We have #EDCMOOC liftoff…

We’ll be using this team blog to document the ‘E-learning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC from the University of Edinburgh in partnership with Coursera.  We wanted to write about our involvement with the EDCMOOC over the next five weeks, recording developmental issues and reflecting on the experience of teaching and participating in this experimental course.  We’ll be feeding these posts back into the EDCMOOC as way of incorporating our perspectives as teachers, and we hope that it will also serve as a useful compendium for those outside of the course interested in our daily experiences as MOOC educators.  This first post outlines some of the dilemmas and challenges we faced in developing the EDCMOOC, and our reflections on the course launch and first day.

For a team used to working with in-house technologies on the MSc in Digital Education, developing a course in an externally provided platform was in many cases a new experience.  Furthermore, being as concerned with pedagogical methods as are with content, pushing the boundaries of the Coursera platform was always going to be in our interests.  We wanted to use the Coursera platform creatively, however this often meant requesting features that were not present, or were in development.  Nevertheless, experimenting with the early stages of such a high-profile platform have been rewarding, and we hope to see the technology develop as Coursera and their partners continue to explore new ways of teaching at scale.

While we wanted course activity to be distributed on the social web (with the use of blogs and Twitter for example), we were also interested in aggregating content produced by students so that it might be easily accessible from a single location.  The connectivist-informed MOOCs had employed this technique well, and we wanted to explore a similar approach from within the Coursera platform.  Using a combination of Yahoo Pipes and WordPress, we managed to develop an aggregated newsletter which displays participant blog posts each day, as long as they are tagged with the course hashtag: #edcmooc.  However, it remains an experimental system, and we are unsure about its stability as the course progresses, or its value as a way to engage with course content given the potential number of posts that could be pulled together.  We’ll be watching the EDCMOOC News closely in the coming weeks.

The course site was opened on the evening of Sunday 27th, and we were excited to see hundreds, then thousands, of participants enter the site within half an hour of the announcement email.  The Twitter stream erupted, and it was great to see such enthusiasm for the launch.  We were keen to gauge the reaction of participants, and Twitter proved to be a helpful way to get immediate feedback about the experiences of entering the course for the first time.  Most tweets were very positive, while a few flagged up issues and queries, some of which we were able to catch.  The forums within the Coursera site proved to be a better way of engaging with initial questions.

Early forum posts highlighted some lack of understanding with regards to the assessment and grading of the course, technical matters relating to the Coursera platform, and some initial engagement with the resources and themes.  While working to provide early clarification or responses to these posts, we also found the spread of different concerns interesting.  Early queries may provide some measure of what our participants find most important about the course.  Some immediately began discussing the resources, perhaps indicative of a primary interest in the content we had chosen, while others appeared to head straight for the guidance about assessment, clearly interested in understanding what the outcomes of participation might be.  Courses with such high enrolment numbers will inevitably have diverse participants, seeking many different things from a MOOC.  We’re really interested in whether courses of such scale can be everything to everybody: can they provide rich opportunities to self-direct and form personal learning networks, as well as guide learners through predefined paths, and do such all-encompassing attempts dilute the potency of a less-inclusive approach?

As the first day of #edcmooc Tweets streamed by, we saw a wealth of conversation, mostly positive feedback or comments focussed on the course content, interspersed with a few pleas for help, admissions of confusion and the odd unenthusiastic remark.  Something feels right about that kind of variety.  While MOOCs are sometimes thought of as being clouded by the optimism of their committed populations, we welcome productive critique and resistance, and hope it becomes an integral part of our continuing MOOC experimentation.

Jeremy Knox


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