Feeling ignored in #edcmooc ?

I have been thinking about how I should understand the position of course participants who are clearly not “enjoying” what is going on in, and around, the course.  I put the “scare quotes” here to indicate that I am using this notion of enjoyment (or the lack of it) in a very broad and inclusive way.  There is, first of all, the distress that is associated with all experiences of learning.  Piaget talked about the disequilibrium that results when new understandings are being formed within existing knowledge structures.  Thus learning is always going to be a disruptive and disturbing process, and this should be welcomed and worked with.  I like Papert’s notion of “hard fun” to describe the challenge and exhilaration of that sort of discomfort.  One probably recognises that discomfort for what it is, and is therefore less troubled by it.

But there appear to be people who feel that they are not learning anything of value, are simply annoyed and frustrated by what is going on, and are on the cusp of withdrawal.  Not really much to be said here.  Sorry to have troubled you, of course.  I hate to think of anyone dreaming in #tags.  There will be people who will find this course meets their needs, and those for whom it is not a good fit.  Jeremy has said something on people participating in different sorts of ways in a recent post.

But there was something that I found which troubled me. Alfredo reported that he felt that he had been ignored. What is more, he felt that he was ignored because his views were not in keeping with the “point” being taken by the course team.

… the EDCMOOC team clearly had a point. Those dissenting with their point – as is my case – were not addressed, neither in the forums nor in the hangouts. As if we didn´t exist.

I am sad to think that someone felt this to be true.  Anything that I could say would seem defensive.  But I would want to say – to any who shared Alfredo feeling – that you were not ignored.  The statistics of the situation were against any individual attracting the attention of any one other individual.  And for that reason, the attention of any one other particular individual – certainly the members of the teaching team – should not be held to be an important part of the experience of the course.  Meeting together with some others – if you wish it – should be.  But the feeling of being ignored – consciously – is an attribution that you do not need to make.

Which would bring me to a forum post about how to evaluate this (or any) MOOC.  I hope that many will respond to this, as we would find it extremely helpful.  I think that the poster would too.

Hamish Macleod


36 thoughts on “Feeling ignored in #edcmooc ?

  1. its funny hamish that you mention how students shouldnt think of getting the attention of the teaching team as an important part of the course. Human nature is against you there, Im afraid. My biggest ever total of visits to my blog (150) was on the day you kindly left a comment on my blog. Word got around very fast, and it wasn’t coming from the edmooc news link!

  2. Thanks infotechnical. Yes, I can fully appreciate that this might be flying in the face of “human nature”. But then so is so much more of what we see as human moral choice. But that is another (very long) debate about evolutionary psychology. 🙂

    If I may, I will use your comment about blog visits to *support* rather than to counter my original argument. Crudely, it should not be so. 🙂 “Teacher” attention is a troublesome bias here. There is a very real sense in which my visit to, Tweeting about, or +1-ing (is there a verb?) is, within the vast sweep of MOOC activity, a random event. I don’t *grudge* you the attention, of course. But should it come *especially* because you were visited by one of these named “daemons”? Here’s a thought – teachers should only ever appear anonymously. But that wouldn’t work, as one sometimes has to make ex cathedra (or is this the wrong time?) statements, for example, about assessment plans. It is important that these come in a way that means that we can be held to account – as *organisers* – for making them. And anyway, if we were to “move around” in an anonymous way, there are some who might feel inclined to accuse us of “entrapment”.

    Which would bring me back to my original point – which is fundamentally about “attribution”; how we *interpret* our circumstances, rather than what has actually brought them about. That someone else was *not* so visited should not be interpreted as conscious intent to ignore. The statistics of the MOOC (*any* OOC with an “M”) does not afford of such an understanding. Remember “Dunbar’s Number” – human social psychology has not been evolved to cope with such numbers, and yet still feel that we “are all friends together”. Except in an aspirational sense. Which I *would* try to defend actually.

    I would dearly like to think that there *will* be friendships derived from, and maintained beyond, participation in this course. And thank you for the opportunity to debate this one. Which I must, of course, regard as a privilege, rather than a right. 🙂 I think that you have put your finger on an important point about the future viability of MOOCs in one form or another – “human nature”.

  3. I’m really pleased that infotechnical made the point about visits to the blog, allowing Hamish to come back with this useful challenge. Yet I realise I’m muddying the waters here: dialogues stimulated or responded to by a teacher are important, but at this scale there is a random element to them. And teacher comments may often prove to be less useful than the peer ones – but I still concede they are important. AND I concede we should recognise that teacher attention is a troublesome bias.

    I do love paradoxes.

  4. I completely agree that a “visit”from a teacher at this scale is a random event, but as one student said on g+ “Ïts like finding out gandalf really exists” I can’t follow the rest of the argument, , so I’ll leave it there:)

    • So, not very *edifying* comments then? 🙂 Of course, that sort of banter is fun. It may even be part of the “glue” that keeps some people attached to an activity like this. But when you believe that Gandalf is really talking to you, *then* you have to start worrying.

  5. I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of ‘openness’ in this learning environment lately, and posted a bit of what’s in mind just recently (http://spaceoddyssey.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/visually-learning/ ) – and have made many comments around the networks and on other people’s blogs since…

    I think it’s very good indeed that teachers on this course post in their own name and are extraordinarily transparent about so many aspects of the teaching and research experiences that are going on… I so appreciate your hangouts and this teacher blog, it’s a real model of good practice to me.

    I think it really is the nature of new learning that awareness is heightened, expectations are high, identities are in some sense at stake and at risk, and that sensitivity to being heard or not heard can be quite extreme sometimes… I’ve certainly had my share of glowing in the light and eating worms in the dark alone days over the past month! But it has to be seen, in the end, as being down to what we individually make of it – we students have to be primarily responsible for our own learning experience. There are of course always things that can be improved about design and delivery of instruction, but at the end of the proverbial day, we’re simply being guided and gently advised in any course – actual learning is what students do….

    I wonder how much of an effort those complaining have actually made to participate and connect? I think the rewards have been stellar for those who have invested significant time and effort…. and it’s tough! It’s not my usual modus operandi to go shoving my opinions in the faces of random strangers!… but I just know I have to, in this space, if I am to learn and benefit… so I force myself to.. and the rewards have actually exceeded my expectations, so the discomfort is well worth it.

    so apart from certain aspects of the forums, the only thing I really think needs a change here is the guestimated time to be spent each week in the initial course invitation, because 3-5 per week! I am laughing at that now 🙂

    • Thanks for these really thoughtful comments epurser, and for the very open way in which you talk about how good, and how bad, this can all feel. The question will return for me (playing the role that I play here as a teacher) to what the teacher can do to help forestall some of the bad. And this can come parlously close to “blaming the victim”. My “attribution” model says “You don’t have to feel like that – stop it; enjoy yourself”. I wish that we could do more, and really the only thing that I can grasp onto relates to the business of the cultivation of expectations.

      Which would, of course, bring me on to your point about estimates of time devoted. 🙂 How about “Spend as much time as you like, and as your schedule allows. But don’t allow your engagement to become a chore, or a pressure. And above all, remember to allow enough time for your own private reflection on ideas.”? This conversation is potentially infinite, isn’t it?

  6. I think that it’s rather sad that someone who is receiving something for nothing should have anything to complain about. I approached this MOOC as an opportunity to try something new, to explore what it may mean to be part of a very large and exciting adventure. One of the reasons that the Google + page, the Facebook page and the Wiki were created was to help provide a sense of community for those who might like to connect with others. This is not a traditional course, which means that presenters should not expect to use traditional tools and grading systems while participants should not expect a small, private college setting. The joy of the program is the opportunity to participate in history in the making. Quite frankly, I needed to back out of some of the groups as I was spending too much time being noticed and connecting and not enough time doing other things like housework. Remember you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Now which famous person said that?

    • Thanks Laurie. I think that your comments relate both to the infinite possibilities that we can enjoy, and to the finite resources that we have to deploy. We know that choice is good, but that more choice is not always better. Too much choice, unless we address it mindfully, can put us in a real “bind”. There are disciplines of thought and action here, that we need to learn about as online and networked learners.

  7. I wish the conversation could go on forever, it’s been such fun, but like Laurie I have this other life needs attending to as well !

    But Hamish I love your next draft wording for the advisory on time management 🙂 It’d also be great to include, as I’m sure you will in your next iteration of the mooc, mentoring type comments to new students from past ones about this, to help participants define their own goals and decide how much they’re prepared to put in in order to gain what benefit… Nothing like hearing it from the horses for courses mouths…

    Maybe you could set up a ‘focus group’ type feedback/suggestions hangout, so you could record and use a few ex student talking heads to help orient and prepare future students? Just a thought.. the sort of thought that I now think thanks to what I’ve seen modelled, and so been able to consider within and take away from this triffic course 😉

    not only was I ‘hanging out’ online with Laurie this week, but also showed several of my colleagues at work how to set up a video conference, and I’ll be using this and twitter in my teaching from next week as key tools in my own ‘virtual ethnographic studies’ of my students’ experiences of academic English across campus… and no doubt a hundred other enhancements to my teaching/researching practice that this experience has engendered… may even soon call upon the teaching team and other students in a formal way for comment data to add to my thesis work, a chapter of which is now incorporating a ‘back at you’ ethnographic study of the course that is incorporating all of us in its purview… dont you just love recursivity?!

  8. An interesting post…but even more interesting comments. One of the lessons I learned is that my blog was no more overrun than others. I had one day with 120 hits, but the rest of the four weeks has been averaging around 20-30 hits a day…about average before the MOOC. I have dipped my toe into the FB community and enjoyed the Twitter #hashtag community. I have certainly benefited from this course, and the “human nature” point for me was when Jen mentioned one of my tweets last Friday in the Hangout session. I am with Laurie (who I know here at VCU)…rather sad how some people spin what they see as being ignored. But engagement is a two-way street…one wonders if this complaint about being ignored was from someone taking advantage of all the avenues of engagement that were offered?

    • Hi bwatwood. Now there is an interesting experiment for me. I had no idea “who” this comment was from as I browsed the email alert, but when I saw the image I realised that this was somebody I had interacted with through Twitter way back (am I right?). So connections “stick” to faces in a way that they cannot ever associate (for me anyway) with names / handles. That was the sense in which I was using “human nature” above (and I *think* that was how Infotechnical was using the notion?) – the sense in which there are some intrinsic tendencies in human psychology which incline us to interpret certain situations, or perceive certain sources of information, in particular ways.

      As far as the “humanity” of the teaching team is concerned, can we not just assume that they are actually human? 🙂 Personal acknowledgement is certainly affirming but – back to the original point – not something that one can depend on, or even expect, in the context of MOOC arithmetic.

      Of course, I don’t know “who” you are at all. I just have a very vague impression of continuity of identity. “Who” would take a lot longer.

  9. I sympathize with Alfredo. I have shifted my pov from ‘doing’ to ‘auditing’ this course. I think the only person who made one single comment on my blog, set up for the purpose of interacting with the course, was our infotecnical here ! Thanks info. .
    Jen did kindly remove a post on the course blog that was intended to be anonymous, but nevertheless spread my true name across a potential 40k or more strangers worldwide. She blogged that she had done so, but I got no notification of the error, or its correction. I have tried twice to add my rss to the blog, but so far have seen nothing of what I post there. Either my attempts have failed (first blog attempt), or I don’t know where or how to observe them, or more likely, nobody is interested. There have been one or two good links in the course material, but frankly I learn far more from cruising my interests on the free web, and more “enjoyably”.
    In my case, I do not much care about a certificate at the end, I was a teacher (of linguistics) myself many years ago, and signed up as a way to understand how online education was being done, with a view to possibly returning to teaching.
    Clearly, I have much to learn about the nuts and bolts of the “process”, which seems unnecessarily clumsy and , to me, opaque.
    It would have been good to have interacted with some interesting people, but I am in no way starved for that elsewhere.


    • Thanks iteratedsnowdrift. Just to be clear, I too very much sympathise with Alfredo. Although from what I could see, his experience was not that he had had little personal communication within the course, but rather than he had experienced a complete absence of the teachers.

      You make an interesting point about “auditing” rather than “doing”. I will have to think about that. At the moment, I see MOOCs being very much more about the “auditing” experience, rather than the active (and socially motivated) participation that I would want to see in the “traditional” courses that I teach. All online, by the way. But I would return to the “too early to tell” point. In *this* MOOC, we have tried to see how the elements of social engagement can be recreated within the MOOC but, again returning to the theme of this thread, this cannot be dependent on the direct engagement with the teacher.

      But one point that I would want to make very strongly is that a MOOC will not provide an opportunity “to understand how online education (is) being done”. The MOOC is just one form, new, not representative, and not yet resolved into what it might be.

  10. Hamish, you are indeed correct that you tweeted with me (and there may be lessons to having a consistent avatar image for those of us who do not mind folks knowing who we are). Your point to iteratedsnowdrift is spot on about MOOCs not representing online education in general. The courses I teach online with 20-40 students have much richer teacher-student presence and (I hope) student-student presence. I get to know all of my students … something I would never be able to do “teaching” a MOOC. Yet, I commend you five for pulling off a well organized online experience in #edcmooc that allowed for new connections to be made with individuals around the world. It is definitely new, for me exciting, yet I would not want to give up teaching smaller cohorts…nor would I suspect would you.

    • First of all, thanks for the kind words bwatwood – they are appreciated.

      If I remember correctly, you had Tweeted something to the effect of “no sign of the teachers yet” and I RT-ed adding a cheeky “We’re here, quietly watching”. This was before the course was launched, and related to the pre-course Twitter activity. For me, this was the first shock of fear, and of “What do these guys want?!”. I will remember it fondly. 🙂

      And you are absolutely right about the teaching of smaller cohorts.

      I think it is great that some, at least, have experienced the #edcmooc as an opportunity for new connections to be made. This is much more about the student group than it ever can be about the teachers, of course. If you will excuse me, this reminds me of an observation by C S Lewis which went something like “It was more important to me that Heaven should exist, than that I should ever get there”.

  11. After reading through this thread, my ah-ha is that we’re talking about another aspect of ‘human nature’: that we judge and are always being judged. Here, for example, it was not just that a person felt ignored, but that someone else said that was “sad” . . .i.e., made a judgment about it. Judgment is a good and important thing we do, but the question for me is how, as an educator, can I make it safe to learn, and to express ones truth, when judgment comes so readily. My concern is that new technologies make it much too easy for us to express judgment: after all, we have few cues to help us know the impact we are having on others.

    • Interesting Sherene. First of all, I will observe that I said “I am sad ..” and not “It is sad …”. I am sad that someone is experiencing a negative emotional state for no reason. Or for reasons that derive (as far as I can understand) from mis-attributions.

      In your use of the term “judgement” there is an implication that judgement contains condemnation. I intended to imply no condemnation. I was reaching out to one (those) who appeared to be making an unnecessary negative assumption. I knew that I was taking a risk (at a number of levels) in doing so. But I believe that living in a social world involves taking risk.

  12. Thank you for your response, Hamish. Signing on knowing nothing about online education I picked this course from the coursera list because of the subject matter and the University. Perhaps you or bwat. could explain, or at least point me in the right direction to discover, the differences between a ‘mooc’ and more ‘traitional’ online courses, apart from the obvious diference in scale. Given this diference, I was not surprised by the absence of staff interaction, but by the absence of any reaction.
    It has also been difficult for me to navigate the platforms used since I am new to wordpress, and don’t link to anything related to facebook or Google, and reserve Twitter only as a means of getting near real-time foreign news updates, never posting or chatting.

    The emerging digital culture and its interface with the ….’solid’, for want of a better term, has been both an intellectual fascination and political/social conundrum for me these last several years. The gears of our society have been painfully slow in accelerating to match the rate at which the ‘wet-ware’ imbues inovative function to Moore’s hardware by ‘speaking’ software…..

    Society, and particularly law, must catch-up, and quickly, if we are not to see more of the kind of nonsense we have experienced over the last few years.

    • You raise a number of important questions. I think this conversation could run and run. 🙂 But to begin an answer to your question about other approaches to online learning, it might be true to say that the MOOC format has appeared on the scene as what many people have always thought that online learning was, but isn’t. It (in a “traditional” form) needn’t be about putting resources online, and letting the students get on with it. It can be interactive and discursive, in a way that allows both teachers and students to be directly involved. That is, as bwatwood says, a lot to do with numbers. So, one starter here would be a “manifesto” that some of us recently put together on what we believe online teaching to be about.

      • Thank you for this, Hamish; very interesting !
        While I am in general agreement with most of your ‘bullets’, the ‘cultures of surveillance’ and the ‘closed onlinespaces’ points seem contradictory in the4 context of the way this course has been organized. In my view, no real educational activity at a moderately sophisticated level can be conducted in an insecure environment. Further, for a seat of learning to be promoting interaction via media that are invasive and malicious, such as Farcebuck, Googoo, and Twit-pick is anathema.
        Particularly in a course about digital culture, one would expect exclusive use of free and open source software, as indeed ALL university computing MUST employ. Proprietary systems are de facto malware, and this is what soured me and inhibited me from interacting with the course in the first instance (together with my inexperience with the wordpress platform).
        A possible solution to these problems might be to set up your own Diaspora pod for the courses. You could make it closed subscription, or you could make postings limited by default, or pod-only. No doubt, you would get much tecnical support from the wider Diaspora community, coding and pull requests can be found on github.

        To quote Macluan’s old saw, “the medium…..”.

        So, let’s begin actually BEING in the emergent digital culture.

        I have much to say about the rest of your ‘bullets’, but have little energy after my day’s work, and no desire to quack endlessly and interrupt your busy schedule with my maunderings. Another time, if you wish.

        Regards, …..it.

      • Yes, I think that there are “in the world, but not of the world” issues about the choice of tools. Not my field, and above my pay scale, but I guess that one could make analogies between our current “loyalties” to organisations like Google and our loyalties to nation states in the past.

        I very much take your point about security. I think that there are limits to the depth to which one can take a conversation – or more importantly, the depth to which one can encourage one’s students freely to express their ideas and uncertainties – unless one has a secured environment, in which everyone is known to everyone else, and one can know not nobody is looking over one’s shoulder.

        You might find Dreyfus’ (2009) “On the Internet” to be of interest in relation to what one can, and cannot, do in education through mediated means.

  13. Thx the ref. I read a review by Rothfork, and will have to go to the source material sooner or later. He’s at Berkeley, where I live !

    Re trust; the Diaspora platform encourages anonymity, and is secure, thus obviating that question. As sysadmins, you would have access to your users unique data, but nobody else would. No doubt you have a I.T. department at Edinburgh, either forward my suggestions or refer them to me.

    Your observation about past loyalties to nation states is poignant today, since those same nation states seem intent on drafting draconian laws and exacting disproportionate punishment on dissidents, desperately trying to forestall their death-throes. There is no place for this kind of censorship and intimidation in a university; it is anathema.

    I cannot stress too strongly the need for all of us, especiaslly those in the seats of learning, to educate ourselves and others about the free net, and an essential part of this is for us actively to employ it. And protect it ! Otherwise, the net will become another means of control, information will become propaganda, and a unique opportunity will be lost. These are pivotal times. Use it or loose it.

    Allow me one course related rant, the common use of the term ‘pedagogy’.

    I am probably older than all the moderators here. I was, and to a certain extent am an educator. I suggest that the term ‘education’ be either abandoned, or at least re-defined in light of the ‘digital culture’. Certainly, the thrust of your manifesto would preclude any notion of pedagogy; we are not children to be led.

    During my teaching days, I’m certain I learned more from my students, even the difficult ones, the teachers college, than they ever learned from me. And this, surely, is as it should be. Perceived as a curious reversal of roles, it is in point of fact the iterations that constitute advancement through the generations.

    Thank you for your responses, I know you’re busy elsewhere……


    • Thanks again for the stimulus – so much of it. One gets drawn in to the discussion of interesting ideas. Never mind “busy”. 🙂 Conversation is important in learning. Of course, true to this thread, that conversation does not need to be between someone temporarily designated “teacher” and someone temporarily designated “student”. But teachers have passions too.

      As I say, I don’t feel competent to comment on these issues of cultural sociology that you are running with here. But I suspect that I would find myself to be in close agreement with the models that you describe of our current state. I would highly recommend the book “Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow.

      You don’t mention the word, so I will mention it – Andragogy.

      I want to mention it, because I think that it is a complete red herring. At some levels I take your point about us not being “children to be led”. But the principles enunciated by Knowles seem to me to be about the courtesies that should be accorded to *all* learners, and say nothing that is particular to the educational “treatment” of adults. Clearly, I do not want suggest that there is no difference between children and adults with regard to learning and education, but rather that there are more dangers inherent in the view that adult learners are “above all that” than there are is trying to help learners to adopt a “child-like” approach to the world. I am interested in the notion of “defamiliarization” as a tool in teaching,
      or the notion of the “Carnivalesque” from the work of Mikhail Bakhtin.

      So – generally – I am happy to run with the word “pedagogy” as long is the word isn’t interpreted too literally, but also so long as we don’t lose the childlike *fun* in learning.

      Good Grief! My diary tells me that I should be thinking about writing *another* of these blog posts tomorrow. Perhaps I *am* “busy”. 😦

  14. Ha ! That’s a new one on me, one for my portmanteau ! In my case it’s more like gerontogogy…

    My library is relatively heavy on Doctorow, most recently ” The Big Beautiful Tomorrow, plus ” , next up “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”. I’ll have to check for “Little Brother”, for this kind of reading, I need a hard-copy.

    остранение, this is interesting. I’m not at all sure I agree with Shkloovsky about the relative difficulties between poesy and prose. The polars have different functions, but there is a continuum. Where we place our compositions along that string depends upon what it is we wish to say. And who we are talking to. Using this device, I try to pitch a little higher than my expectations of comprehension. Firstly because it urges an effort on the hearer, and second because the response tells me much about the state of my corespondant.

    Certainly, subversion is an essential tool in the educator’s belt. Elsewhere, percieved as a crazy old coot with attitude, I employ it all the time ! Without a formal role, I content myself by sniping archly from the side-lines.

    Fete des Folles always amused me, how about that naughty O’Brien, eh ?

    Much to ponder here, thank you!


  15. Pingback: On how #edcmooc did a cmooc on Coursera | Doing by Learning (and vice versa)

  16. hi, coming a bit late to the original post but all i was trying to say about human nature is that it’s “normal”? to see a teacher/facilitator as an authority figure i think, even if it isnt objectively the case…even phD’s are reliant on their supervisor for guidance arent they?

  17. I never did, my best teachers never exercised any hint of authority, just challenged me to defend and justify what I said. Of course, they were much better at arguement especially in their fields than I was, the trick is to challenge just enough without squashing the individual’s originality, always assuming there’s any there….

  18. I think that it *is* natural for us to *look* for authority. Such a tendency greatly simplifies our social lives. But it might also be a natural tendency that is to be resisted. “What is, never specifies what aught”. But I would concede that a natural tendency to look for leaders may carry with it an ability – or rather to compel us to develop – to detect nonsense. Carl Sagan argued for the need to have a “baloney detection kit”. I think that he was suggesting that this was the Scientific Method; which is extremely non-natural.

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