I first became a MOOC Mentor on the How to Succeed at: Applications and How to Succeed at: Interviews online courses, which first ran in 2014. It was a great experience. Each course attracted thousands of learners, including University of Sheffield students and graduates. This was a fantastic outcome, as it enabled them to access Careers Service resources in a new way. But, that was only the start of it.
What also happened was that learners from far and wide joined the course and participated in fascinating discussions about applications, CVs and job interviews. At times, conversations moved beyond that, to give us a glimpse of the context in which people were situated. It was inspiring to see that, despite some difficult circumstances, people felt motivated to focus on their skills, and make plans to move, develop and take up new opportunities. There were also some amusing anecdotes about unusual interview experiences!
Following the success of these first two courses, they have been repeated several times since, always attracting a similarly high number of learners. The learners are a surprisingly diverse group, ranging from those who have yet to apply for a job and those long-retired; the newly qualified looking for their first job and the recently redundant considering a career change; job seekers and recruiters; sixth formers, undergraduates and experienced professionals.
Where else could all these people meet, converse and learn from each other? This is one of the interesting aspects of a MOOC for me. Learners from every continent of the world have taken part, and this diversity enriches the interactions immensely. It is interesting to observe the online interactions between members of this community. So many people are prepared to reach out to others to offer words of encouragement, to share experiences and give opinions. The learner input is overwhelmingly positive.
My role, as a mentor, is to facilitate discussion and to look out for specific queries which require a response. As a mentor, it is important not to jump in and answer questions posed by the learners. This can be difficult as, in my usual role, I work in an information team, where answering questions is a key part of my duties. The emphasis in a MOOC is the development of an online learning community. This can be done in a variety of ways. By ‘liking’ someone’s comment or by acknowledging it with a brief remark, I hope to encourage learners to continue taking an active part in the discussion. Some learners are taking part in an online course for the very first time, so I think it is particularly important for them to know that there is someone ‘out there’. If their contribution receives a positive response, they may be more likely to continue to post comments.
To open up the discussion, it is sometimes as simple as asking: ‘What do others think?’ Or: ‘Has anyone else been in this situation?’ This changes the emphasis of the discussion, so that more of it takes place between the learners. Often, learners just need to be directed to another section of the course, where their question will be answered. If the discussion takes a worrying turn at any point, mentors keep an eye on proceedings to see if the community manages to resolve issues. Sometimes, it is necessary to step in with a response of some kind. But more often than not the discussion reaches a natural end, or changes to another topic. Careers Advisers and other colleagues are on hand to help when difficult issues are raised, or when a specialist opinion is sought.
Overall, I would say I have learned a lot myself from this experience of a new interactive learning platform. I love the egalitarian structure, where all contributions are valid. I think it is great that the University is opening its doors to learners in this way, and from the learners’ feedback I know that this view is shared by many others. Many learners concluded that they had increased in confidence and had become more aware of the number of skills they had. Some were able to tell us of application and interview success, as they were engaged in the recruitment process during the course and could put their learning to immediate use! MOOCs are a great example of the University extending its civic responsibilities, leading to a truly international experience. I am sure they will continue to prove popular with learners around the globe.
So, where does fruit come in to all this? During an interview, you should always expect the unexpected. So you may be asked to think about what kind of fruit you would be, if you were a piece of fruit, in an interview! If you participate in the How to Succeed at: Interviews, you will find a suggestion of how to structure an answer to this and similar questions, which will demonstrate that you are the ideal candidate for the job.