ISS wants to incorporate more online education and a larger online presence in general to attract potential students. Their new MOOC Trade and investment: evidence-based policies for development is a good example. Parts of the MOOC are already used in the restructured course ‘International Trade and Investment Policies for Sustainable Development’. Both course and MOOC were developed with help of the Community for Learning and Innovation (CLI). Project leads Binyam Afewerk Demena and Peter van Bergeijk from ISS look back on their journey.
A need for change
Binyam recalls: "Due to the COVID pandemic, we were forced to reconsider our courses, and find ways to make them more hybrid. Just before the summer break in 2021, there was also a general call for proposals at ISS for online/hybrid courses. And we were already aware that our students wanted to learn more about “real life topics”, like international trade and investment, that weren’t represented enough in the existing course: We observed that several MA students aspire to write research papers about international economic topics, but ISS does not offer training on issues such as trade analysis and economic integration. Also, PhD students often want to research more about international trade, investment, and economic integration."
"On a broader level," Peter adds, "we figured that it would be valuable to offer this course to a wider audience. For instance to academic researchers, who would benefit from a comprehensive refreshment and an update on the latest developments in this area or policy makers who use for example the gravity model as a tool to answer specific questions of interest to them. Added to that, we wanted to make a smarter use of our personal experiences, to underline the textbook knowledge and to pair both with scientific data. We felt that to really show, for example, “globalization” in real life, we needed to use more photographs, video material and articles and a different way of discussing these examples. All this combined led to the idea for a MOOC."
Interaction and blended learning
The two took on quite a bit work, as they combined restructuring and redesigning the course, with the development of the MOOC, ánd editing a book on trade and investment in East Africa with Springer publisher (forthcoming), on their prestigious series title ‘Frontiers in African Business Research’! Restructuring the course was the main one.
Peter elaborates: "Our main intention for the course was to make it more lively, and to include more interaction. To achieve this, we used the flipped classroom teaching approach, reversing the delivery of knowledge and homework with discussion and assignments: This means that pre-recorded teaching sessions are now available for students to watch at their own pace (beforehand), whereas teaching sessions are used to work through assignments, discussions, and hands-on class activities. We also wanted to make it more blended, so that meant defining which knowledge would be interesting enough to put in videos and knowledge clips. That’s just the start, because after this process you need to write scripts, book the studio, find time in people’s agenda’s etc."
"We also wanted to change the examination, and stay away from the standard kinds of exams. We chose to divide the examination in three parts, very closely tied to assessing competences and applying knowledge and skills to real life settings or situations. This resulted in the following examination-parts: writing a blog, based on a scientific article, participation in a policy negotiation game, and writing a policy not about a problem in international trade or investment, relevant for the home country of each participant," Binyam explains.
The restructured course started in January 2022 and the lecturers have learned a lot through this implementation, and from the participants. Now they are considering suggestions for improving it. Peter explains: "For example, we need to see how we can provide more guidance in group discussions, especially in the beginning of the course, when students – apparently – don’t know yet what to discuss." With regard to the MOOC, Binyam sums up: "we are on our way, but is isn’t finished yet. All videos are ready, and so is the main structure, but we still need to write the relevant text to fill this structure, and develop multiple choice questions, pop up questions, and the like. We hope we will be able to provide it through Coursera in the autumn of 2022."
CLI did not just provide the money to realize everything: "We really felt taken care off in this process, by professionals who know what they are doing, and that was great. It was a team effort, and Kris, Giovanni, Romy and Matt (CLI/RISBO colleagues, red) took away a lot of organizational issues, which, considering the time pressure we had, was fantastic. Added to that, there is just a lot of knowledge and experience available about both educational design as well as technical issues – you really can’t do without!"
Peter laughs: "It is truly a lot of work to make a MOOC and to shoot all those videos. But the process in itself is highly rewarding: you yourself are also learning, and that is great. You get to teach in a completely different way, and do many things that are just not possible in class. Best way to get out of your comfort zone. We are very happy to have experienced this, together with our team."