Professor Richard Toye

First class education and technology

Name Professor Richard Toye
Email R.Toye@exeter.ac.uk
Position  Professor in Modern History
College   College of Humanities
Modules  HIH1237, HIH2170, HIH3255, HIH3256, HIH3506, HIH3617, HISM165

Engaging wider audiences in education through MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

Richard Toye is Professor of Modern History, with a focus on the political and imperial history of Britain in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Richard is the co-ordinator of Empire: the Controversies of British Imperialism, a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), which is open to students through the FutureLearn platform.

The MOOC aims to provide a free first class education to anyone inside and outside of the University. It also gives an opportunity for staff across disciplines to get involved with something different to their standard teaching modules “…we have contributions from other people, not only within the History department, but one person from Geography and one person from English as well… we were able to have a very diverse range of contributors.”

“One of our key objectives was to get a greater awareness and publicity for what we do here in the University.” The MOOC does not give a credit-bearing qualification, so students are “doing it out of their own interest”. However, the MOOC does “provoke discussion, active engagement and [gets] students talking to each other”, around topics within British Imperialism, such as race and religion, and sex and gender. The interactivity of the MOOC allows for a better engagement with student feedback through comments, and an improved response to the course may be adapted for the future. “We’re still at the very experimental stage; there’s not a right way or a wrong way of doing it as it depends on the subject matter.”

As well as positive outcomes, there have been challenges with the MOOC. As Richard explains, there are learners from very different stages of life and learning, “we deliberately tried to make it so that people weren’t being overwhelmed with an excessive amount of reading... the core of the MOOC is short videos and short articles online within the platform, but also at the end of each week, some suggestions for extra reading.” Richard and the rest of the team had to achieve the correct balance for “learners to be able to access additional materials if they want, but not have it so prominent that it is intimidating for those who are genuine beginners”. Other difficulties include finding ways around accessed material, such as academic journals. Therefore, the MOOC also engages in other forms of learning, such as podcasts and short feedback videos to help understanding of material and encourage further exploration.

The MOOC has “instantly made… an important example or element of what we do available to people all over the world at the touch of a button.” It is an opportunity to provide the benefits of a university education “to a much broader audience than is possible just with an ordinary lecture or seminar group.”

Aim 5: First class education and technology
To equip students with the ability to use technologies effectively for learning and student success

Additional resources

The impact of using a digital platform for learning

"Potentially, the impact could be... that we learn more about how people learn."

Using technology to improve the educational experience

"The ability to be able to... communicate to a much wider group of people than you might otherwise have been able to do."