UPOU: Pioneering MOOCs in the country

| Written by Arlyn VCD Palisoc Romualdo

If you’d like to teach 2,000 students at any given time but can’t cram them into one classroom, what do you do? The UP Open University (UPOU) has the answer—and the good news is, it’s free, it’s open to everyone, and you don’t even have to catch a ride to get there. It’s the massive open online course (MOOC), and the UPOU was the first in the country to offer it.

It was in July 2013—eight months after the New York Times dubbed 2012 as “The Year of the MOOC”—when UPOU offered the introductory course on mobile application development using the Android platform to anyone who was interested, wherever they were in the world, free of charge.

It was developed by the UPOU Faculty of Information and Communication Studies (FICS) in partnership with Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) as the result of a memorandum of agreement signed in February 2013.

At that time, MOOCs had been around for five years. The term was coined in 2008 by Professor Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada to describe “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge,” a course offered by the University of Manitoba, also in Canada.

Gaining global momentum 

The MOOCs phenomenon quickly gained momentum around the world, with top universities like Harvard and Stanford offering free online courses through sites like Coursera, edX, and Udacity.

UPOU, the country’s leading open and distance e-learning provider, was quick to recognize the potential of MOOCs to reach an even wider audience, to make education more open and accessible, and to promote lifelong learning.

Apart from these, “MOOCs can improve the quality of teaching and learning by fostering open educational practices (OEP),” Faculty Regent Patricia Arinto, former dean of the UPOU Faculty of Education, said in an interview.

In essence, these practices are collaborative, where “resources are shared by making them openly available, and pedagogical practices are employed which rely on social interaction, knowledge creation, peer-learning, and shared learning practices,” explained Dr. Ulf-Daniel Ehlers, Vice President for Quality and Academic Affairs at the Baden Wurttemberg-State University, Germany, in a paper published in the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning in 2011. Arinto added that apart from enrollment numbers and completion rate, the impact of MOOCs on “pedagogical perspectives, teaching and learning practices, and even the achievement of learning outcomes in specific contexts” are also indicators of success.

Relying on its years of experience in open and distance education, with the evolution of its course materials from print to multimedia to hypermedia, its move toward e-learning, and the growth of many class sizes beyond 150 students, UPOU went to work on its first MOOC.

The next logical step

It was well prepared to do this. In an interview, UPOU Chancellor Melinda Bandalaria recalled that it was in 2011 when the idea of offering MOOCs was “crystallized with the conceptualization and implementation of the uLearn project.” UPOU had already been offering online courses for ten years; for four of those years, the courses were offered totally online. MOOCs were the next logical step.

Bandalaria clarified that while UPOU MOOCs are designed to accommodate enrollment in the thousands, the development of these courses puts less emphasis on “massive” and more on “open”. This “openness” is reflected in UPOU’s practice of using only open educational resources (OER), and as much as possible producing these OERs, as well as employing open access software in its learning management system (LMS) and in all the applications integrated into its LMS.

Since its first venture in 2013, UPOU has conducted numerous MOOCs workshops and “MOOCathons” or “unending conversations on MOOCs”, which led to an understanding of how its MOOCs target specific skill sets and social sectors. It has since offered courses on technopreneurship; business process management; child rights protection and promotion; inter-local government cooperation; Philippine arts and culture; art in ASEAN; Filipino language, culture, and society; and oral communication and conversational fluency in English, among others.

Credits for college

In fact, UPOU’s business process management MOOCs, under the Online Service Management Program or eSMP, have been approved by the Commission on Higher Education for credit under the tertiary education curricula of degree programs in information technology and management. This means that schools offering these programs can have their students enroll in UPOU MOOCs and, upon completion, apply credits earned from these courses toward earning their degrees.

The MOOCs on child rights protection and promotion, on the other hand, are currently on their second run, following the success of the first one in 2015. These courses are the result of UPOU’s partnership with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund-Philippines. This repeat performance is also part of the 2016-2019 plan of the openUP Flagship Program which aims to mainstream MOOCs as part of UPOU’s formal and non-formal program offerings.

Bandalaria also reported that a new set of MOOCs on open and distance e-learning or ODeL is being offered by UPOU to assist higher education and technical-vocational institutions who want to go into the distance education or online mode of course delivery. This is in keeping with UPOU’s mandate under Republic Act 10650 or the Open Distance Learning Act, signed into law in 2014.

Arinto, who is also theme adviser for MOOCs in the Digital Learning for Development program and deputy principal investigator of the multi-country research program of the Research on Open Educational Resources for Development in the Global South network, said that UPOU, through its international engagements, has made significant contributions to “critical work on MOOCs in developing countries,” an area currently lacking in literature.

A pioneer in the field

She added that in comparison with other Asian institutions offering MOOCs, “UPOU has done well in identifying the strategic focus of its initiatives” and, like other institutions around the world, UPOU is also faced with issues such as the digital divide, sustaining learner engagement, and the effective assessment of learning in MOOCs.

Four years since that first MOOC on Android mobile application development, UPOU’s reflections on its MOOCs experience coupled with extensive research has resulted in the UPOU Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) Policies, Principles, and Guidelines, which was released on March 29 this year.

It details UPOU’s policies in accordance with the mandates it was given when it was created by UP Board of Regents in 1995; principles in course design, course delivery, teaching and learning, and research and innovation that adhere to the highest standards of academic excellence; and guidelines in the stages of operation such as course proposal, course development, course delivery, and faculty load credits.

UPOU’s pioneering efforts in shaping Philippine open and distance education over the course of its 22-year existence remain unparalleled. As it continues to navigate the ever-changing landscape of education and technology, UPOU performs its unique role within the UP System as an advocate for openness and accessibility of education in pursuit of public service, maintaining standards of academic excellence while keeping pace with advancements in technology.

UPOU MOOCs can be accessed through the MODeL (Massive Open and Distance e-Learning) site at http://model.upou.edu.ph/.