All posts by Tasneem Jaffer

Positioning MOOCs in Open Education at OEGlobal2017

Max Price - OEGlobal
Dr Max Price delivering his keynote as OEGlobal 2017

From 8-10 March, Cape Town played host to Open Education Global (#OEGlobal2017), an international conference organised by the Open Education Consortium. Over the 3-day jam-packed initiative, more than 200 delegates from 47 countries engaged in the conference as a place to “discuss, plan, reflect, collaborate, innovate and celebrate openness in education”.

During his opening speech at the conference Dr Max Price, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT), emphasised the need for “free decolonised quality” education. Although the importance of open education was clear in his speech, Dr Price highlighted big challenges faced in open education (OE). He stressed the need for OE researchers to focus on finding why access and uptake of open education resources (OER) are not living up to the expectations.

A similar sentiment was expressed by second keynote speaker, Professor Narend Barijnath, CEO of the Council on Higher Education in South Africa who presented the idea that knowledge is a ‘human right” and “public good” and shouldn’t be available to only those who can afford it. While ubiquitous access to education may be the ultimate goal of OE, it faces many challenges, especially in developing countries, where data costs are high and access to technology is limited. Another concern is the quality of the OER produced.

Despite these challenges, many universities have committed themselves to producing content that can be shared freely. As Professor Barijnath said in his speech “OER are here to stay!”. One of the ways this is being accomplished is through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). As part of the MOOC implementation team at the UCT’s, Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching, I chose to attend a number of presentations around MOOCs, to understand how MOOCs are being utilised in other contexts.

Besides being a conference participant, I presented on my master’s research. In my presentation entitled, “‘I don’t always wrap MOOCs but when I do…’ – Improving postgraduate students experiences of MOOCS as OERs through facilitation and face-to-face contact” I shared insights into using MOOCs in a blended environment in a postgraduate student setting at UCT. According to my research, even with the use of voluntary local face-to-face facilitator and peer groups, students still struggle with the independent learning that MOOCs often require. The study foregrounded the importance and benefits of face-to-face contact, particularly around the social space, where students are able to have “real” and immediate discussions.

A particularly interesting presentation I attended was by William Van Valkenburg from the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands who presented on “Everything you want to know about MOOCs. TU Delft now has a portfolio of over 60 MOOCs on the edX platform with top MOOCs in the areas of Data Analysis, Creative Problem Solving, Astrophysics and English Grammar and Style. It is also currently experimenting with other universities on how MOOCs can be used for credits in a traditional university setting.  

I attended a collaborative session titled “Third Mission of Universities, MOOCs and OERs” which included research from Paola Corti, Cable Green, Joseph Pickett, Rory Mc Greal and Jane-Frances Agbu. Paola Curti presented on the research of Jane-Francis Agbu (who was unable to attend), that foregrounded the issue of the shortage of space in Nigerian universities for high school graduates. While 1.4 million youth qualify for university entrance, there are only 400 000 spaces available. To fill the gap for students who were not able to get a place at the university, a year long MOOC, “The History and Philosophy of Science” was run in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. The findings of this study were unexpected; it found that the MOOC missed its intended target audience, as of the 401 participants, 56% were well-educated – having completed a postgraduate degree! This resonates with much of global MOOC research, where MOOC participants are commonly found to be degree-holders.

Another MOOC-related presentation was an Action Lab by colleagues in CILT around the idea of Making Use of MOOCs. Drawing on examples of how MOOCs, both at the level of individual materials and used as a whole or part of a course, are being deployed for a variety of educational purposes, this workshop explored the development of a framework for MOOC re-use.

In addition to MOOCs there were also presentations on other prominent projects incorporating OERs. One such project is the Research on Open Educational Resources for Development project (ROER4D) which presented its work and research on the adoption and impact of OER and associated practices in the Global South (see blog post).

The examples described above are a just a few of the research projects and initiatives taking place in OE around the world which were showcased at the conference.  While OEGlobal2017 demonstrated that open education continues to be on the rise, it also highlighted that there are still a number of challenges it faces along the way.

Thinking and feeling: what’s the difference?

Article is reposted from the Futurelearn blog

Professor Mark Solms is the lead educator on the University of Cape Town’s free online course “What Is a Mind?” Here, he discusses the difference between thinking and feeling, and the role that instinct plays.


The distinction between thinking and feeling (cognition and emotion) is obviously a fundamental one in relation to what the mind does. One of the themes that I’ll develop in “What Is a Mind?” is the notion that feelings present problems. That is, they represent needs; they represent demands upon the mind to perform work.

Feelings make us aware that something unexpected (or something unpredicted or something uncertain) is occurring. When I say that feelings represent demands upon the mind to perform work, what I mean is that they represent demands on thinking. The work of the mind is thinking.

Thoughts are ways of dealing with feelings

In the primary case, in the standard situation, feelings come first. Thoughts are ways of dealing with feelings – ways of, as it were, thinking our way out of feelings – ways of finding solutions that meets the needs that lie behind the feelings.

The feelings come first in both a hierarchical and a chronological sense. A little neonate (newborn mammal) has no thoughts to speak of, to begin with; it is a little bundle of feelings. Thinking derives from learning, that is, from experience.

The apparatus for thinking then works on the material we have internalised, from the solutions we’ve experienced, as to how our needs can be met in the world. These solutions are, of course, initially provided by caregivers. (That is why parenting is important.) On this basis, thinking gradually develops and teaches us how to manage our feelings – how to solve the problems that feelings represent.

Thinking can become very elaborate

Once that has happened, though, thinking can become very elaborate. To mention just the most obvious case, a thought, which has developed in relation to a particular feeling, can be re-thought.

If that thought is activated from thinking itself, it can, in turn, reactivate the feeling that goes with it, especially if it’s a thought (that is, a problem-solving process) that has not properly mastered the feeling in question. That will reactivate the feeling. So, later in development, thinking can make feelings come second. But that’s a derivative process, once a mature thinking apparatus exists.

Thoughts are internalized experiences

We must remember that thoughts are just an internalized version of our perceptual experiences of the world. All thoughts, as distinct from feelings, have a perceptual format that is derived from sensory images. (This applies also to thinking in words.) They are internalisations of our experience of the world; what Freud called the “reality principle”.

So when we are feeling our way through a problem using thoughts, we are, as it were, feeling our way through a virtual form of reality, feeling our way through representations of reality.

The function of thinking, in this sense, stands for reality. It’s a virtual space in which we can work out, in the safety of our minds, what to do in relation to reality, before we actually put solutions into effect. In short: thoughts are interposed between feelings and actions.

Thinking and doing overlap

There is also an important overlap between thinking and doing in the world. One consequence of this overlap is that we might, in our doings in the world, avoid certain situations and certain places – for example, dizzying heights – because they make us feel something untoward (in this case, fear): “I won’t go there because I know that if I go there, I’m going to feel scared.”

That’s what the thought is doing, that is the work it performs. It guides what you do and don’t do in relation to feelings that arise from virtual actions. That’s one of the ways in which someone might develop, for example, a phobia. There are all sorts of complicated mental gymnastics that we get up to on the basis of the processes I’ve just described.

Thinking is a refinement of instinct

This leads me to the topic of instincts. We do not have to work out our own solutions to all of life’s problems on the basis of experience. In addition to what we work out for ourselves, and what our parents teach us, we also have certain in-built solutions to problems of universal biological significance.

These solutions apply to things we cannot afford to learn from experience. For example: “I wonder what will happen if I jump off this cliff?” The answer to that question would be the very last thing you learn. Thank heavens for instincts!

But there are many, many problems that cannot be predicted by evolution (what happens if you poke your finger in an electric socket, for instance) and for these problems we need to learn from experience. The in-built solutions are too general and crude.

There are more problems in the world, by far, than there are instincts. So the instincts need to be extended and elaborated, to cope with real-life situations in all their complexity. For that reason, thinking not only interposes itself between feelings (in general) and actions, but also between instinctual feelings and the automatic responses they would release. Thinking generates more nuanced action options.

So – in general – thinking develops in order for us to manage feelings (and the needs they represent) in more flexible ways than our in-built instincts provide. Thinking is a refinement of instinct.

Feelings are not always bad things

What I have said might give the false impression that feelings are always bad things – but they aren’t. Thinking tells you what action will deliver maximal pleasure just as much as the opposite. In the course, we’ll delve more deeply into these workings of the mind, and how pleasure and unpleasure relate to thoughts and feelings.

I mustn’t try to cover everything before we have even begun…

Want to know more? Read Professor Solms’s previous post for the FutureLearn blog or join the free online course “What is a Mind?