On Friday evening, we broadcast the first of our Google Hangouts; a live video discussion which aired on our Coursera site and Google plus page. This Hangout was a chance to discuss significant themes that had emerged during the week, and respond to questions and comments from those tuning in. We devoted the first half to our own reflections, some related to organisational matters, others to our thoughts about the week 1 resources. The Hangout seemed like a useful way to provide a team response to what we felt were significant concerns expressed in the discussion forum, and we hoped that a broadcast might be a useful way of reaching the participant group as a whole.
It was certainly encouraging to read messages in Twitter and the discussion forum which expressed approval for the Hangout, however what was particularly interesting for me was how many of these appeared to privilege our ‘presence’ in the live video broadcast as something previously missing on the course. There is undoubtedly something exhilarating about synchronous communication, particularly at the scale encountered in this MOOC, however my attention turned to questions about what constitutes ‘good’ teacherly presence in a course such as this. In what sense were we ‘there’ in the Hangout any more than we have been ‘present’ in the course design and choice of resources? My sense of caution in relation to the Hangout derives from an unwillingness to accept the ‘face to face’ as the gold standard of online communication, to which all other forms should be measured. While the Hangout was not quite ‘face to face’, it does conform to a privileging of a particular kind of presence, and a certain trajectory for ‘the digital’. For me it is one which, through seeking to emulate and improve upon the ‘face to face’, attempts to maintain the illusion of non-mediation; of being somehow more ‘natural’ or ‘real’ than the others ways we have been present in the EDCMOOC.
However, illusory or not, it was clear that the Hangout had a very real effect for many of the MOOC participants. Perhaps overwhelmed by the flood of responses, blogs, tweets and posts in the first week, this singular event proved a welcome focus. Despite what may be a limited way to understand presence online, something like a Google Hangout is perhaps not to be devalued, as part of a broad and diverse strategy of appearing to ‘be there’.