Making a MOOC: Expanding your reach through accessible education

September 25, 2017 The Wiley Network

Physiology: the Science of Life”, Is a free online course developed by the Physiological Society in partnership with the University of Liverpool to support the teaching and understanding of physiology. Launching on September 25th, the course serves as an introduction to human physiology. We spoke with Chrissy Stokes, head of Professional Development and Engagement, to learn more about their engagement with the youngest members of the Physiology community.

PhySoc MOOC QandA

Q. What first sparked the idea to create a MOOC and how did it evolve into the final course?

A. From our extensive interaction with school teachers, we know that some areas of physiology can be difficult to teach, often due to a lack of resources or to health and safety restrictions. The Physiological Society commissioned this MOOC to support the teaching of physiology in schools, to raise the profile of the discipline as a choice for further study and even a career, and to ease the transition between school and higher education. The Society prepared an invitation to a group of universities to be the Content Provider for the MOOC and the University of Liverpool was selected following a competitive process.

Q. The Physiological Society offers a variety of resources and opportunities for students, postgraduates, and early career researchers. Can you talk a little bit about PhySoc’s focus on the youngest members of the Physiology community and what distinguishes the MOOC from other initiatives?

A. The MOOC was designed to link to the A-level Biology specification from a selection of Awarding Bodies; as such it is of direct value to teachers and their students. The course employs interactive approaches to teaching physiology that provide new ideas and new resources to use in the classroom. Because the MOOC was designed by the University of Liverpool with the support of The Society, students will gain insight into the type of work they might undertake in physiology – or related – degrees at university. Footage for the MOOC was also filmed on-site in real universities, using real practical laboratories and with real lecturers, so it provides a window into higher education on a more practical level as well.

It is also important to highlight that this MOOC is available worldwide and at no charge. We hope that this will help to make physiology more accessible to a wider demographic and perhaps encourage learners from later in life or those that have not had access to science education. Discussion forums will run throughout the MOOC to encourage interaction and spark interesting debate across the barriers of geography and finance.

Q. What are The Society’s goals for the course and how do they support your mission?

A. The Society anticipates that the MOOC will encourage more students studying biology at school to consider physiology as an option for further study: both through supporting learning but also through raising awareness of the discipline and related careers. The Society’s ambition is to promote the discipline of physiology and the research in this area, providing greater understanding of the body in health and disease.

In addition, we hope that the MOOC will support learning amongst a wider demographic that shares an interest in physiology but perhaps don’t have access to the excellent learning resources available in the UK.

Q. What recommendations do you have for other societies who are looking to increase support for their undergraduate communities?

A. We recognize the importance of our undergraduate community to the future of physiology and we do as much as we can to support, encourage and inform them.

We have a large and growing membership of undergraduates studying physiology and we have representatives – or Ambassadors – based in universities across the world. We take time to listen to the opinions of stakeholders to ensure that our resources and funding are used as effectively as possible. Just this year we have undertaken an evaluation to improve our most popular funding initiative, the Vacation Studentship Scheme, and we have also carried out focus groups with undergraduates, which will inform the way we communicate with them in future.

Q. Do you have plans to continue engagement with students once the course is finished?

A. The Society is currently undergoing a strategy review which will be finalized later this year. Promoting the discipline of physiology will be a key part of this, and we are excited to continue engaging the next generation of physiologists to help us ensure that physiology flourishes.

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