Badi Ibrahim and Isabelle Druet were invited to give a workshop in the U.K. at the OOFHEC 2017: The Online Open and Flexible Higher Education Conference. Here is an article about it if you could not attend or would like to continue the discussion on this subject.
IONISx is the online learning branch of IONIS Education Group, the leading private higher education group in France (22 universities, 23 000 students). IONISx began developing MOOCs in 2013. Starting in 2014, IONISx turned its focus to degree-granting programs, creating flipped classrooms for over 5,000 undergraduate engineering and business students and project-based learning for continuing education master’s degrees. With time, we developed new offers for lifelong learning including shorter learning programmes.
Producing collaborative modular content on a platform based on open source technology and carefully designing learning scenarios proved to be the keys to success. This enabled us to create real synergies among universities, producing content in a transverse manner. We also exploit content in varied ways, by combining independent modules and envisaging specific scenarios depending on the audience of the course.
In our quest for quality, and as IONISx is also in charge of the digital transformation of the IONIS Education Group, we also conduct regular reviews and workshops with both students and academics. The format of these sessions has evolved with time: staff awareness; focus groups to interpret learning analytics results, gather insights and formalise new needs and expectations; co-design workshops making the participants real actors of the digital transformation of their university.
In our workshop, we’ll first rapidly look back on these experiences and show some of the tools and methods that proved successful in our organisation. We will then propose a discussion with the audience to exchange best practices, common issues and ways to get around them.
Keywords: online learning, higher education, lifelong learning, flipped classrooms, degree-granting programs, project-based learning, quality.
IONISx is the online learning branch of IONIS Education Group, the leading private higher education group in France (20 schools, 23,000 students). IONISx began developing MOOCs in 2013.
Figure 1: The activity of IONISx moved from MOOCs to degree-granting programs.
Starting in 2014, IONISx turned its focus to degree-granting programs, creating flipped classrooms for over 5,000 undergraduate engineering and business students and project-based learning for continuing education master’s degrees. (Figure 1 displays a brief timeline of the evolution of our activities over the past few years).
Producing collaborative modular content in Open edX and carefully designing learning scenarios proved to be the keys to success. In this paper, we’ll look back on these experiences and show you some of the tools and methods we recommend.
How Open edX enables synergies among higher education institutions: flipped classrooms
In early 2015, IONIS Education Group decided to implement flipped classrooms for undergraduates in its schools. Many first-year students study similar introductory lecture material — for example, both biotech and aeronautics students study physics, with some differences in content. (Figure 2 illustrates the case of 4 of our engineering universities.) The schools wanted to digitize content for these introductory classes and dedicate face-to-face class time to practical exercises.
Figure 2: The scenario solution for our 4 engineering universities:
Standardise online components while allowing for specialisation online and in class
The challenge was standardising the online content as much as possible, while still allowing each school to ensure a relevant curriculum for its students. The solution was to create classes organized into 30-minute independent micro-modules. The content of the modules is normalised: they all include an introductive summary stating the objectives of the module, one or several short videos followed by training exercises, a summary sheet for synthesis, evaluation exercises, and a feedback component to assess one’s understanding level and the quality of the module. (See figure 3 with a screenshot.)
Figure 3: Screenshot of a module in statistics
The micro-modules were designed in coordination with each of the schools, and each school decided which micro-modules to include in its curriculum (see figure 4 with the extract of a curriculum in Maths).
Figure 4: Independent micro-modules to be selected and combined like Lego blocks
Flipped classrooms have several advantages in this context, including being able to customise the angle of the course in face-to-face class time through the exercises discussed, varying the type of learning by alternating between distance and face-to-face, and avoiding passive lectures: class time is devoted to interactions.
Our flipped classroom approach includes all of the following:
- A face-to-face session to kick off the course, where the course plan and the first “interest of the notion” (why learn this?) are explained (either by the teacher or through videos designed with the schools).
- Online learning.
- Learning analytics that teachers consult before each live session to identify learner comprehension.
- Live session, ending with the kick-off of the following topic, with explanation or video about the “interest of the notion”.
- (Repeats until end of the course.)
After a successful first run with first-year students in IT, math, and physics, the program has been put in place for second-year students and we are now working on the remaining three years and other subjects.
Figure 5: Our process requires a high level of coordination for the conception and selection process.
After 3 years, we’ve established a successful model for: (See figure 5 with a scheme of our iterative process)
- Using the benefits of Open edX to create synergies for several institutions who want to use content that is similar but not exactly the same.
- Spliting courses into small, independent units.
- Organizing flipped classrooms for undergraduates.
- Collaborating with teachers from different institutions and animating the community (collaboration tools like our production dashboard (see figure 6), the role of the “referent teachers”, the course authors, the pedagogical coordinator…)
Figure 6: A fictive production dashboard
2. From higher education to lifelong learning: project-based learning for working professionals
At the same time, IONIS Education Group decided to create fully online continuing education offerings to benefit working professionals anywhere in the world. These competency-based programs (degree-granting or short training certificates) allow learners to work toward a career change or promotion or to update their skills.
We adopted a project-based learning approach (see figure 7), most often using group projects, to allow learners to apply their skills immediately and come out of the programs with real experience. This approach also gives them maximum flexibility in organizing their time while still benefiting from interactions with peers.
Figure 7: Project and skilled oriented pedagogical model
Like for the undergraduate classes, a main challenge was creating modular course content that could be adapted to programs with different focuses. Courses were also created as 30-minute micro-modules using the same format. Thanks to Open edX and our back office, we can use the same content in branded environments for different schools in the group or external partners (see figure 8).
Figure 8: Example of an acounting course in a learning environment
The online courses for each program are a library indexed by topics and competencies to correspond to projects. Learners take the classes on their own time and depending on their particular level of knowledge. At the same time, they work on the group projects with remote support from instructors who hold video conferences (virtual classes) to kick off the project and debrief the project, and provide individualised support in between. At the end of each project, students turn in a video presentation and their related documents. Figure 9 is a screenshot of a video presentation with indexed feedback from the instructor. Figure 10 displays the typical sequence of a course.
Figure 9 : Screenshot of the video presentation of a project.
On the left are the indexed remarks from the instructor.
Figure 10: The course sequence for blended and self-paced sessions
The online classes themselves are not mandatory, in the sense that the students are only graded on what they produce for their projects, but learning analytics are still used to motivate students and measure engagement.
Since the launch of our first Online MBA in January 2016, we’ve successfully:
- Used the structural possibilities of Open edX to create synergies for several continuing education programs with different target learners.
- Used effective online classes in a competency-based and project-based learning curriculum.
- Developed a model for how instructors can “animate” remote project-based learning to better evaluate competencies and motivate learners.
3. Aiming for quality and involving all actors in the digital transformation
In our quest for quality, and as IONISx is also in charge of the digital transformation of the IONIS Education Group, we also conduct regular reviews and workshops with both students and academics (See pictures in figure 11 and 12). The format of these sessions has evolved with time: staff awareness; focus groups to interpret learning analytics results, gather insights and formalise new needs and expectations; co-design workshops making the participants real actors of the digital transformation of their university.
Figure 11 and 12: Discussion with students and academics at co-design workshops, spring 2017.
Modular content in Open edX makes synergies possible between different schools, different programs, and different levels of students. To create content that can be adapted in this way and provide flexible paths for learners, many people have to dive deep into course content before it moves to production. The importance of advance planning can’t be overstated.
The support that both learners and teachers are provided throughout the course is also key to a smooth implementation. It’s still often the first time people are learning and teaching online. With flipped classrooms and project-based learning, the content of the online classes is only part of the learning experience. It is key to think in terms of learning scenarios: all aspects of the course have to be clearly organized, questions anticipated, and information clearly communicated.
Thank you for your attention. Please feel more than welcome to share your practice, the issues you are facing and and the solutions you found to get around them by commenting this article!