Massive Online Open Courses

Open Education: “…is the simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that technology in general and the Worldwide Web in particular provide an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use, and reuse knowledge.”

Open educational resources (OER): “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”

Open approaches: ‘lowering barriers to access to learning whether those barriers are technical, legal or financial’.

There are currently no ‘MOOCs’ at Oxford University but there are many existing innovations which could be brought together as an exciting digital presence for the University. Let me know if you can think of more.

There is a significant overlap of materials across categories.E.g: all itunesU content is also available on

‘MOOC’s:  massive online open courses. Courses have no entry qualifications and generally offer no qualification at the end beyond a certificate of completion. Although free, online and publicly available at scale MOOCs are not usually licenced as OER.

Global reach

Oxford’s iTunesU site launched Sept 2008, featuring audio and video podcasts from across the University. It has been a great success – 19 million downloads so far, and currently reaching a worldwide audience of 185 countries. We now have more than 4,000 hours of material online bringing Oxford thinking to a broad global audience, whilst giving our current students, staff and alumni any-time access to browse a unique resource collection.

The activity is drawn from across the Divisions e.g English Faculty (246 podcasts), Martin School (100), Politics and International Studies incl Blavatnik School (287), Centre for the Environment (293) and  Philosophy (337).

These materials are online, free and publicly available. New materials are added by IT Services everyday. Many other HE institutions use this same platform. Oxford is the largest of the UK HE contributors of materials.

  • 19 million downloads from iTunesU
  • 4,200 podcast items processed
  • 3,480 academic speakers and contributors
  • Downloads from185 countries
  • Inclusion in Apple’s global marketing. TV ads, email ads and global ‘top ten charts’
  • Click though links to university depts and the campaign.
  • 50% of our material has a CC licence


Open educational resources (OERs) are materials explicitly openly licensed  to encourage re-use by teachers and learners in different contexts and teaching thereby removing the legal ‘copyright’ barriers.

Oxford University provides open content under a Creative Commons licence free for reuse, remixing and redistribution in education worldwide. We aim to licence as much of our online materials in this way as possible.

Oxford’s itunes U and podcast site features 2,367 items licensed for reuse (1500 audio, 500+ video and 200+ documents) from across the collegiate university.  IT Services use the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 UK). Feedback is gathered from users on how materials are being enjoyed and re-used by teachers.

Other projects in Oxford taking an explicitly open, Creative Commons approach to their online materials include: FreeSpeech debate; Oxford University Mathematics OpenCourseWare; Oxford Text Archive; Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP); Google Books; Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics ; 23 Things Oxford

Course-like sets and series

Many of the materials published as OER are offered as ‘sets’ or ‘series’ for download and individual study where the academic colleague has recorded a complete lecture series. Some sets are accompanied by handouts, problem sheets or ebooks.

Example popular sets:

Funded OER projects in disciplines

Oxford has received funding (from JISC/HEA/HEFCE) for several projects to create, curate and openly licence OER teaching resources in discipline areas. Oxford is the most successful of the UK HE institutions in these rounds of funding. In these instances, the open approach taken has included an attempt to involve people from outside the university in gathering and contributing materials: ‘crowdsourcing’.


  • Great Writers Inspire– a collection of essays, ebooks, lectures, and pedagogical tools  led by colleagues in Faculty of English in conjunction with teachers at schools and colleges.
  •  Woruldhord– An online open, crowd-sourced collection of teaching materials and resources to support the learning and teaching of old English and AngloSaxon history.
  •  Music scores from the Bodleian– a collection of music scores digitized by the Library and crowd-sourced for descriptions.
  •  The Great War Archive– an online, open and crowd-sourced collection of digitized items relating to the Great War.
  •  Politics InSpires Online, open political journalism and essays.
  • Open Sesame–  A project in Continuing Education to release some of their teaching materials from weekly classes as OER.

Activities with other world class institutions

Oxford departments partner with other universities to share and create discipline specific OER.

Some examples:

  • Politics InSpires a collaborative OER journalism project between the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford and the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge.
  • Europeana 1914-18  a project with Europeana  is a project across Europe in which people are asked to bring family letters, photographs and keepsakes from the War to be digitised.
  • A collection of public domain philosophy texts developed in close consultation with the project’s academic advisory board, students from Goldsmiths University and project partners Oxford and Royal Holloway.
  • WW1C  This initiative to collect, create and release digital learning content as OER in an easily accessible online platform to provide an academic-driven corpus of reusable scholarly resources that seek to readdress World War One and its cultural, historical, and political context is being delivered in conjunction with other cultural and heritage organisations:Queen Mary’s, University of London,Kings College London, University of Bristol, University of Exeter, University of Brimingham, Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the International Society for First World War Studies.

Open ‘courses’ developed with external funders

A small number of ‘courses’ have been developed and offered free, to the public behind a non Oxford specific login, for students to study materials. These have had external funding for development.

  • Fourteenth-Century French Notation This course is designed for musicians who can read modern notation but have no knowledge of medieval notation. It is offered openly to the public, and materials can be re-used by other people in their teaching. Part of the DIAMM project. Licensed as OER.
  • Introduction to Environmental Science This short online course provides offers a supporting an online community of knowledge sharing in regional climate prediction. Participants automatically become members of the community upon registration. Other experienced climate practitioners will also be welcomed, allowing members to exchange knowledge and experience of climate modelling and related issues. In conjunction with Met Office and NERC. Not Licensed as OER.

Accredited pathways

Dept of Continuing Education offer nearly 100 short online courses. These are not licenced as OER, attract a fee for participation and are limited to small groups.  They also offer CAT points at undergraduate level which can be used by learners as credit for study in other institutions which recognise CAT structures. As of 2012 credit earned from online short courses is now transferable towards a new award programme, the Certificate of Higher Education.   Continuing Education (CPD) offer Postgraduate Certificate courses each module of which can be studied independently as a stand-alone course, or taken together to lead to the University of Oxford qualification. The face to face elements of the course may be a single residential weekend.

Example: The Postgraduate Certificate in Nanotechnology. Successful completion of Module 1 is equivalent to 10 CATS-equivalent points at postgraduate level. Successful completion of Modules 2 and 3 is equivalent to 25 CATS-equivalent points at this level for each. Students take three online nanotechnology modules. At the end of the third module, students are required to attend a residential weekend in Oxford.

Public engagement and global events

The University has positioned itself well to take advantage of massive interest in learning opportunities and materials around global events or universal topics.  E.g the enormous popularity of Galaxy Zoo and the many collections across the Collegiate University which are being readied in anticipation of the commemoration of the Great War in 2014.

Our large scale online projects generate widespread engagement by the public. Web technologies offer opportunities for ‘easy participation’ by large numbers of people and by large numbers of academic colleagues.  There is a move towards ensuring that engagement is not just one way, but two-way. Sustainable models for public engagement focus on developing large audiences through involvement with low threshold technologies and support them in adding richness to the experience.


Where OER and online  materials are made available via university platforms (, Weblearn and ItunesU) IT Services can track usage and download  statistics and give individual lecturers detailed reports on reach and use. This is particularly of interest to colleagues disseminating their research. Some individual lecturers are seeing hundreds of thousands of downloads of their lectures across the world and receiving large volumes of fan mail.


At this year’s  Freshers Fair  we asked students about the podcasts they had listened to. 71.5% had heard of Oxford on ItunesU, 30% said they had listened to podcasts before coming to the university. 67% said they had listened to ‘lectures and talks on relevant subjects’, 54% to ‘introductions to the university’. (IT Services Freshers Fair survey, 2012).

Massive online courses offer an opportunity  not only to show what we know, what we can do, but also have potential students and colleagues show us what they know and what they can do. As such they are a route to engaging the best talent in the world.

Links with Schools

IT services facilitates ‘teacher engagement days’ for OER projects which bring teachers from across the UK to interact with collections of OER materials and give feedback on how they can best be shaped for use in schools.

Student support

In the recent DIGE research done with current students podcasts were listened to by 69% of respondents, with TPGs accessing them the most (77%) and UGs (64%). (DIGE report)

Internationalisation, discoverability and translations

The open licencing of OER enables the creation of transcripts and translation for international use.   Our collections include a lot of audio and video so IT Services has undertaken work on automatic speech to text transcription for the purpose of improving keyword metadata and producing a captioning toolset. Within the area of internationalisation a logical next step would be to pursue discussions with academic contributors regarding the release of automatic transcripts and to investigate automated translation of the transcripts for the benefit of international users.


Oxford University has also been successful in securing funding to research the use and impact of OER externally and is recognised as a centre of expertise. Research projects have been hosted by IT Services, Oxford Internet Institute and Continuing Education.

A recent successful bid to Fell Fund has enabled one in Dept of Education: ‘As the interest in OER grows, it is timely to offer a more critical and in-depth examination of how OER is effectively used in by educators and students within the university. This will be achieved via a systematic literature review and a series of rich qualitative interviews with academics from a range of disciplines within the University, in order to understand a range of pedagogical, social, cultural, technological and political factors that are highly relevant to this developing field of research, while at the same time providing information that can be used at an institutional level to inform teaching practice, and appropriate models and investment strategies for OER within the University of Oxford in the future.’

Alumni relations

Colleges across the university participate in this online activity by recording and releasing podcasts under their name to engage with future students and alumni.

Brasenose College (2) Linacre College (14) St Hilda’s College (5)
Christ Church (31) Mansfield College (9) St Hugh’s College (2)
Exeter College (3) Oriel College (27) St John’s College (32)
Green Templeton College (42) Somerville College (2) St Peter’s College (2)
Harris Manchester College (4) St Anne’s College (21) Trinity College (1)
Jesus College (2) St Antony’s College (38) University College (25)
Keble College (42) St Catherine’s College (5) Wadham College (1)
Kellogg College (61) St Cross College (30) Wolfson College (42)
Lady Margaret Hall (1) St Edmund Hall (8)  

OUP Online Resource Centres

OUP make online materials available to teachers to use in classrooms. The materials are designed for students and lecturers who are using the related textbook on their course and include test banks and multimedia.  They are ‘packages of materials’ designed to be used locally in a VLE in the school. Although they are free of charge, resources are password-protected in order to restrict access only to those who are entitled to it (ie. lecturers who have adopted the textbook on their course, or students who have bought the textbook).

The Online Resource Centres include podcasts, the Press has a unique opportunity to be part of itunesU by its association with the University (other publishers would not be able to publish podcasts in itunesU)  work between Oxford University IT services and OUP aimed at getting OUP podcasts into ItunesU has been stymied due to complex licencing issues relating the content.

OUP Oxford e-learning

Content on Oxford e-Learning is written by leading experts and peer reviewed to the highest standards. Many of the courses are formally accredited by independent professional bodies. Unaccredited courses serve as e-learning only. Personalised certificates to give evidence of e-learning are available for many of the courses, which may be submitted to professional societies, or to a national governing body.

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