Free online courses have much to offer professors, including feedback on their own performance.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have generated a previously unavailable “feedback system” for academics who need to lift their game, a conference has heard.

Banchong Mahaisavariya
president of Mahidol University

Banchong Mahaisavariya, president of Mahidol University near Bangkok, Thailand, said some students turned to platforms such as Coursera and LinkedIn to bridge gaps in their subject knowledge. Others used such platforms from the outset because their professors gave “very bad” lectures.

The students “cannot understand”, Professor Mahaisavariya told Times Higher Education’s Asia Summit 2022, held in partnership with Fujita Health University in Aichi, Japan. “So they take courses from MOOCs platforms. Their classes sometimes have no students attending.”

He said MOOCs platforms offered multiple benefits for students, who learned from professors in top global institutions using effective pedagogical techniques. “Explanation by animation is quite easy to understand,” he pointed out. The students also used MOOCs to hone their English comprehension skills. And staff received tough but valuable appraisals. “Otherwise, they don’t know their performance is no good.”

Madhu Chitkara
pro-chancellor of Chitkara University

In a session exploring how to boost access to university, panellists said that the pros and pitfalls of online learning had been accentuated during the pandemic.

Madhu Chitkara, pro-chancellor of Chitkara University in Chandigarh, India, said staff themselves had turned to MOOCs for inspiration and teaching tips.

“Some of the professors – those who are not good at one particular topic or module – have also attended [such] courses,” Dr Chitkara told the summit. “And I think they have also learned a lot. This was a time where we were able to move ourselves in those skill sets in which we were not very good.”

Norihiro Tokitoh
vice-president of Kyoto University 

The conference heard of an “interesting stratification” in Japan, where an instinctive preference for face-to-face classes was gradually giving way – particularly among latter-year students. Kyoto University vice-president Norihiro Tokitoh said that his institution’s desire to internationalise its student body had helped foster this trend, and the pandemic had accelerated it.

Professor Tokitoh said that a support programme launched several years ago, in which talented overseas undergraduates received intensive bilingual classes before their arrival, had been extended to postgraduate students during the pandemic. The programme had also been adapted for selection purposes, serving as a low-stress recruitment mechanism in compatible time zones. “I hope, in the future, we can mix the old system and the new system,” he said.

Eklavya Bhave
Regional director (APAC and Japan), Coursera

But Coursera’s regional director, Eklavya Bhave, said that the benefits of online pivots could be lost if institutions did not have properly framed objectives. “Why the universities want to move online has to be very clearly defined,” he warned.

Mr Bhave also advocated a sparing approach to MOOCs platforms such as Coursera, which had thousands of offerings. “If the [desired] outcome is to augment the curriculum, look at the courses which can help you teach…beyond the curriculum. If the outcome is to build job-ready skills, take the content which is like professional certificates.

“If you make it open for your students or faculty members, they will not know what to take. And at the end, it will not serve any purpose.”


John Ross
Editor (Asia-Pacific), Times Higher Education

John Ross joined Times Higher Education in 2018. He was previously higher education and science correspondent with The Australian newspaper. He has twice won the National Press Club’s higher education journalist of the year award, most recently in 2018, and has been shortlisted five times. He holds a communications degree from what is now the University of Technology Sydney.

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