The Design of a Dual-Pathway MOOC to Improve Student Transition From Secondary to Higher Education in Ireland

Concurrent Session 1
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This paper reports on innovations in MOOC design providing dual-pathways to improve the transition of students from Secondary to Higher Education in Ireland.


After graduating from the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London Gavin practiced as an architect in the UK and Germany for 15 years. Since joining IT Sligo in 2001 he has lectured in architecture and was centrally involved in the development and professional accreditation of a number of Level 8 and 9 architecture programmes. Additionally, he was Programme Coordinator of the on-line Construction Management programme and has many years on-line teaching experience. In his current role as Programme Manager with the Centre for Online Learning, Gavin has responsibility for online education, blended learning, MOOC pedagogy and development, Recognition of Prior Learning & Competency Based Education, online exams, digital badges. Gavin currently leads a collaboration of 7 Irish HEIs in the development of a MOOC to support the transition from second to third level education in Ireland. Additional roles include: Chair of the Institute’s Learning, Teaching and Assessment Committee Member of the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA) Steering Group Committee Member of the European MOOCs Stakeholders Summit Member of the Programme Committee for MoodleMoot Ireland-UK Gavin can be found at: Email: Twitter: @gavinclinch

Extended Abstract

The Design of a Dual-Pathway MOOC to Improve Student Transition From Secondary to Higher Education in Ireland
While MOOCs have in the main been designed as stand-alone, self-directed on-line courses some institutions have been experimenting with MOOC wrapping where a formal course incorporates existing MOOC(s) in a blended model that combines elements of face-to-face and online learning (1).
This paper reports on a pedagogical intervention and the collaboration of seven Irish universities in the design and development of a dual-pathway MOOC to support students in the transition from secondary to Higher Education in Ireland. The importance of aiding students transition into higher education has been highlighted by Cook & Leckey (2) who found that undergraduates are likely to arrive at university with learning strategies suitable to secondary school but far less effective in third level learning environments. They conclude transition to be the ‘greatest hurdle' in higher education.
Given the demographic profile of the target audience, 16 to 20 years old, 50% male 50% female, and their relative lack of experience with MOOCs and self-directed learning the university partners concluded on the need for two discrete pathways within the MOOC. A self-directed pathway where the participant navigates the content, assessments and fora alone (intended primarily for first year undergraduate students and those with MOOC experience) and a teacher-facilitated pathway where participants are supported and directed through elements of the MOOC by a teacher in the classroom using a blended approach to learning. MOOC participants will also be supported by e-moderators whose role is to stimulate and support discussion.
 In order to test the hypothesis of this design approach and the efficacy of the dual-pathways a two week pilot MOOC is being delivered to a number of school and college student cohorts in November/December 2015. The conference presentation will report on the findings from surveys and structured interviews with participants and on observations made by faculty, e-moderators and MOOC designers. It will further report on any re-design of the MOOC and blended learning model as a response to the feedback.
It is intended that the completed MOOC will be delivered as a 6 week long course for self-directed learners and a 12 week course for teacher-facilitated learners with start dates in January and September each year.
The MOOC will consist of the following courses/topics:
1. Orientation
2. Learning to learn (at third level)
3. Critical and Creative thinking
4. Digital Literacies and communication skills
5. Responsible Citizenship
6. Synthesis & Reflection

The final two years of secondary school education in Ireland are known as the  senior cycle where programmes lead to State examinations when students are 18 years of age. Student achievement in these examinations is directly linked to processes of selection for courses of study in further and higher education through a points system (3). Universities set minimum points requirements for each programme of study. As a means of incentivizing MOOC completion by secondary school students the partner universities are proposing to issue micro-credentials in the form of digital badges. These badges could translate as  additional 'points' for the student and potentially make the difference between being offered a place on a chosen university course or not.
The paper will report further on this potentially innovative practice within Irish Higher Education.
Engagement and completion of the MOOC promises many benefits to students:
• A smoother transition from 2nd to 3rd level education
• Enhancement of student success and progression in 3rd level
• Greater confidence in student's ability to transition
• The development of essential skills: 
o study skills
o independent learning
o digital literacies
• Aid development of a sense of belonging 

The expected Key Benefits to Higher Education Sector:
• Higher retention rates of students in HE
• Enhancement of student success and progression in HE
• Greater collaboration between Universities
• The development of common learning materials and content 
• Faculty professional development 
• Greater understanding of the barriers to successful transition from Secondary to Tertiary education
• An Understanding of secondary school students and first year undergraduate students' participation in and engagement with MOOCs

In keeping with a blended learning model conference delegates will be invited to access and review the 'Transition MOOC' prior to the conference presentation and to post questions and comments in the forum asynchronously. Issue raised will be discussed during the presentation. Socrative or Twitter will be used during the conference presentation to further engage delegates (with mobile devices).
1. Bruff, D. O., Fisher, D. H., McEwen, K. E., Smith, B. E., 2013. Wrapping a MOOC: Student Perceptions of an Experiment in Blended Learning. In Journal of Online Learning & Teaching, No 9(2). Available at: 
2. Cook, A. and Leckey, J. (1999) Do expectations meet reality? A survey of changes in first-year student opinion, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 23, pp. 157-71.
3. Senior Cycle Education Available at: