An eventful year of online courses


After a successful pilot phase in 2011, e-learning became a formal part of AuthorAID at INASP in July 2012 with the launch of our Moodle system. Last year, we conducted two online courses in research writing, which were completed by 58 researchers from about 20 developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. They were among 68 researchers who enrolled in the courses following an application and selection stage.

Encouraged by the high completion and participation rates (see this post for more details), we began our first collaboration to develop and run a customized course in research writing. Our partner in this effort was Blacksmith Institute, a US-based nonprofit focused on solving pollution problems. Sandy Page-Cook and Anne Riederer from Blacksmith’s Journal of Health and Pollution helped us customize the course to make it relevant to researchers working in environmental health.

We offered the first session of this 5-week course in April 2013, with a batch of 49 researchers (our largest so far!) from developing countries around the world. Anne and I facilitated the course together, answering participants’ questions and moderating the discussions, and Anne did a wonderful job of evaluating the participants’ abstracts. The participants made more than 250 posts on the discussion forum, and 45 of the 49 participants completed the course.

Then it was time to offer our new online course on writing grant proposals, which was made up of 7 lessons and 5 activities. This course was specifically offered to women who had applied to one of the AuthorAID grants in the past two years but were not successful. I was the facilitator and the only man in the course. Luckily the participants didn’t seem to mind. We saw a 94% completion rate (33 out of 35 participants) and one of the participants went on to win an AuthorAID grant right after the course! Incidentally, I won a travel grant while facilitating the course, which allowed me to attend the World Social Science Forum in Montreal to speak about our plans to develop online research writing courses for social scientists.

In October, we ran the second session of our online course in environmental health research writing. Before this course, the participants were asked to go through a two-week module on academic literacy, developed by Siobhan Duvigneau from the Institute of Development Studies in the UK. The academic literacy module was not facilitated, unlike our typical online courses. It was our first time offering a standalone course. We saw a completion rate of 56%, lower than what we typically see in our research writing courses, but not surprising because it was not only a standalone course but also somewhat demanding with 7 lessons and 7 activities in a 2-week period. The completion rate rose to 80% in the environmental health writing course, which was facilitated.

Continuing in the theme of offering courses targeted at researchers in specific subject areas, we announced a call for applications to our next online research writing course for researchers working in the physical sciences. The deadline to apply is December 31 and the course will begin in mid January. I am now working on adding activities to the course, including a couple of peer assessment activities. See the course outline to get an idea of what’s in the course.

Apart from running our own and collaborative online courses, we are keen to explore blended learning options (online + face to face training), especially for initiatives aimed at embedding training and capacity building within institutions in our partner countries. As part of this agenda, a group of researchers from Sri Lanka joined an online research writing course and recently attended locally organized workshops.

This month, we upgraded the AuthorAID website and Moodle. As the Moodle admin, I’m particularly thrilled about the Moodle upgrade (now we use version 2.5). Take a look! This version of Moodle works reasonably well with smartphones, and with our planned upgrade to version 2.6 access from mobile devices should become even better.

It’s been an exciting year of e-learning at AuthorAID and INASP, and we’re planning to work on more courses and more collaborations next year.

Ravi Murugesan
I live in India and I'm an INASP Associate. I work for the AuthorAID project, mostly as a trainer, and I spend a lot of time on INASP's online learning platform.

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