You never forget your first MOOC, and that’s true for teachers as much as for learners. But what of the second time around – perhaps the novelty wears off and it can just be left to run itself? That’s certainly not been the case for the team for E-learning and Digital Cultures (EDCMOOC); we have been finding ourselves in a new phase of learning about teaching at scale.
EDCMOOC ran as one of the University of Edinburgh MOOCs on the Coursera platform first in January/February 2013 and for the second time in November to early December. It will run at least one more time under the current arrangements in place. The second run has provided an opportunity to experiment with teaching presence, and to further our critical reflections on how MOOCs might inform our research and pedagogy within and about digital environments.
With six new short videos and videoconference via Google hangout every week (as opposed to just twice, as the first time), the teaching commentary on what’s happening within the MOOC has shifted from regular blogging to a televisual mode. This is our first blog post for EDCMOOC2, written at its midpoint when we are starting to build up a picture of some messages from our second run.
The EDCMOOC team made an introductory video commenting on our themes
Teaching Presence – how important is it for teachers to be seen?
Teaching presence has always mattered to us in our online MSc in Digital Education programme. There, with course cohorts that never go above 40, we have developed our presence through orchestrating engaging experiences, engaging in online dialogues, and providing feedback that ‘can be digested, worked with, created from’ (Ross, Bayne et al, 2011). While our students can see our photos and avatars, we don’t routinely provide videos of ourselves giving online ‘instruction’. Students on our MSc speak of a connection and closeness from our critical engagements online, both asynchronously and synchronously. They often claim to experience far more interaction with teachers and fellow students than they have in any other educational programme.
We were therefore somewhat taken aback at the overwhelming reaction to our informal Google Hangout discussions during the first run of EDCMOOC. Again, the ‘connection’ word was used frequently as participants seemed relieved to see their teachers and to be able to make comments at the same time. It was one of the strongest messages that we received, reinforced by an early question in the discussion forum: ‘Where are the professors?’ And so we decided for the second run not only to have a Hangout each week but also to provide videos that introduce ourselves and our themes to help the participants to orientate themselves.
EDCMOOC2 has a weekly hangout
This embodied approach to presence has felt slightly uncomfortable because it has taken us closer to the ‘over-celebratory fetishizing of the teacher associated with some MOOCs’ that we analysed critically before we embarked on our MOOC (Knox, Bayne et al 2012). And yet this form of presence has proved to be one of the most commented-on features of our activities.
While it is reassuring that the need to ‘see’ us suggests that the potential overthrow of the teaching role is greatly exaggerated, we are more interested in establishing good dialogues with our participantsand encouraging them to fashion their own ways of engaging with the course material than we are in attaining guru status. Our introductions and hangouts are still not ‘lessons’ as such, but give us an opportunity to provide guidelines to the kinds of connections we are seeking to make between education and digital cultures and, in the hangouts, to focus on the work being produced by MOOC participants. And some of these connections challenge the very notion of ‘the human touch’ that our televisual selves might seem to offer.
So we have included more video in the second instance of EDCMOOC as a way of further exploring the potency of the visible teaching body, but also to question the supposed replication of face-to-face as the privileged pedagogical mode. One of the key ideas that underpins our team approach is the idea that the digital makes education different, and we are interested in questioning the notion that video renders invisible the mediating technologies of the MOOC, and provides straightforward access to the teacher.
Tapping into the potential of the Massive
The other side of this new perspective on presence is the role of the people taking the MOOC. Participants have responded very warmly to being mentioned in hangouts as we comment on their blogs, their forum postings and their digital artefacts. But of course we cannot make this direct contact with each MOOC participant and it would be foolish to try. In a course that works on a large scale, it is perhaps more useful to think of what we can do with thousands of participants, rather than what we can do for or to them. While this has been in our minds from the outset, we’re now beginning to see how that is working. Jeremy has commented elsewhere on the ‘collective energy and intensity of the multitude’ (Knox 2013), inspired by the display of EDCMOOC1 work organised by the participants themselves. We’re seeing a crossover from that energy to the current MOOC, as it starts to take on its own collective identity.
Some of the EDCMOOC1 participants are now very effective Community Teaching Assistants on EDCMOOC2, and many others are also still present and contributing in multitudinous ways. And all are respecting the newer participants’ emerging shared voice that makes this run of EDCMOOC another unique experience. The new voice can be seen partly in response to the hangouts – participants have been gathering photos of themselves as they participate in the hangout, tweeting and commenting in YouTube and Google+. A suggestion for crowdsourcing the captioning of the hangout brought a strong response, and provides opportunities for further development. As one blogger, Heli Nurmi says:
The recording is available but writing a transcript jointly is an interesting experiment. It follows the principles of empowerment, collaborative learning, social networking, peer assistance, media-technology-enhanced learning.
Heli wonders whether it can lead to deep pedagogical debate. We think that it has huge potential to do so, reinforcing Jeremy’s suggestion (Knox 2013) that a focus on assessment of individual pieces of work may go against the ethos of the massiveness of the MOOC. As we observe many connections and creative flows being established in EDCMOOC2, we look forward to the images and other digital artefacts that will be produced between now and the end of the course in December. We do need to begin to think how we should acknowledge the contribution of the multitude to this creation as well as – or perhaps indeed instead of – pinpointing individual star performers.
Our own connections, flows, links and opportunities are expanding exponentially in this process too. It’s good to share our thoughts in our own blog, to aggregate it into EDCMOOC News – and it’s great to be guesting in the Open Scotland blog at the same time. Such opportunities are only possible through digital connections both locally and at scale.
Knox, J. (2013). eLearning and Digital Cultures: a multitudinous open online course. eLearn Magazine. Retrieved 20 November 2013: http://elearnmag.acm.org/archive.cfm?aid=2525967
Knox, J., Bayne, S. et al (2012) MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera. Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter. Retrieved 20 November 2013: http://newsletter.alt.ac.uk/2012/08/mooc-pedagogy-the-challenges-of-developing-for-coursera/
Nurmi, H. (2013) Pedagogical Principles of MOOCs. Heli Connecting Ideas. Retrieved 20 November 2013: http://helistudies.edublogs.org/2013/11/19/pedagogical-principles-of/
Ross, J., Bayne, S. et al (2011) Manifesto for Teaching Online. University of Edinburgh MSc in E-learning. Retrieved 20 November 2013: http://onlineteachingmanifesto.wordpress.com/
Our email to those signed up for next session of EDCMOOC has just gone out. Although the MOOC doesn’t officially start until November, students are already tweeting, blogging and generally getting to know each other. There is also a community of EDCMOOC1 participants still active in Twitter and elsewhere, and one of the really fascinating things this time will be to see if and how these two groups connect with each other. There are currently over 11,000 students enrolled for November and we’re looking forward to meeting them.
This is only the second time we’ve run the MOOC so it will be interesting to see how the cohort dynamic plays out here. EDCMOOC2 will have the same open structure, encouraging dialogue through blogging, Twitter and a range of other social media as well on the Coursera site itself. We’ve made some changes in response to issues raised by the previous cohort, while maintaining our commitment to an exploratory and critical approach to digital cultures, to e-learning and to the whole idea of MOOCs themselves.
Some participants reported that they felt overwhelmed by all the activity on the site and beyond. We realized that some people were trying to follow up all possible conversations – the numbers meant it was impossible even for the five tutors to do that. On the site, there will be a page of strategies for dealing with the ‘massive’ aspect of the MOOC. We’ve tried to help orientate people through adding some video introductions to the five tutors and our themes, but we’re still not using the traditional ‘talking head’ lectures that some students may have come to expect through taking other MOOCs.
The two Google hangouts we ran last time proved very popular, and in EDCMOOC2 we’ll have one on the Friday of each week. This way, participants can hear our discussions about the course as it progresses. But the main ‘content’ will still be created by the participants themselves as they critique the films and readings we provide, and form their own understandings about the issues involved and their implications.
We loved the digital artefacts produced by our first cohort and heard reports of some fantastic feedback from fellow participants. There were also some less positive views of peer feedback: we’re revising our advice on this and have agreed that it’s fairest not to focus on grades, but to create a pass/fail classification instead of 0/1/2 that we had before. Some people reported that didn’t manage to submit because of confusion about timezones and the deadline for the assignment – we’re taking steps to minimize this for the next cohort.
Our approach will not suit everyone; the massiveness of MOOCs often seems to be the first thing that people want to try to control or curtail. We still find it new and exciting ourselves: we’re continually revisiting what teaching means at this scale. We’ll still blog here about this occasionally.
We’re really happy to be doing this again.
For EDCMOOC2, go to https://www.coursera.org/course/edc
Hello all. This is a guest post from a University of Edinburgh colleague of the EDC MOOC course team. My name is Anne-Marie Scott, and I’m the Technology Enhanced Learning Services Team Manager, the shorthand of which is, I look after the IT side of the University eLearning services. I gave a (very) small amount of help with the EDC News site that was used as part of the EDC MOOC, and now that there has been a little time to pause and reflect, it seems like a good time to talk about the site, and, in particular, to get a little technical about what was done, how and why. In the greatest part we were only able to do what we did because of others who had generously shared their own experiences, hints, tips and tricks via blogs and online tutorials. On that basis I think it’s fair to say that our site was mostly an assembly of good ideas from others, but hopefully this post could help someone else looking to do something similar.
First of all, some information about the site in action during the course, to give you a flavour…
The EDC News site was to function like a daily newsletter, aggregating posts about the course from various personal blogs. Over the lifetime(ish) of the course 931 urls of peronal blogs were submitted for aggregation. The collection of blog urls generated around 1340 posts within the news site and from what we can see it looks as if posts may have come from as many as 300 out of the 900+ different blogs.
Google analytics reports that the site was visited around 1430 times by 997 unique visitors. Half of the visits to the site were from people who had visited before and almost everyone only visited the first page of the site. The front page of the site is set up to show 100 posts, and you can see from the graph below that at the rate new posts were added to the site, a post was likely only to stay on the front page for a couple of days at best.
The eagle-eyed will have already spotted that the EDC News site uses WordPress, and the key piece that makes this all work under the bonnet is the FeedWordPress plugin (we did consider gRSSHopper as an alternate solution to WordPress but ruled this out). Much kudos and credit must go to Martin Hawkesy at JISC CETIS at this point. His immensely helpful post on MOOC aggregation was the best source of information, bar none, for deciding on which tool to use.
The most immediate problem we faced is that whatever we did would have to work on a shared hosting server. There weren’t any major concerns about the potential numbers of visitors to the site, but I had concerns about how the business of aggregation in FeedWordPress would work. The quickest solution I could think of was to see if there was some sort of tool in the cloud that we could use to do the ‘heavy lifting’ of aggregating multiple RSS feeds and filtering out the content that we wanted. That would keep the number of outgoing connections from WordPress low, and reduce the amount of processing being done on our server. I took a quick look at Google Reader and then through a circuitous route I found Yahoo Pipes. As it turns out, if I’d just read a bit more of Martin Hawkesy’s blog I could have found Pipes sooner…
The final piece of the puzzle around how to manage collection of the blog urls from course participants was put together by Jeremy Knox based on a very neat tutorial about using a Google spreadsheet as the source of a Yahoo Pipe. Jeremy and other course colleagues also took care of the visual style of the site – a big plus for using WordPress as this is easy to do.
So, the full setup works like this:
- Blog urls are submitted by course participants to a Google spreadsheet.
- A series of Yahoo Pipes grabs 20 of the blog urls, loads up their content and filters out anything with the #edcmooc tag.
- An aggregated RSS feed from the pipe is fed into FeedWordPress.
- The FWP+ Limit size of posts plugin truncates the incoming posts and creates the ‘Continue Reading’ link to the source blog post.
- The feeds are run manually once a day (due to some local server constraints, but you could automate this with a cron job).
Some gotchas we hit:
- Yahoo Pipes has a 30 second timeout – hence chunking up the feeds into batches of 20 – this seemed to be the optimum amount. I also added a ‘last 72 hours’ date filter to avoid the feeds getting too big over time.
- FeedWordPress also has a timeout. By default it is 20 seconds – increase this to match the 30 second timeout in Pipes.
- Quite a few of the urls submitted had problems – some admin/curation is always required. Quite a few also contained no #edcmooc content – urls are often submitted with the best of intentions.
To conclude, this proved to be a reasonably quick, and very cheap way of doing blog aggregation with tools that didn’t require a high degree of technical intervention to keep things running. After the initial setup, most of the work was ‘administrative’ (making more pipes, adding feeds to WordPress, updating the feeds) and with clear instructions is pretty accessible to do.
For anyone who wants to consider doing something similar then, this would be our ‘shopping list’:
- Google spreadsheet
- Yahoo Pipes
- FeedWordPress plugin
- FeedWordPress Duplicate Post Filter plugin
- FWP+ Limit size of posts plugin
- Google Analytics for WordPress plugin (this is entirely optional)
- ‘Admired’ theme by Brad Thomas (again optional – use what you like)
The dust is settling and we are beginning to get a sense of the overall impressions left by the EDCMOOC experience. We’ve been extremely grateful for the time that participants have taken to reflect on the course, in the discussion forums and in their blogs. We’ve also got some feedback via a survey we released a couple of weeks ago, from a range of people – from those who never logged in to those who formally completed the course, and everything in between. We’ll aim to share more details of this survey and its results as soon as we can.
Some very positive news for us is that a large majority (82.8%) of those survey respondents who actively participated in EDCMOOC said that overall their experience was good, very good or excellent.
The following feedback was pulled from blog and forum posts, and doesn’t yet include the survey response feedback. We’ll be continuing to work on drawing this together, but we wanted to get some of this information out as soon as possible.
The feedback we’ve gathered falls into five main categories: connections, content, course design, teaching and assessment.
Content. Those who ‘got’ it were, for the most part, happy with what was on offer and engaged and excited by the topics, discussion questions and resources. We pitched the course at what we felt was an introductory level, and some thought our approach was oversimplified, which highlights one of the primary challenges of developing an open course – there is no way the level can be right for everyone who might sign up. However, even setting this aside, there is still some work to be done to ensure that everyone who participates in the MOOC understands the purpose of the course, and knows what to expect in terms of the content and our approach to the subject area. There were a number of posts in the forum in particular that indicated that the course content wasn’t what some had expected or wanted, and this was reflected in objections to the cultural angle, the theoretical aspects of the course, the lack of practical advice about course design, and so on. We have tried to clarify in the course description what is, and is not, on offer in this course. One of the other main things we want to focus on for next time is better articulating what we see as the vital need for educators and e-learning practitioners to be critical consumers and producers of ‘stories’ about education and technology. This is the key purpose of this course, and we will be working to ensure that these critical perspectives are foregrounded, discussed and debated at every stage of the MOOC.
Connections. The pleasure and excitement of the ‘massive’ was experienced, for most people, alongside a sense that they were making satisfying connections – whether fleeting, or ongoing. Where this didn’t happen, the MOOC sometimes felt disorientating and overwhelming. As one participant put it, “those students who were fortunate enough to make meaningful connections with other students probably gained the most out of the course”. A key message we are getting from this first run is that more people wanted a sense of connection than were able to achieve it. This may be due in part to differences in familiarity with social media spaces (where a lot of the most meaningful connections were made), and to the point at which people began to engage with the MOOC (some started very early – well before the formal course launch date). Next time the MOOC runs, we will seek more ways to support those who want to make meaningful connections (while leaving ample room for groups to self-organise, for cross-fertilisation to take place, and for people to work independently – all of which we think is really important).
Course design. There were a number of aspects of our course design that drew comment. Strengths were seen in the pre-arrival information and encouragement to network; the value of having MSc in Digital Education students as teaching assistants; the flexibility of the course (in terms of content, environments and activities) and the ability to take many different kinds of approach. More mixed feedback came about the timings (a mix of responses about whether 5 week was just right or not enough, and some comments about the suggested workload of 5-7 hours per week being unrealistic); and the ‘massive’ nature of the course (exhilarating vs overwhelming).
Teaching. While some commentators appreciated that the course was designed to foreground the voices of participants, many comments related to a desire to hear more from the MOOC teachers. The desire for more of everything from the teachers – hangouts, structure, guidance, discussion participation – gives a strong indication that MOOC participants need and want teacher presence to be high-profile, ‘in your face’. We’re actively discussing ways we can make our presence more felt in the MOOC.
Assessment. The final assignment – the digital artefact – supported a level of creativity and engagement that was really impressive, both during the preparation period and after submission. For many, the experience of creating their artefact was, in itself, of great value, and others found the peer assessment process challenging and fruitful. There was a sense that participants would have valued some practice with the peer assessment tool, and with creating and giving feedback on artefacts. Some very constructive suggestions were made about the markers’ process of interpreting the artefacts: that the assessment criteria may have rewarded ‘literal’ interpretations of the course material rather than more abstract/adventurous/creative ones; the possibility that a short statement/self-reflection about the artefact (an ‘exegesis’) might help markers engage more with the creator’s intentions; and that finding a way to allow people to set their own learning goals and be assessed on these might be in keeping with the ethos of EDCMOOC. Finally, questions were raised about the scale (0-2), the automated awarding of ‘distinctions’ for combined peer grades over a certain threshold, and the lack of opportunity to respond to peer feedback (a feedback on feedback mechanism). These are all things we are considering carefully, and talking to Coursera about.
In summary, we’re working out how to make EDCMOOC even better next time in response to the feedback participants have shared, and where platform issues arose, we are raising these with Coursera. Thank you very much, again, to all those who participated, and all those who have shared their insights about EDCMOOC.
As we end the final week of EDCMOOC – a week devoted to the final assignment and in which my teaching role was perhaps pushed further to the ‘side-lines’ – I find myself lured into considering the kind of things we might have achieved on this course. The following comment, from CourseTalk, has given me much to think about in this respect:
While, as I have made clear in previous posts, I welcome criticism, the above observation has become particularly cherished. Despite my genuine respect for Wilko’s concerns, the analogy is, for me, undoubtedly complimentary. From the outset of planning this course, we have been very much interested in challenging the boundaries of what is possible with an ‘online’ course, and this description seems to encapsulate these attempts very satisfactorily indeed. I use the word ‘challenging’ here intentionally, aware of its vagueness. ‘Subversion’ might be another term appropriate to our strategy, although I wouldn’t necessarily use that here lest it be taken negatively. Our relationship with Coursera is of course a partnership and collaboration, within which we are both working to confront assumptions about what is possible with digital education, and our intention is to productively experiment with the platform for the benefit of those learning with it.
Neverthless, Wilko’s above allegory is a fantastic way to begin considering what we may have achieved with the EDCMOOC. Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ of course comes to mind, and perhaps other Dada works comprised of ‘readymade’ found objects stated to be art – this is presumably the trend which is being referred to. I am of course not attempting to equate our five week course with such a movement, however it may provide a useful starting point to consider our course. As described in Sian’s earlier post, we did indeed structure our course around objet trouve – open source resources on the web – and presented or curated these objects *as* our course.
In this sense, we did indeed smuggle a sardine can into the Coursera platform, and presented it as a course. However, what Wilko fails to include in his compliment is the conversation that has been happening in art since Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ in the early twentieth century; that of the relationship between the object itself and our appraisal of it. To attempt to crudely shoehorn such an idea into the discussion of our very own EDCMOOC, would be to say that there is a conversation to be had about the content of a course, and the discussions and responses that happen around them. To privilege course content as being in possession of essential and hallowed qualities, anterior to the ways that the viewer approaches it, is to ignore all the ways that knowledge derives from processes that involve human interpretation. Just as an everyday object with a non-art function can change depending on the context in which it might be placed (a gallery), or the interpretations which might arise in response to it, so any object can prove the most stimulating educational resource. Just think what kind of issues could be brought to fore in a consideration of the humble sardine can: industrialisation, mass production, globalisation, fishing stocks and quotas, human relationships with animals, to name but a few over-generalised topics.
Before I take this artistic analogy too far, I must say that I don’t think the EDCMMOC has been particularly radical. There is of course a much more revolutionary history to the MOOC, in which our offering is merely a ‘hybrid’, trying ‘very hard to subvert its own conditions of production.’ However, given the relatively experimental and emerging format that is the MOOC, about which my ever insightful colleague Hamish has been known to paraphrase Zhou Enlai, declaring ‘it is too soon to say’, I hope that we have indeed done something to subvert the idea that MOOCs are incontestable lectures, alongside which our interpretations, creativity and oppositions are secondary.
What has been most thrilling for me in this EDCMOOC are the thriving tweets, blog posts and group conversations that are orbiting the Coursera site. Thousands of them. That is the power, and value, of a well placed sardine can.
From the discussion forums: Example 1
…what are the learning outcomes
for which this course was designed? Which outcomes are served by each of the segments? How will we assess our progress towards these outcomes
Thomas Luxon (a month ago)
Just over a decade ago, I asked staff and students at the university where I worked (not the University of Edinburgh) What is a learning outcome? I heard from 111 staff, mainly academics, and 260 students. I received some fascinating responses, but unfortunately my institution didn’t want me to publish them. I could identify two main broad categories: a result and an anticipatory statement or intention. A third category also emerged when I looked at student responses – an aspect of a course, particularly assessment.
What is a learning outcome?
Staff Students Result 53% 23% Intention 29% 30% Assessment/element of course 8% 31%
From a study undertaken by Christine Sinclair in 2002 (NB: actual comments were much more nuanced)
My study threw some light on some mismatches I could see in staff and student expectations. I suspect there is still some ambiguity about this term, and our EDCMOOC has strengthened this feeling for me. My own preferred emphasis tends to be on results, but I do understand the strength of adding the word ‘intended’ as well. In terms of a result I think an artefact is a very clear outcome. But look at the range of learning embodied in these artefacts: here’s a link to a fantastic student-created collation of some of them. Could we have anticipated what people would have learned? What statements of intended outcomes would have done justice to what has emerged? And what about the learning outcomes achieved by people who haven’t submitted?
Stating intended learning outcomes can be very useful for many courses. It helps teachers with planning their course design and students with knowing what’s expected of them. But what’s been happening on our course here does suggest that it’s worth revisiting the words of Lawrence Stenhouse, writing in 1975: ‘Education as induction into knowledge is successful to the extent that it makes the behavioral outcomes of the students unpredictable’ (p. 82). There are more recent challenges to learning outcomes too, including this call to resist them. I’ve done my share of teaching academics – and even also our students on the MSc in Digital Education – about course design using learning outcomes, but that does include applying a critical lens.
From the discussion forums: Example 2
One of the challenges of MOOCs is measuring outcomes. Since most of your students are educators we should want to help measure the outcomes. I would recommend you send us students a survey, perhaps every six months for the next two years, to see how we are using the materials and how we evaluate the course over time.
Richard Dine (3 weeks ago)
This is an interesting idea. I once had a ‘learning outcome’ eight years after the input: I remember suddenly being aware of what ‘that woman at the conference was getting at’. Her presentation had clearly been memorable, but I did not have sufficient pre-requisite knowledge in my repertoire at the time to process her meaning. This experience reinforced my view that simple statements of outcomes in relation to a course may encourage a distorted picture. How often and what intervals is it meaningful to check on outcomes – and how can we be sure what to attribute them to?
I accept that we will have lost some students because we did not explicitly state learning outcomes and show step by step how they would be achieved. Even those students, I would argue, are likely to have left the course with some important learning outcomes that are specific to themselves.
From a teacher’s perspective, there have been many learning outcomes from this MOOC. I think I have experienced several just from looking at the Twitter feed and discussion forums this morning. There have been adjustments to my understanding of, for example: responses to automation, language and cultural perspectives in a globalised course, interpretation of messages, the role of peer assessment as a learning opportunity, what is (not) possible when assessing at scale. And there will some I haven’t even begun to process yet.
To everyone involved: I hope that your own learning outcomes from EDCMOOC have been satisfying, but not to the extent that you want to stop pursuing the topics to achieve more. I have certainly been energised by seeing the outcomes of the past five weeks – and I still have a lot more to look at.
Stenhouse, L. (1975) An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development. London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd.