Improving confidence in technical English

A student looking at a teaching film.

The School of Engineering has a large number of direct entry students who begin their studies in their home country.

The project aimed to produce a MOOC that makes use of material from the Electrical Engineering first year modules. This was to be freely available and open to all on the FutureLearn platform (stage 1). Content was to explore and explain key Engineering terminology and lab equipment. Videos would have Mandarin transcripts. A subsequent closed course by invitation only (stage 2) was to enable students to explore the concepts in more detail. This was all achieved.

The project aimed to support the transition of direct entry students to the University of Birmingham by offering the opportunity to build confidence in their technical English and to have developed links with teaching staff. There is no available evidence on the transition of learners from the free online courses through direct entry routes into degree programmes.

Almost 7,000 people expressed an interest in joining the online courses. Nearly three thousand learners engaged actively with the course content during the various runs of the online course.

The freely available MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) has been run twice (to date) on the FutureLearn platform. Freely available to joiners from anywhere in the world the two runs had a combined reach of 6,765 people engaging with the course description pages and actively joining the course as learners. Learners came from 161 countries. Of the total learners 4,817 viewed the course content, 2844 engaged actively with the content and 615 posted comments in the course discussions. 362 expressed an interest in finding out more about study at Birmingham and 36 engaged with stage 2 of the course by invitation.

Comments from learners:
“I have learned so much and it's been very easy to understand and enjoyable to do thank you for the course i had a lovely time thanks …”
“This has been a great course, highlighting the many areas in which we use Electrical Engineering (and Engineering in general) without even thinking about it.”
“A good course that leaves you with more desire to acquire information, and a great definition of engineering.”
“The way you teach an interdisciplinary and system wide approach makes a lot of sense. Oh to be 18 again, I'd be knocking on your door!”
“Thank you. I really enjoyed this course. It helped me to understand me what actually engineering is.”

The course engaged learners from 161 countries, with significant representation from India, China, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Mexico, South Africa and Sudan as well as the UK and USA.

The course was featured in two British Council ‘Study UK’ campaigns, the first to encourage learners from developing countries to sign up and commit to studying on the FutureLearn platform and the second to promote more widely the University of Birmingham alongside four other UK HEI’s to the Chinese market via a social media video campaign.

The latter stages of the project engaged four postgraduate students to work with the online learners in developing their ideas. This allowed the postgraduate students to develop their own understanding of communicating engineering concepts to an inexperienced audience.

Video content from the MOOC has been used in first year Electrical Engineering undergraduate lectures, as a means of presenting applications examples to create additional context and relevance within the syllabus. The systems-level approach taken in the MOOC has been introduced into the same course, where the challenge is to present content in a form that appeals to Engineers from other disciplines and which is recognisable as transferrable to other disciplines. The topic-based nature of the MOOC inspired a redesign of the coursework for the same course, which is now all centred on a theme running throughout the academic year. Discussion boards in Canvas are being used to create a social learning space alongside the coursework. There are approaching 400 students in the undergraduate cohort taking this module each year.

Project Category:

Transition into the University

Funding Allocated:


Funding stream:

Education Enhancement Fund


Professor Nicola Wilkin, Director of Education, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (t: 0121 414 4661, e:

Nina Morris, International Officer, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (t: 0121 414 8214, e:


For more information, contact the projects office on, quoting reference CSLP157.