Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on FutureGrid

FutureGrid MOOCs are located at


1)  Introduction

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have emerged as an important modality in distance education. A key to the success of these courses is the open access model, allowing large numbers of students to access extensive course materials such as lecture slides, videos, and tutorials through a Web interface. In MOOCs targeting computer science and engineering topics, it is critical that access to Web course content be augmented with access to computing environments where the students are able to develop, test, and experiment with software. FutureGrid provides a framework to address this requirement of computer science training and education, enabling a repository for educators to share MOOCs that include both the Web content and executable modules for software that are packaged in virtual appliances.

FutureGrid is a US-based national distributed testbed for research in next-generation middleware for computational Grids and clouds. An important emphasis area of FutureGrid is education; it provides a platform upon which educators can publish and discover MOOCs, including course content and virtual appliances in support of hands-on activities.

While MOOCs often are organized as relatively long (several weeks) courses and staffed to support student communication and assessment, FutureGrid focuses on hosting of relatively shorter educational modules on specific topics that can be incorporated by instructors to enhance the content taught in a traditional University course – for example, modules on topics such as Map/Reduce, Message passing, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud computing that could be incorporated in a distributed computing class.

You may find it beneficial, for instance, to create small MOOC module(s) and use it in your own courses taught in a "reverse classroom" style, while also sharing with the community through our repository. Benefits of publishing your material through this repository include easy access to the video material by students, the ability to reach a wide audeince, and analytics data that can be used to quantify the extent to which your module has been used.

If you are interested in creating MOOC modules, FutureGrid offers the following capabilities to support your idea:

  • Expertise in the development of educational materials for online consumption, including videos

  • A Web-based framework for hosting this content (Course Builder)

  • Expertise in the development of virtual appliances as platforms for hosting hands-on activities, which can be downloaded by students to run on their own computers through commercial and open-source virtualization technologies (e.g. VirtualBox, VMware), supporting courses that scale to large numbers of students by leveraging their own workstations to run course-tailored software environments

  • A cloud infrastructure that can host virtual machines using open-source Infrastructure- and Platform-as-a-Service systems (e.g. Nimbus, OpenStack, Hadoop), supporting courses that require access to larger-scale hardware infrastructure by a smaller set of students.

  • Post-production of your video lectures that includes splitting your module into smaller lessons and generating captions/subtitles


2)  Overview of development of MOOCs using FutureGrid

If you are interested in developing a MOOC hosted by FutureGrid, these are the overall steps to get it going – they are elaborated in detail in the following sections:

  • Determine the topic of your MOOC. The FutureGrid MOOCs are catalogued in a page accessible through the portal – . You may find that other MOOCs have already been developed on a related topic, and expand upon or modify an existing module.

  • Prepare lecture slides. Generally, a MOOC should be structured as a collection of short lectures (10-15 minutes) on well-defined sub-topics that, together, form a course unit - rather than long seminars covering the entire topic. The set of slides should be prepared accordingly. It is important to consider having small amounts of text complemented with digital imagery versus having a large amount of text on your slides.

  • Prepare virtual appliance image for hands-on activities. In addition to lectures, a MOOC should include exercises and (self)-assessment tools for students to conduct as part of their learning. Because software environments can vary greatly depending on the setup of a user’s workstation, the environment for running such exercises should be encapsulated in self-contained virtual machine appliances that can run on a variety of desktop platforms (e.g. using VirtualBox) to provide a consistent software environment for students.

  • Prepare tutorial materials for hands-on activities: documentation in the form of tutorials complementing virtual appliance images allowing students to quickly get acquainted with the environment and accomplish foundational tasks (e.g. compile and execute a program)

  • Record video lectures: there are various ways you can record your own lectures - in the simplest case, you can use desktop-capture software to record slides and voice as you follow them along. You can send the instructional material, as explained in more detail below, to the Community Grids Lab team (Sidd/Tom/Eric) for post-production processing.

  • Publish Web content: FutureGrid staff will assist you in creating an online course development page and making your content available.

  • Publish virtual appliances: FutureGrid staff will assist you in publishing your virtual appliance image so it is available for download by students.


3)  Detailed instructions for the development of MOOCs using FutureGrid

3.1) Determine the topic of your MOOC

MOOCs hosted by FutureGrid tend to be short and focused on a particular technology, suitable for use as a module of a traditional classroom environment. For instance, a MOOC on the Message-Passing Interface (MPI) technology might be appropriate as a module in a class on high-performance computing, while a MOOC on virtual networking technologies might be appropriate for a course on distributed systems or cloud computing. As you consider a topic for your MOOC, you may find that other MOOCs have already been developed on a related topic, and you may decide to expand upon or modify an existing module. The FutureGrid MOOCs are catalogued in a page accessible through the portal – .

3.2) Preparing lecture slides

It is important to understand that creating content for MOOCs is different than standing before a classroom. MOOCs are designed to impart knowledge to massive audiences. Migrating the traditional lecture-based material into an online domain may not be the most effective way of utilizing the potential MOOCs offer.

Here is a great introductory video example from a Coursera MOOC course that is very engaging:

MOOCs are a new and unconventional method of teaching that is being presented to you. No matter how long or briefly you have been addressing traditional classes, the creation of video lectures for a MOOC will require taking new factors into consideration. You will no longer be able to gauge at a glance whether you think the information is getting across to your students. Great care must be taken to get the best possible result from just one video. Thus it is very important that you create a slide presentation that is clear, focused, and that can be followed effectively as a video stream (e.g. ensure font sizes are large enough and that if animations are used, that they are properly timed). Also, it is important that you structure your presentation as a collection of short (10-15 minute) lectures.

Plan beforehand how best to explain your content in one go, because you cannot clarify anything once the recording is finished. Remember to take your appearance and surroundings into account. Choose a location where you are most comfortable and feel capable of presenting your information so that the students will be focusing on what you give them. Imagine what sort of quality you would expect in a video that was attempting to explain your topic of choice. Consider doing a test run of your presentation and make sure the audio/video quality of the content is adequate. And be sure to look at the final result once you are complete. Unlike in a real-world class, if something goes wrong, you can always start over again without penalty. Take as many tries as you need to get it right. The result should be worth it.

The following are links to external MOOC courses that serve as good examples: (has programming exercises with virtual appliances)

Youtube Links to a Unit/Module:

3.3) Preparing virtual appliance image

MOOCs with hands-on computer activities/assignments are best served if students are able to run assignments on software environments that are consistent across their workstations. A general approach to provide consistent environments for your students is to create virtual machines that contain all software needed for your MOOC (including all its dependences including libraries and the operating system) configured in a manner that makes it simple for students to get started.

Virtual machine technologies are now widely available for a variety of platforms, including student personal computers (VMware, and the open-source VirtualBox VM for Linux, Windows and MacOS) as well as academic and commercial cloud resources (FutureGrid, Amazon EC2). By creating a virtual machine image that contains all the software necessary to support a MOOC and making it available to students, an instructor ensures that all students use the same version and configuration of software, thus reducing the need for support that can arise due to mis-configuration, software installation problems, incompatible tool/library versions, etc. We refer to virtual machine images that are customized and configured to support a particular task or function as “virtual appliances”.

Setting up a virtual appliance for your MOOC entails creating and customizing a virtual machine disk image with all the software that your hands-on activities require, alongside configuration files for the virtual machine. These files can then be made available for download by students. Because disk images can be relatively large (hundreds of MBytes), it is often recommended to start with a “just enough” O/S installation and avoid adding tools that are not strictly necessary for students.

Such virtual appliances are intended to be freely distributed to students, and hence they should only contain software and files that are allowed to be redistributed. Typically, virtual appliances are based on the Linux operating system and contain open-source tools.

While there are different formats for virtual machine images, and different ways one can go about creating a virtual appliance, for FutureGrid MOOCs we recommend that you create and make available virtual appliances for student desktops as follows:

  • Consider starting from an existing virtual appliance that may have most of the software needed by your MOOC, and extending it. There are various virtual appliances available for download on the Internet that can serve as starting points. Infrastructures such as Amazon EC2 also feature community images and a marketplace from which users can deploy virtual machine instances; FutureGrid appliances are listed here:

  • If you need to start from a “clean” Linux operating system, consider using the Ubuntu distribution - it is among the simplest to install and use, and you can find appliance images pre-configured with Ubuntu distributions (e.g. from

  • Use VirtualBox to boot up your initial appliance, and proceed to install, configure and test the additional software you need in the appliance.

  • Once all software is installed, configured, and tested, you should clean up and configuration files that are specific to your virtual machine before packaging the appliance for distribution. This includes password files (e.g. /etc/passwd), SSH keys, etc.

  • Configure a user account with a password that you will distribute with the appliance

  • Turn off the virtual machine, and export the virtual appliance image. You should use file formats that can be read by the open-source VirtualBox VM; in particular, the OVF (Open Virtualization Format).

  • To ensure the virtual appliance works correctly, copy the image you exported and start a new virtual machine with the copied image. Check that you are able to log in and use it as intended, repeating configuration steps described above as necessary.

Once virtual appliance images are exported, tested and ready to go, contact FutureGrid staff if you would like to have us host the appliance image for students to download. You may also host it on your own resources, or cloud resources, if you’d like. Add your appliance to the community page so that other users can locate and share it.

In addition to downloadable appliances, you may also wish to create and make available virtual appliances on FutureGrid resources. These may be required for instance if activities require virtual appliance clusters and/or deployments across distributed cloud infrastructures. Tutorials showing how to create FutureGrid images, and use appliances already available on FutureGrid, are available in the FutureGrid tutorials page:


3.4) Preparing tutorial material

Once you create a virtual appliance, it is important to provide documentation describing how to get started using the appliance. You can use the FutureGrid portal to create and host your tutorials. Any registered FutureGrid user can add pages with your tutorial content by following the instructions described in this page:


3.5) Recording video lectures

A camera is needed to record video lectures that would capture both the lecturer and the presentation. There are various tools that can be used to record videos.

Our recommended software is Adobe Presenter; It allows you to record your video lecture using a laptop or a PC at your own convenience. The software is available for $299 for educational use and $499 for retail use. Adobe offers a 30-day free trial period, allowing you to test out the software for an extensive period of time. It is important to point out that IU students, staff, and faculty members can download it for free from IUware! Adobe Presenter is not available for Mac/Linux operating systems. Detailed specs can be found here:

As another alternative, another software that would allow you to record your presentation is Screencast-O-Matic. It is free to use for the first 15 minutes of video and costs $15/year for features appropriate for MOOC needs.

3.5.1) Recommended software and links

Adobe Presenter:


3.5.2) Equipment needed

A webcam and a high quality microphone are needed for capturing your thumbnail video and sound. We recommend using the Logitech C920 HD Webcam that comes with a built-in mic.

Logitech C920 HD Webcam with built-in mic:

3.5.3) Setup needed

Quiet room with a decent professional-looking background and good acoustics.

3.5.4) Module / Unit Content Contribution

Google Course Builder is built on the concept of a “Unit” that is divided into smaller lessons. In this case, we define lesson as being the most granular educational content. Every Lesson contribution should contain the following in a separate folder in IU’s Box service appropriately named as “Title - Author”. (IU’s Box service is a Dropbox-like capability that allows you to send your content to us - instructions on how to access it are provided in another section below)

  • Title/Topic of the contribution

  • Instructional video captured using Adobe Presenter / Screencast-o-matic

  • An outline of the instructional material with proposed set of activities. These may include multiple-choice questions or independent thinking assignments that highlight aspects featured in the course. Objective; Learning Objectives; Previous Knowledge needed for completing this unit; How long is it going to take? Software required?

  • Be sure to include a short biography of the lecturer, along with their express permission for the FutureGrid MOOC to use these files

  • Powerpoint Slides - for visual consistency across multiple MOOCs, you may want to use the FutureGrid template - you may download it from here

  • PDF that contains the powerpoint plus comments

3.5.5) Content Template

This template will help any contributor in getting started by documenting text for the instructional material.

3.5.6) Content Guidelines

- Provide information about the objectives, goals, and structure of each presentation

Provide a brief introduction and outline, letting attendees know what they will see and learn from the presentation.

- Make content relevant

To keep students’ attention and motivate them, remind them why the content being covered is relevant to them. Contextualizing the information and providing real-world cases can also help inspire interest.

- Draw viewer’s attention to essential content

Try to limit the amount of text presented. Accompany text with video, static text, still images, animation, and graphics that are related to the subject. This helps emphasize and explain important content and also adds interest.

- Make the presentation interactive

Several studies indicate that, on average, the limit of students’ attention span is about 10 to 20 minutes. Engaging participants every twenty minutes by asking them reflective questions, having them talk about a question with the person next to them, or checking whether there are any questions might promote students' attention.

3.5.7) Adobe Presenter tutorial

If you are planning to use Adobe Presenter, here are some basics in regards to recording with this software. When the program first comes up, the lecturer should already have the Powerpoint presentation or other materials on their Desktop ready to be used. Or they can bring them up afterwards; any unnecessary footage in the video can be trimmed, but it does increase the file size. Best to be as prepared as possible before you start recording so as not to lose valuable time.

Once these preparations are complete, the lecturer will then click the ‘Record’ button clearly visible in Presenter. They are treated to a brief start-up screen in which they will be told they can pause the recording at any time by simply pressing the Pause/Break key on their keyboard, and can stop recording altogether by holding down the Shift and End keys. A counter will let them know when the recording is about to begin.

During recording, the screen will show only what is happening on the Desktop - tt will not display the footage being captured of the lecturer themselves. There is no need whatsoever for the lecturer to look into the camera during filming. Also, Presenter allows you to easily switch from display modes - such as only showing the captured screen, or a portrait-style footage of the presenter next to the captured screen. There is thus significant flexibility in editing the video post-capture so you can highlight the screen feed or he webcam feed, as needed.

Note that only audio which is produced in the room itself, whether by stereo speakers or the lecturer, will be recorded. If the lecturer is using headphones and decides to, say, play a short demo video to help their presentation, even if they can clearly hear the video’s audio during recording, it will not be picked up in the Presenter project.

After recording has finished we arrive at the basic workstation of Presenter. Please note: should the lecturer not wish to bother editing their video at this point, they can simply choose to press the ‘Close Project’ button. This will then afford the opportunity to name and save their Presenter project into the folder designated for them. The resulting project folder can then be shared with us. Otherwise, the following lessons apply.

From the main screen, lecturers can view the footage of themselves on a timeline, in addition to that taken of their actions on the Desktop such as Powerpoint lectures and software demonstrations. They can then change the viewpoint of the video at any spot on the timeline by choosing one of the four colorful viewpoint option buttons at the bottom of the work area. These four are a full-screen shot of the lecturer, a full-screen shot of the material presented, a split shot of the two with the lecturer in a bounding box on the left, and one with the bounding box on the right. The four viewpoints are entirely interchangeable at the lecturer’s discretion and the changes fully demonstrate the final result of the video that will ultimately be produced. Also, additional footage can be added if so desired by positioning your cursor at the appropriate point in the timeline and then clicking the Record button to add more. Note: you will need the same type of video recorder as used for this project to add more footage.

In addition, markers are generated at every point on the timeline in a Powerpoint presentation where the slide changed, allowing you to easily skip between slides by using the Previous Marker and Next Marker buttons. You may also go to the Start and End of the video by using the corresponding buttons on the screen. Alteration of the video’s automatic intro and closing segments can be made through the Branding button in the bottom-left corner of the work area. From here you may change the background imagery displayed whenever a split-screen viewpoint is employed. Lecturers may also use the Cut tool to remove segments from the video timeline which they deem unhelpful. This last is purely a matter of choice and can be left for the video editing stage once a movie is produced with Presenter.  

3.6) Publish Web content

FutureGrid staff at IU will work closely with you to ensure your content is published appropriately to the CourseBuilder system and become available as a MOOC.

To get your material published, you need to submit an Adobe Presenter project folder or an MP4 of your video lecture. The recommended way to do so is to use the Box storage service. Once you are ready to become a contributor, please contact FutureGrid staff through this form: http:/// and you will receive an invite from us that will allow you to upload your content to the folder that is being shared. Note: You will only be able to upload a large file/folder to a folder that is ‘owned’ by an IU employee/staff/student. IU’s Box storage service that provides a 5GB free storage space for personal use, but 50GB for IU faculty/staff/students.

PS: In regards to sending us projects or videos, the size of a 30-min long lecture recorded as a Presenter project is just a little under 1 GB. Meanwhile, a 30-min long mp4 file (or any corresponding number of videos totalling 30 min) produced from such a project amounts to nearly 500 MB. Either of these would be all we need from them in terms of basic contributions. Here are some sites that specialize in the transfer of larger-than-life files.


3.7) Publish virtual appliances

The IU Box service will also be used to allow you to upload virtual appliance images. Virtual appliance images will not go through any post-production; we recommend you upload a zip folder with the virtual appliance, and inform us so we can create a URL that you can distribute.

3.8) Updates

If you need to update course content or appliances, the process to contribute files is as described above. You will need to notify us of updates so they can be reflected on Course Builder and appliance downloads, if applicable.

3.9) Use of MOOC modules in classes

Google Analytics can give statistics that include the number of unique students who were on the course builder site. Also, youtube already has statistics that would allow you to view video specific data. Another option is to use an analytics company called Saltbox to gather more comprehensive data. This service may not be free but FG may be able to get a discount through them.

4) Contact information

To contact FutureGrid about contributing to or utliizing MOOC resources, please submit a help ticket at:

FutureGrid MOOC team members:

Geoffrey C. Fox
Renato Figueiredo
Sidd Maini
Barbara Ann O'Leary