Delivering the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) 20th Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is certainly cause for celebration. In just four years, the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teachingʼs (CILT) previous 19 free online courses, covering topics ranging from social innovation to fintech, climate change and clinical research, have reached over 250 000 self-motivated students.
It’s no small feat. And by the 20th open-access course, one might assume that there’d be few surprises awaiting the team that put it together.
But producing the most recent MOOC, titled “Educating Deaf Children: Becoming an Empowered Teacher”, challenged the production team’s processes and preconceptions, and took them on a steep learning curve.
The team comprised video producer Laura Skippers, graphic designer Sandiso Mchiza and lead online learning designer Lauren Butler, all from CILTʼs digital media production unit.
Joining them was research officer Dr Jane Kelly from the Teacher Empowerment for Disability Inclusion (TEDI) project, which is headed by UCT in partnership with the Christoffel-Blinden Mission (CBM) and co-funded by the European Union and CBM.
The TEDI project began in 2017 with a situational analysis of the educational needs of learners with disabilities, along with another research project that looked at the availability of teacher education programmes in South Africa. The principal investigator for the research projects is Associate Professor Judith McKenzie, head of Disability Studies in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
“What we found across all of our research is that the teachers in these schools – while passionate and motivated – often arrive at the schools with very little training,” said Kelly.
“What we found across all of our research is that the teachers in these schools – while passionate and motivated – often arrive at the schools with very little training.”
Responding to this, TEDI commissioned a four-part MOOC project, of which the 20th MOOC is one. The other three look at children with severe to profound intellectual disabilities, children with visual impairment, as well as a broader course on disability inclusion and education. While the latter has been live since February, the other two are set to go online in the next few months.
A whole new world
Of the four production team members, Skippers has the most experience working on MOOCs. Still, she had much to learn from the 20th MOOC – and all the lessons were welcomed.
“There was a lot to consider,” she said, explaining that the brief was far more extensive than she’d previously encountered.
“We had to change a lot of the way we did things and the way that we set up our studio.”
For this MOOC, Skippers was tasked with filming Deaf presenter Jabaar Mohamed, Western Cape director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa.
It was only after she’d filmed Mohamed using sign language in front of a green screen that Skippers realised the challenge. Because Mohamed uses his hands to sign, there was motion blur and Skippers quickly realised she had to change the camera settings.
“It made us think about how to adapt and make our entire filming process more inclusive [for] anyone who walks into the studio,” she said.
“How do we accommodate them; how do we meet their needs?”
She and the team also learnt about Deaf culture and etiquette.
“You don’t address the interpreter, you just address the person and then they introduce you to their interpreter,” said Skippers.
“It made us think about how to adapt and make our entire filming process more inclusive [for] anyone who walks into the studio.”
“Always communicate directly with the person.”
“Educating Deaf Children” was Mchiza’s first MOOC experience – and certainly one he’ll never forget.
He was responsible for the production of course designs and illustrations. A unique experience for the graphic designer was having to consider the colours he’d use because the content had to be accessible to participants who are visually impaired.
“I’ve never done anything like this,” he said.
“It was a very good experience because [I] learnt a lot.”
This was also Butler’s first MOOC project, but working on it went beyond the professional for the online learning designer. She grew up with a hearing impairment and has bilateral cochlear implants.
“It speaks to people with disabilities in an empowering, liberating and dignified way,” she said of the MOOC project.
“It is a whole new world for me, and I am very happy to have found it.”
She said she hopes all people with disabilities have an opportunity to enrol for the MOOC and the other 19 courses.
“I want all of the people with disabilities to know that it’s there and that they are not alone, they are not on their own.”
The experience of working on “Educating Deaf Children” was as rewarding for Kelly as it was for her colleagues. Part of her role was to support the course convenors, UCT clinical educator in audiology Tara Kuhn and Odette Swift, principal at Fulton School for the Deaf in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Working on this project, I learnt how incredibly valuable [MOOCs] are.”
Another responsibility was infusing the findings of the TEDI situation analysis into the MOOC.
Making education accessible
“Working on this project, I learnt how incredibly valuable [MOOCs] are, how they … make education so accessible to so many different people,” she said.
Equally important to Kelly was working with colleagues from diverse backgrounds and with people with disabilities.
“Just being exposed to these different ways of communicating has been incredibly rewarding,” she said.
“I felt as though I learnt something new every day.”
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