Pedagogy: Best practices

Integrating a MOOC

Integrating a MOOC into your teaching can be an opportunity to vary the type of activities and resources you offer to your students. A MOOC is structured into a number of learning elements that are "ready to use" and generally of good quality. For example, time spent face-to-face or via videoconference can be used for more in-depth discussions, clarification of content or interactive activities. A two-hour course, for example, can be split into several parts or activities instead of having a continuous recorded lecture. This not only avoids the fatigue associated with intensive use of videoconferencing tools, but will also promote active learning among your students.

Below we propose three scenarios integrating a MOOC in university teaching, corresponding to progressive levels of complexity in their implementation (light, intermediate, advanced option). The course themes used for these examples are relatively unimportant, and we encourage you to approach these examples from the perspective of your audience (number of students, level), the articulation between the synchronous/asynchronous working moments you envision and the time you have to rethink your course.

At the bottom of this page you will also find techniques to encourage more active learning among your students by using other resources (readings, pre-recorded lectures, concept maps, voting tools, etc.).



The MOOCs Coursera platform wished to support universities by offering them free access to its entire catalogue of courses until 30 September 2020. Since the course offered by the Coursera platform requires students to register with Coursera and to provide their personal data to both Coursera and to the organisation offering the course, the course can only be offered on an optional basis and not made compulsory. Students must be free to decide whether or not to follow the courses offered.

List of MOOCs available to UNIGE students

See the interview by Dr Christelle Bozelle, Head of MOOcs at UNIGE (RTS, 26 november 2020)


This sample course deals with statistics basics and inferential statistics. In this first case, a complete MOOC is mobilized quite simply, alternating with hands-on practical sessions. The videos, readings and practical exercises of each MOOC module are used to train students in statistics basics. Once these basics have been covered, the lectures resume and deal with inferential statistics.

Teaching methods
Course given to a hundred bachelor students. Works both in online and blended formats.

External material
MOOC Basic Statistics  University of Amsterdam


This proposal consists of an excerpt from a FAPSE bachelor's course in Social Psychology. The table gives an account of the articulation of the teaching over 4 weeks. For this example, only one MOOC module is used. The scenario follows the "flipped classroom" approach (a large part of the theoretical input is provided upstream of the plenary course, thanks to the MOOC). Active learning methods are encouraged by this scenario.

Teaching modalities
Courses given to about 200 bachelor students. Plenary sessions can take place in person or remotely (using videoconferencing tools).

External material
MOOC Social Psychology  Wesleyan University


This course deals with the basics of game design and the creation of educational video games. In this third case, the integration of a MOOC in teaching was more ambitious. A MOOC of 4 modules dealing with game design (videos, readings, practical exercises and peer reviews) is used for 4 weeks as the main subject of the course. Although the theoretical bases around the pedagogical video game are addressed by the instructor during the synchronous phases, the main part of the theory around game design is addressed during the MOOC.

Within the MOOC, students must produce a certain number of elements necessary for the design of video games. This course takes advantage of the structure that the MOOC already proposes to slightly modify the activities into educational (and not only playful) video game production tasks.

Teaching methods
Course given to about 30 master –level students. Can be envisaged remotely as well as in class.

External material
MOOC Principles of Game Design  Michigan State University


Martin Pohl taught the course "Particles and Nuclei" at the University of Geneva from 2012 to 2017, a compulsory introductory course in the 3rd year of the Bachelor's degree in Physics.

In 2015, following a positive response from the Rectorate on his MOOC project on particle physics, Martin Pohl, who had been interested in Eric Mazur's “Peer Instruction” method, decided to use his MOOC in a flipped classroom.  Indeed, the observed lack of enthusiasm, both on the side of the instructor and that of the students, made the instructor decide to revise his course teaching approach.

From then on, through the flipped classroom approach, his class has been much more dynamic. After viewing 3-4 MOOC videos, students arrive prepared in class with questions and problems that are then discussed and debated with the instructor in class. This method generates much more interaction not only between the instructor and the students, but also among students.

The results are very positive indeed: the students are more active, and the instructor feels more stimulated because each class unfolds in a different way. The end-of-course evaluation has been rated much more positively by the students and their exam results have also been higher.

In this case, the MOOC covers 25% of the total course material. But it is also possible to use other materials for the flipped classroom, such as books, manuals, open resources on the web, or other MOOCs from the University of Geneva or external sources.

In this video, Professor Martin Pohl and his assistant Noemi Calace talk about the implementation of the flipped classroom.

Watch the complete interview.

During active learning, students reflect, create and solve problems. Some learning theories postulate that individuals learn by constructing their own knowledge. They connect new ideas and experiences with existing knowledge and experience to form new or improved understanding.

Teachers who promote active learning often explicitly ask students to make connections between new information and their current mental models in order to broaden their understanding. In other cases, they may also design learning activities that enable students to confront their possibly erroneous preconceived ideas, and then help them to reconstruct their mental models on the basis of a more accurate understanding.

Active learning strategies can be either quick activities between transmission moments, or activities that last throughout the course.

The techniques below are simple to put in place when you want to start integrating forms of active learning into your teaching. It requires little change while giving students the opportunity to organize and clarify their thinking. As you begin to integrate these practices, it is recommended that you explain to your students why you are doing so. Talking to your students about their learning not only creates a supportive classroom environment, but can also help them develop their metacognitive skills (and thus their ability to become independent learners).

  • Taking breaks:

Take a two-minute break every 12 to 18 minutes, encouraging students to discuss and rework or consolidate their notes in pairs.

This approach encourages students to reflect on their understanding of the course material, including its organization. It also provides an opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification. It has also been shown to significantly enhance learning compared to lectures without breaks. (Bonwell and Eison, 1991; Rowe, 1980; 1986; Ruhl, Hughes, & Schloss, 1980).

  • Consolidation Exercise:

Take a two- to three-minute break every 15 minutes, asking students to write down everything they can remember about the items presented earlier. Encourage questions.

This approach encourages students to retrieve information from their memory, which improves long-term memory, the ability to learn new material in the future, and the ability to apply information to other areas (Brame and Biel, 2015).

  • Demonstrations:

Ask students to predict the outcome of a demonstration by briefly discussing it with another student. After the demonstration, ask them to discuss the observed result and how it may have differed from their prediction, followed by your explanation.

This approach asks students to test their understanding of a system by predicting an outcome. If their prediction is incorrect, it helps them to see their preconceived idea as incorrect and thus encourages them to restructure their mental model.

  • Reflect - pair up - share:

Ask the students an open-ended question. Ask them to spend a minute or two thinking about it and write down an answer. Then ask students to form pairs to discuss the answers. Bring all students together after a few minutes and ask them to share the answer of the student they discussed.

Asking them to explain their response and critically examine their peer’s responses enables students to articulate new mental connections.


  • Peer Instruction:

This technique is an adaptation of the previous one which involves the use of a voting tool such as Votamatic (

Ask a multiple-choice question based on a concept. Ask students to think about their answer and vote before getting together with another student to discuss it. Encourage students to modify their answers after the discussion, if necessary, and share the results of the class by revealing a graph of all students' responses. Use the graph to generate class discussion.

This approach is particularly well suited to large classes and can be facilitated with a variety of tools. More information is available in MOOC An Introduction to Evidence-Based College STEM Teaching. (Fagen et al., 2002; Crouch and Mazur, 2001).

  • Minute paper:

Ask students a question that leads them to reflect on their learning or to think critically. Have them write for one minute. Ask students to share their answers to generate discussion, or collect all the answers to inform future class sessions.

Similar to the "Reflect - Pair - Share" approach, this approach encourages students to articulate and reflect on newly-acquired cognitive understandings (Angelo and Cross, 1993; Handelsman et al., 2007).

  • Paper strips:

Give students the steps of a process on strips of paper that are mixed together; have them work together to reconstruct the appropriate sequence.

This approach can reinforce students' logical thinking processes and test their mental model of a process. (Handelsman et al., 2007), see below for an example from Aarhus University. 

  • Concept map:

Concept maps are visual representations of a set of semantically related concepts. Concepts are placed in nodes (often circles), and the relationships between them are indicated by labelled arrows linking the concepts.

In order for students to create a concept map, identify key concepts to be mapped either in small groups or as a whole class. Ask students to determine the general relationship between the concepts and arrange them in pairs, drawing arrows between related concepts and labelling them with a short sentence describing the relationship. Several software programs are available free of charge (e.g. Framindmap and Freemind). You can also find more information about concept maps in this article from the CIEL blog).

This approach allows students to construct an external representation of their mental model of a process. An example is presented below.

  • Mini-cards:

Mini-cards are like concept maps, but students are given a relatively short list of terms (usually 10 or fewer) to include in their map. To use this approach, provide students with a list of major concepts or specific terms and ask them to work in groups of two or three to organize the terms into a logical structure, showing relationships with arrows and words. Ask groups to volunteer to share their mini-cards and clarify any points of confusion.

Mini-cards have many of the same strengths as concept maps, but they can be completed more quickly and can therefore be used as part of a larger lesson session with other learning activities. (Handelsman et al., 2007).

  • Grid Categorization:

Present students with a grid composed of several important categories, as well as a list of terms, images, equations or other mixed elements. Ask students to quickly classify the terms into the correct categories on the grid. Ask for volunteers to share their grids and answer any questions that arise.

This approach allows students to express, and thus question, the distinctions they perceive in a field with related elements. It can be particularly effective in helping instructors identify preconceived ideas. (Angelo & Cross, 1993).

  • Student-generated test questions:

Provide students with a copy of your learning objectives for a particular unit and a diagram summarizing Bloom's taxonomy (with representative verbs associated with each category).

Have groups of students create test questions that correspond to your learning objectives and the different levels of the taxonomy. Suggest that each group share their favourite question with the whole class or distribute all student-generated questions to the class as a study guide.

This approach helps students assess what they know and the implications of the instructor’s stated learning objectives. (Angelo & Cross, 1993).

  • Decision-making activities:

Ask students to imagine themselves in the role of political decision-makers who have to make and justify difficult decisions. Provide a brief description of a difficult issue, ask them to work in groups to come up with a decision, and then ask the groups to share their decisions and explain their reasoning.

This very engaging technique helps students to critically consider a difficult problem and encourages them to be creative in finding solutions. The "real" nature of the problems can motivate students to delve deeper into them (Handelsman et al., 2007).


  • Content, form and functions:

Students, in small groups, are asked to carefully analyse a particular object - such as a poem, story, essay, billboard, picture or graphic - and identify the "what" (content), the "how" (form) and the function (why).

This approach allows students to express and thus question the distinctions they perceive in a field with related elements. It can be particularly effective in helping instructors identify preconceived notions (Angelo & Cross, 1993).

  • Case studies:

Like decision-making activities, case-based learning presents students with real-life situations that require them to apply their knowledge to find a solution.

Provide students with a case, asking them to assess what relevant information they already have, what other information they may need, and what impact their decisions may have. Give small groups (3-5) of students some time to review the answers, going around the groups to ask questions and provide assistance if necessary. Give the groups an opportunity to share their answers.

More information and case examples are available from the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, the Case Method Website of UC-Santa Barbara, and World History Sources.

Adapted from Brame, C., (2016). Active learning. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.
Retrieved June 22, 2020 from

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