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“MOOCs are mediocre” so says ex-UK Universities Minister

David Willetts

Hot Topics got the chance to sit down with the UK government's former Minister for Universities and Science to discuss the impact of emerging education technologies.

David Willetts has been a Conservative MP for 25 years. His most recent role was as Minister of State for Universities and Science.

A post he held from 2010-2014.

When it was announced that Willetts would be stepping down from the role, tributes poured in from across the UK higher education sector.

Whether the people agreed with his policies or not, it was almost unanimously decided that Willetts had fulfilled his role with great dedication and thought.

Maybe that should be expected from a politician nicknamed ‘two brains’.

Not bad feedback though, considering this is a man who was responsible for the raise of tuition fees in the UK.

As part of a wider investigation into the impact of edtech generally, Hot Topics visited Westminster to sit down with Willetts to discuss how Universities have evolved using technology, the government’s role in that and, of course, whether he still stands by his decision to raise tuition fees.

Willetts is convinced the impact of edtech within higher education will be a positive one.

He maintains that we are just at the beginning of the curve, but states that technologies including big data, interactive textbooks and availability of educational materials online will drive improvements in the delivery of education globally.

It may not help with lecture attendance levels though.

“UK universities are certainly beginning to feel the influence of the arrival of technologies. For example, nearly half the students who don’t turn up to lectures, give as their reason that the information was available online so they didn’t need to go to the lecture.”

In terms of the key trends that will stem from the impact of edtech on Universities, Willetts believes that it will be the access to analytics derived from that online learning.

“The real development is much more sophisticated education analytics and much greater ability to analyze how an individual is learning.”

Willetts is less enamoured with MOOCs (massively open online courses), describing them as “mediocre” so far.

“A lot of them have just been sticking lecture courses online, they haven’t always had good production values and haven’t always taken the education process forward.”

Willetts shares a whole host of further views on the impact of edtech on higher education in this wide-ranging video interview.

Oh, and he also reveals whether or not he stands by his decision to raise University tuition fees.