Education for All: Disability, Diversity and Inclusion – new course launches

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Education for All: Disability, Diversity and Inclusion is the latest course to be developed by the UCT MOOCs project. As the title suggests, it deals with themes such as disability and diversity through the concept of inclusive education. Millions of children around the world are excluded from access to education because of a disability – their exclusion robs them of their potential and diminishes our society. Inclusive education is about addressing barriers to learning and participation, and transforming school communities to allow them to really benefit from inclusion.

Presented by Dr Judith McKenzie and Mrs Chioma Ohajunwa of the Disability Studies Programme at UCT, this course aims to help teachers, other professionals, and parents to tackle inclusion – in a practical way – in their own environment. Over six weeks, the course will look at the background of disability, and strategies for creating an enabling environment in the school and community through the following themes:

  • Week 1 – Why inclusion?
  • Week 2 – Education begins at home
  • Week 3 – Creating an inclusive school
  • Week 4 – Community partnerships for success
  • Week 5 – Changing classroom practices
  • Week 6 – Building networks

The promotion of inclusive education has wider implications for inclusion and diversity in society at large. As Judy mentions in her recent blog post on FutureLearn:

“Listening to a school principal who has contributed to this online course, I was struck by what she said about parents at her inclusive school. These parents did not grow up among children with disabilities, as during their childhood those children were either separated from other ‘normal’ children into special education programmes, or not sent to school at all. Parents can therefore often struggle more with the idea of inclusive education than the children themselves. This made me think about how powerful both exclusion and inclusion are in shaping the way we think about our world, and highlighted for me the need to promote inclusion in education if we are to develop a socially cohesive society in which everyone can participate and have a role to play.”

She goes on to explain:

“When we begin to understand how to include disability in our schools and classrooms it will have a knock-on effect on how we deal with other forms of diversity. Let me give you an example: when a child who has a visual impairment has their needs met in the classroom, the teacher might make an effort to ensure that everything that is presented visually is also read out orally, which not only helps this child learn, but at the same time makes it easier for children with low literacy levels and those who do not have a visual impairment but rather a more auditory style of learning. By catering for one form of diversity, the options become wider, embracing an ever greater range of difference.”

The course consists of video presentations, readings, and activities on each of the various topics covered. There is also a strong emphasis on interactivity promoted by the discussion forums on the FutureLearn platform. At the end of each week, Chioma interviews someone who is actively involved in the area of inclusive education. Excerpts from these interviews are included in the course in audio format, to facilitate access for those who may have low bandwidth. Together with the video lecture presentations on the course, these interviews provide insights from people ‘on-the-ground’, fighting for inclusive education.

In the first week’s interview, disability activist Looks Matoto says that “disability has made me an activist”, and does not believe inclusive education involves lowering standards, but rather “creat[ing] an enabling environment so that I may reach the same standard as you.”

Another interviewee, Marlene Le Roux, who is not only the mother of a disabled son but is also disabled herself, believes that “what was my blessing is that no-one had time to feel sorry for me…what was my saving grace is that there was no time for me to feel sorry for myself, because it was survival.”

Teacher Bokatsi Tshegetsang, who was interviewed about classroom practices says “as teachers sometimes we have this mentality that special education is for ‘those teachers’, that is what they are supposed to do ‘out there’, but it is for everyone, and being inclusive is something that you can include everywhere.”

The course message is amplified in the final week interview with school principal Fatima Shabodien who says “a child is not isolated, a child comes from a community, and communities evolve out of bigger structures, so we have to look at society in general when we look at any issue.”

The course starts 04 April on FutureLearn, and you can sign up for free here. Follow the course hashtag on Twitter #FLEd4All.

What is a mind? one of Best Online Courses of 2015


At the end of 2015, the MOOC aggregator Class Central released their Best Online Courses of 2015 list. We were delighted to learn that the University of Cape Town’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) What is a mind? came in at number six out of their ten best courses. Furthermore, the course ranked second in the psychology category, and third among social science courses. MOOCs are free online courses with no entry requirements. The rankings are derived from learner ratings and therefore reflect learner satisfaction. As one of only three institutions from the Global South to make the “Top Ten”, this was a particularly pleasing outcome.

What is a mind? convened by Prof Mark Solms is one of UCT’s free online courses hosted on the British-based platform FutureLearn and emanates from the UCT MOOCs project – a initiative funded from the Vice-Chancellor’s Strategic Fund. This initiative has a number of objectives including sharing UCT’s teaching and learning with a wider audience as well understanding how people can learn in open online environments. This objective is of particular interest to the course design team, and in this post we reflect on some of the design features that we believe have led to engagement and positive user feedback.

How learners experience the course

We have known for a while that Prof Mark Solms’ What is a mind? course is an exceptional learning opportunity, if the learner comments are anything to go by. Learners appear to be intrigued by exploring what a mind is and how one can conceptualise aspects of the mind. Prof Solms’ work integrates perspectives from neuroscience and psychoanalysis so as to include subjective experience in scientific understandings the mind.

Participants are introduced to specific terminology and concepts in exploring four aspects of the mind: subjectivity, consciousness, intentionality and agency.

A combination of Prof Solms’ engaging lecturing style, that encourages dialogue and discussion, and the presence of course mentors to keep an eye on discussions gives learners the opportunity to join a community of peers and engage in rich discussions. As MOOCs are characterised by  open enrollment, diverse people from many backgrounds and contexts join the course, and a design challenge is to accommodate multiple voices.

A learner who was new to the field remarked:

“As a complete novice in this field I found this course really engaging and stimulating. Professor Mark Solms who presents the course is so enthusiastic about his subject, so that the whole complex subject comes across as entertaining rather than dry. I had to go over some sections again to fully understand them, but I was greatly aided by the comments section in the course where you could bounce ideas off each other”. (Review left on Class Central)

An additional highlight identified by participants is the ‘Ask Mark’ feature where Prof Solms provides weekly video responses to four questions submitted by students. This has had two distinct advantages: the course instructor and course designers can see what learners are grappling with and select those questions which garner most likes. As one learner remarked:

“The contributions from participants were particularly stimulating for this course, and the “Ask Mark” feature, where questions from the students were collated and then a few chosen to be responded to was a really good idea”.  (Review left on Class Central)

In addition, we found that learners started answering each other’s questions, which exhibited peer learning and students taking on teacherly roles. Participants also created short writing assignments which were then reviewed by their peers and could check their understanding by taking quizzes.

As course designers, we are pleased when a course is acknowledged by learners, and as we continue to learn about what makes MOOCs work, we deploy new strategies for social engagement and community formation in open online courses. Such strategies include looking for opportunities to connect learners with each other and amplifying the lead academic’s time and presence. Underpinning this is the FutureLearn platform on which the course is built and hosted; the platform is designed to privilege and support social learning and conversations, making it a good fit for this particular course.

Sign up for next run

Anyone with a general interest in how our minds work will find the course a meaningful experience. As one learner urges:

“Students of the mind will find this fascinating. Other mortals will be seduced into becoming students of the mind. Sign up for next time if you missed it!” (Review left on Class Central)

The course will be running twice this year and enrollment for the April run is now open.


UCT MOOCs on Coursera

We are pleased to announce the launch of two brand new MOOCs on the market leading Coursera platform – Climate Change Mitigation in Developing Countries and Understanding Clinical Research: Behind the Statistics.

Climate Change Mitigation explores the challenges faced by developing country governments wanting to grow their economies in a climate friendly way, and the complexity inherent in lifting societies out of poverty while also mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Presented by Professor Harald Winkler, director of UCT’s Energy Research Centre, and his colleagues from the Mitigation Action Plans & Scenarios (MAPS) Programme , this course covers topics such as facilitation process techniques, energy modeling, scenario building, innovation and policy making. The presenters describe the approach taken in which academic researchers work with high-level influential actors within society to co-produce knowledge, and track this process in four Latin American countries – Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru – and South Africa. The course offers an opportunity to respond to these topics with ideas and reflection from personal contexts, and provides an insight into the complex process of how countries from the South pursue development goals while also mitigating climate change.

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Understanding Clinical Research is intended for health professionals faced with the often bewildering task of interpreting clinical research statistics. The course has been developed by Dr Juan Klopper, head of the Acute Care Surgery division of the Department of Surgery in the Health Sciences Faculty at UCT. Dr Klopper is a strong advocate of open education, has been involved in projects with the Khan Academy, and has been recognised with an award by the Open Education Consortium for his excellent work in the area. The course offers an easy entry to understanding common statistical concepts while avoiding complicated mathematics, providing greater confidence in grasping the key ideas in statistical analysis reflected in research papers.


Coursera has as its mission to “provide universal access to the world’s best education.” The company currently has a dominant market share in the MOOC provision space – offering around one-third of all MOOCs available – with a learner base of some 14 million participants. They partner with a number of the world’s leading universities and other organisations – including Google, Instagram, and Amazon – and UCT is their first partner from the African continent. In the entrepreneurial spirit, Coursera are constantly experimenting with new models of MOOC provision, and the two new UCT courses will be offered in an ‘always available’ format, meaning that they will always be open for sign-up, with only a short lead time between each course run. This offers much more flexibility for learners to take and complete courses as and when it suits them.

The UCT MOOCs project started in 2014 with the intention of developing a diverse portfolio of MOOCs on various major MOOC platform providers. The first two MOOCs – Medicine and the Arts: Humanising Healthcare developed and led by Associate Professor Susan Levine and Professor Steve Reid, and What is a Mind? by Professor Mark Solms – were launched on the UK-based FutureLearn platform in the first semester of 2015. Both courses will run again during 2016. The FutureLearn platform strongly emphasises social learning, building an active community of learners each time the course runs. One of the goals of the UCT MOOCs project is to promote equitable representation of a ‘global south’ perspective in the MOOC provision space, and wide ranging discussions with learners from around the world are a special feature of the UCT courses on FutureLearn.