster of Education

Are there particular demographic changes present that are influencing the project?

The demographic changes that influenced the project were the declining student enrollments in the Master Transportation Sciences. Therefore, one of the initial goals was to increase the amount of students enrolled in the Master Transportation Sciences. Before the MOOC was implemented, the Master program mainly reached out to potential students in the Netherlands and Germany. By developing this free online course to educate people from all over the world, the program has to potential to reach out to different parts of the world as well. Currently, the MOOC also reaches students from countries like for example Pakistan and Brazil. This shows that the MOOC improves access to knowledge and education that used to be exclusively available to students that enrolled in the Master Transportation Sciences.

What is the institutional strategy and culture of the (educational) organization?

The MOOC is developed in line with the vision of the University of Hasselt to innovate education practices.

To what extent does the initiative have an influence on institutional policy (or potential influence) of the (educational) organization?

The MOOC was very well-received during information meetings with other faculties and departments. It will be challenging to implement MOOC’s into other programs at the University of Hasselt since it takes up a lot of time and financial resources to develop a MOOC. However, if staff members at the University of Hasselt are granted the time to create their own MOOC’s, the investment would return itself in the long run.

(Appendix) Is there public support for your initiative and the issue it addresses?

(Appendix) What other factors do you think have been important for the success of this initiative?

Please describe the overall initiative design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

Please describe the specific activities carried out.

The lay-out of the MOOC

As mentioned earlier, the MOOC starts every semester of the academic year. Each run consists of six  modules that students should finish individually. Each module covers a certain topic for the length of two weeks. At the start of each module, students are lectured about the theory. After that lecture, students have to finish and hand in an assignment. In the middle of each module period, the professor of the MOOC makes sure that students can ask their questions during an online question hour that is facilitated through an online video-chat program. This way students are supported to discuss difficult and important topics or cases with the professor. After successfully finishing all the modules, the students that want to receive formal accreditation, have to be physically present at the University of Hasselt and pass an oral exam.

The curriculum of the MOOC

The learning goals of the students are central during the MOOC and the program implements collaborative assignments between global students and local students at Hasselt. The study material and cases that are discussed during the lectures are catered towards the lived experiences of the students, therefore cases of music festivals and intercultural cases in countries of international students are implemented to speak to a diverse and international student population.

What were the key roles (teacher, student, management team etc.) within the project?

  • Project leader that organizes the development of the MOOC
  • Professors in Blended Learning
  • Professors in Transportation Sciences
  • Administrative support
  • Assistants that support the professors in developing, correcting and grading the assignments but also know how to work with the online lay-out of the MOOC
  • Students

What ideas, tools, theories, models, methodology (etc.) have been used to reach the goals?

What are the final revenues of the project?

Currently there are no final revenues available to demonstrate this success since the project started quite recently.

Please describe if your project ensured its sustainability

If so, how did you ensure the short-term impact of the project?

Currently, the MOOC is coordinated by an assistant of the professor. With regard to matters of the organization, the coordination of the online environment can be facilitated without any involvement of the professor. As mentioned, in every module, the professor organizes an online question hour in which students can ask or discuss theories. However, the development of MOOCs is a time and labor intensive process in the beginning. After having set up and running the pilot, the invested resources are definitely worth it. Currently, the MOOC has proven to provide more efficient and innovative education. The MOOC thereby ensures its sustainable character, since it doesn’t rely so heavily on the availability of the professor and now runs with few resources.

And how did you ensure the long-term impact of the project?

The long-term impact is ensured with the MOOC's integration into the curriculum of the Master Transportation Sciences.

Has your project been replicated elsewhere?

Please tell us about the resources used in this initiative

What was the budget for the initiative?

As previously stated, creating and implementing a MOOC in a master program is a labor intensive project in the beginning. The initiative was financed by the University of Hasselt with the aim to implement the MOOC in the Master program. The resources used to develop this initiative are:

  • The knowledge and expertise of the professor for the content of the MOOC
  • Audio visual professionals who worked on delivering clear online video material
  • Pedagogic and education professionals were also involved to ensure that the MOOC met the educational guidelines of the University of Hasselt
  • The coordinator of the MOOC
  • The assistant of the professor that supports the processes of registration, administration, opening and closing the modules, etc.

How much did the initiative depend on volunteers?

Not at all.

How were the costs perceived by the public/the sector/other stakeholders?

To what extent did the initiative achieve its objectives?

Please describe the evidence to support the success of your initiative.

The MOOC started in 2016 with the pilot and is still implemented in the master program. The other master programs at the University of Hasselt notice positive feedback students have about the MOOC. Currently, over 300 students are engaging with the study and educational material. As stated before, the incentive of the students can be different, resulting in students not finishing the MOOC. The visibility of the master program has increased because of the MOOC. An evaluation system is implemented in the MOOC to ensure that students developed the initial competences. Students are rewarded for their efforts in the MOOC by offering them credits that ensures a smooth transition to the master program of Transportation Sciences, should they want to enroll.

Did the intervention lead to any unintended (positive) outcomes?

Many online students, over 300 students in total, attended this MOOC. This is definitely considered a very positive outcome.

What indicators (quantitative and qualitative) have you measured to demonstrate success?

A qualitative indicator that is measured to demonstrate success is the positive feedback from students that participated in the MOOC.

In the future, the project aims to show that the MOOC contributed to a smoother transition to the Master Transportation Sciences as well as increased the amount of students that are enrolled in the master program.

(Appendix) How did you evaluate/monitor this intervention?

Students are asked to complete a survey at the end of the MOOC.