Round Two: New Flavours for #EDCMOOC

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.

(Nurmi, 2013)

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.

References

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/

#EDCMOOC: shifting and reshaping

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

A well placed sardine can…yes it can #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:

sardine

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.

Jeremy Knox
@j_k_knox

Learning outcomes for #edcmooc

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.

Christine Sinclair

@CMSinclair

Stenhouse, L. (1975) An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development.  London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd.

Learning from #edcmoocstudents

Over the past 15 years, I have been researching student experience and use of language through being a student: in a new subject area (first mechanical engineering, then digital education); in a new mode (fully online); and on a new scale (a MOOC).

It’s hard to get published in reputable academic journals on this topic, probably because it seems too subjective.  One anonymous reviewer wrote: ‘Can staff/researchers ever really become students in any meaningful sense?’  My response to that question is: ‘Yes, they can, and indeed it would probably help their practice.’  I’d even say that – in a very meaningful sense – researchers should never stop being students.

Of course there is a danger in assuming that my own student experience is generalisable: that would be foolish.  But being a student provides insights on processes of learning as they happen – and before they become ‘fossilised’ as Vygotsky wrote in Mind in Society (page 64).  Many of our EDCMOOC students are teachers who are doing the MOOC to find out what it is like to be a student on one.  (Some teachers are auditing the MOOC – also useful, but not the same as being an active student.)  Being a student provides a great opportunity to see first hand not only how other teachers design a MOOC but also how many different students respond to it and how meanings are jointly constructed. And at the time that it happens.  Blogs are great for recording these moments; we forget them so easily once we’ve passed from not-knowing to knowing.

We all bring resources and repertoires from previous experiences: no student comes to a course with a blank slate.  And nowhere is this more obvious than on the EDCMOOC.  Students of all kinds (not only teachers) are sharing insights, aha moments, experiences, techniques, software, and many other resources.

This sharing is important for peer support; teachers also learn from it. This always happens in a course; every time I mark an excellent assignment I increase my own knowledge and teaching repertoire in some way.  It often happens with less than excellent assignments too.  Here, it is happening on a huge scale.  I’ve lost count of the new ideas stimulated by students I’ve had over the past four weeks.  I only hope some of them stay in my head long enough for me to do something with them.

All the recent posts in ‘Teaching E-learning and Digital Cultures’ show that our whole team has been enriched by what the students have brought to EDCMOOC.  We’re learning too.

Christine Sinclair

Staying the course…but doing #edcmooc differently

Entering week 4 has inevitably brought me to thinking about the end of the MOOC, and what we might think about doing differently next time.  Of course, I chose the word ‘differently’ as an intentional avoidance of ‘better’, not because I’m under the delusion that this MOOC has been perfect, but rather because the notion of ‘better’ may possibly be redundant.  ‘Better for whom?’, would be my immediate question.  The scale and diversity of participants leaves one with the sense that no one strategy can please all the people all of the time. For every post that claims there are too many videos, there is another asking why we didn’t include more videos.  The solution is not to slip into an ‘anything goes’ approach to course design, however.  Certain modes matter more than others, and our strategy has been to stick to our convictions of what we believe to embody good pedagogy.

Furthermore, my own persuasion would be that a sound learning experience is neither necessarily enjoyable or consciously a learning experience.  What I mean here is that learning is not limited to pleasurable activities, and nor is it something you can automatically identify.  Although we perhaps seek the pleasure of achievement, the process of learning may be demanding, and I would argue necessarily so, lest we merely engage in the affirmation of what we already believe to be true.  Neither should the moment of learning, I suggest, be thought to arrive instantly, nor at a point which we can control.  My grasp of difficult concepts often comes when I’m not expecting it to.  As a teacher, to maintain these convictions in the spotlight of a massive course may take a level of courage one is not used to, particularly as the statistics appear to reveal that ‘educators’ form a significant proportion of out participants.

There are certainly things that we can do differently, and it is of course from the generous comments, criticisms and feedback from our MOOC participants that I draw the following ideas.  While this kind of open education may be interpreted by some as obligation-free – implying that if you don’t really like the course there is no commitment to stay – I have been pleasantly surprised by those who have offered constructive criticism, whilst clearly not perceiving the course to ‘be for them’.  Rather than adopt the idea that the open access of the MOOC necessitates an open exit, I’d far rather encourage dialogue: tell us why it is not working for you.  I am aware that it is asking quite a lot of busy people, but the benefits are mutual if those people wish to continue their learning elsewhere.

Firstly, I have been noticing some comments about underestimated workload.  The recommended 3-5 hours per week is perhaps something to consider with regards to our thoughts on content.  While it may be that our curation of content within the Coursera site requires more time to engage with, I suspect the vast amount of writing produced by course participants is also contributing to the time people are dedicating to the MOOC.  Of course, participant blogs, images and posts are every bit as much of the content as the resources put together by the teachers, and seen in this way creates an overwhelming task of ‘course reading.’  Not only the sheer scale of this participant-created content, but also the navigation required to access these contributions, is something that perhaps needs to be factored into estimated hours.  However, I would be cautious about this implying that all content needs to be read in order to understand what is happening in this MOOC.  I see no problem at all in someone ‘tuning in’ for an hour a week, picking and choosing a few resources, and leaving the five week course with some kind of different outlook on ‘e-learning’.  That would seem to be the kind of open education we are talking about, rather than maintaining the idea that (all) education has to be about mastery.

Secondly, I’ve been thinking about the idea that we make the course objectives clearer: essentially ‘this is why the course will not be for you’.  While that might seem to be a strategy that prevents disappointment for those joining and realising the MOOC is not what they thought, I wonder where that leaves us with regards to diversity.  I want people who believe in instructional design to come and take our MOOC and be critical of the teaching methods, much more than I’d want them to not enrol in the first place.  I don’t say that flippantly or disrespectfully, as I would want to be able to enrol in, and gain valuable learning experiences from, courses that utilise differing teaching methods to my own.  I don’t ‘agree’ with much of the theory that underpins instructional design, for example, but that doesn’t mean I’m under the illusion that I have nothing to learning from the many valuable principles embodied in courses which have been designed in this way. Just as dividing people into sub-groups would seem to sweep the problem of scale under the carpet, specifying who the MOOC is for and who it is not for appears to homogenise to some extent.

The number of times I have read ‘I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this EDCMOOC’ tells me to keep working with diversity, and to stick to my convictions.

Jeremy Knox
@j_k_knox

Who or what is a teacher – on #edcmooc?

Teaching a class of 27 at the same time as a MOOC inevitably encourages me to ask what being a teacher means in both cases.  Are the students teaching themselves?  Well, yes, in the sense that they’ve having to manage and regulate learning (their own).  Are they teaching one another?  Yes, in the sense that they offer resources, feedback, support, encouragement and challenges.  Is the software teaching them?  Yes, in the sense that it will present and sequence material and offer alternative ways of displaying, aggregating, curating and storing ideas.  All these might be regarded as functions for the teacher – and all can be seen happening both courses.

On the MOOC, the students are using peer review to assess and grade products of learning.  This happens on some smaller courses too, though not on the one I am currently teaching.

So what is left for me to do? What is it that gives me the identity of a teacher?  I’ve been a student on an earlier version of the first course in our Masters programme where I’m now teaching, and also on a MOOC, so I am aware that there is a difference. As a student in both courses I was conscious of teacher experience and their expertise.  I was aware of their presence and of my pleasure in catching their attention.  I was also aware of a concern of catching their attention in a ‘bad’ way, by not being the right sort of person for the course  (although as a teacher, I don’t see it as a bad thing that some courses don’t suit some students).  I was aware that there was an intention behind the course, based on their knowledge, and that by completing it successfully I was in some way fulfilling the intention of the teachers.

On both courses, the teachers intended to expose the students to ways of thinking about the world: the MOOC I took did not go much further than that but in the Masters course it was clear that the teachers wanted to create experiences that encourage critical thinking on the topic  (The latter, is, of course, easier to say with hindsight now that I am a graduate of the programme and teaching on it!)

All of the highlighted expressions might provide a useful job description for a teacher.  The fact that another person or machine could complete them does not abrogate the teacher’s responsibility that they should happen.  However, even that responsibility could be shouldered by someone who designs courses rather than teaches them (I have had such an identity in the past).

I have come to the conclusion – assisted by some reading over the years that I’ll now want to revisit – that what is essential to the identity of a teacher on any specific course is that they actively care about all of the highlighted expressions.  And they care about them throughout the duration of the course and also before and after it.

There may be people who have ‘teaching’ in their job description who don’t care about any of these things.  Though they might be an expert or an authority, they wouldn’t fall into my definition of ‘teacher’ here.

Christine Sinclair

It’s a course, of course #edcmooc

I am beginning this week with some thoughts about how a MOOC might be defined, or as Hamish put it last week ‘the matter of what a MOOC is (or might be)’.  In the aftermath of a chaotic, demanding, and sometimes disorderly two weeks, I am suddenly reminded of the EDCMOOC as it was a couple of months ago: a rather neat and orderly set of pages within the Coursera site, and an underdeveloped but efficient Yahoo Pipe connected to an empty EDC MOOC News WordPress site.   These spaces weren’t so much barren, as taut with the imminent launch; with the impending responses and flows that might stream through them.  Nevertheless, a MOOC before launch, as I’m realising ever more, appears to be something very different from a MOOC in full flow.  While previous musings have focussed on the ‘massive’, the ‘open’ or the ‘online’, in attempting to comprehend or appreciate this EDCMOOC, I am now propelled towards ‘course’.  However, ‘course’ as in ‘flow’, or ‘stream’.

I have, of course, been reading the recent David Gelernter article in Wired on the future of the web, and was struck by the claim that ‘the field [of computing] has finally moved from conserving resources ingeniously to squandering them creatively’.  In what sense then, might a MOOC be the creative squandering of resources?  If we think about the EDC MOOC in terms of time, the resources we have provided as teachers become the starting point, the bucket at the bottom of the well, to use Gelernter’s analogy.  What happens around these resources; the discussions, blogs and tweets that orbit and approximate them, are streams and flows of activity from which the present state of the MOOC might be estimated.

In attempting to approach what this MOOC is, I often find myself drawn to the immediate: the latest forum post within a thread, the newest blog post, and ever-present Twitter stream.  Many of the comments about the discussion forums appear to mirror this sentiment, describing their contributions as being quickly lost in the sea of alternatives, immediately disappearing into the past of the MOOC.  This interest in the current condition seems to be particular to my role as a teacher.  My gaze at the MOOC is not so much concerned with the resources, but ‘what is happening now’.   The content that we curated has perhaps been spent, squandered, exhausted, and the streams, aftermaths and reverberations that echo through the web, become the MOOC as it is now.

Just as Gelernter appears to be proposing the ‘stream browser’ as an alternative way of dealing with the immensity and mutability of the web, I am wondering whether such an approach has any resonance with the massiveness of this MOOC.  Rather than attempting to encapsulate something as vast and diverse, as the EDCMOOC appears to be, perhaps a focus on a present moment is one way in which it can be approached.  However, that way of understanding can only last as long as the streams of information.

I am reminded of a tweet from Martell Linsdell in week 1: ‘Digital footprints, traces, but so much and many of them.  A difficult archaeological dig for the future

I have found the Twitter chats really interesting in my thinking about time in relation to the MOOC, particularly the way they have been analysed and represented.  They seem to be explorations of how we might represent, or embody the sense of ‘being in’ the MOOC, experiencing it as duration in some way.  The visualisations from Andy Mitchel were intriguing in this respect.  Then I came across this video from Asbjørn Skovsende (@danishbuddha), and for a moment it all seemed to make sense.  The Star Wars-inspired introductory text marches away into the darkness of the past.  Each line is read, and then immediately squandered as we grasp for the next.

Jeremy Knox
@j_k_knox

‘Maybe it’s working’: #edcmooc in Week 2

iStock_000001020615XSmall

I’ve noticed some people have been making comments suggesting that they’re learning something. It’s as though they have passed through  a ‘liminal state’ (Perkins, 2006) and have found a route to help them come out the other side.  Here are a few examples from the forums:

‘I have thought more about technology in our world and on-line ed in the past week than I have in the last year. Maybe its working.’ – Matthew Gorek

‘There are enough “aha’s” to sustain me and that is what I think learning is about.’ Karen Hughes

‘I think what I am just beginning to “see” is what I have been preaching for years – constructivism! ‘ – Cheryl Doran

As someone who tends towards optimism, I find this very encouraging.  However, I am conscious that with a class of 42,000, it is possible to find evidence to support any of a range of responses to what’s going on, so I’m cautious about making strong claims.  Instead, I thought it would be useful to reflect a little on this idea of liminality, as it seems relevant both to Week 2 as a time when students may feel lost in a mass of content, and to our themes of a potential digital future that might be bewildering and troublesome.  The word ‘liminal’ relates to thresholds: a metaphor of crossing and entering new territory.  The liminal state – a condition where the person is between the old way of being and the new – can be both exhilarating and uncomfortable and may mean abandoning cherished ways of doing things.  I’ve also seen a fair amount of evidence in the forums of concern for loss of well-established educational practices.

Our MOOC may then be stimulating a liminal state for many students and perhaps ultimately leading to a way of thinking about digital culture that was previously unavailable.   It could also be argued that MOOC itself is a ‘threshold concept’: transformative, troublesome, integrative, bounded, discursive and reconstitutive.  (This isn’t a description of individual MOOCs – just the concept MOOC.)  If you’re interested in threshold concepts, the link takes you to a University College London site that summarises and links to many more sources.

Because I’m an optimist, I’m hoping that many people will feel they are learning.  I know from years of my own student experience that feeling stuck and perplexed can often be a sign that it’s about to happen.

Perkins, D. (2006)  The underlying game: troublesome knowledge and threshold conceptions. In E. Meyer & R. Land (Eds.), Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge. London: Routledge.

Christine Sinclair

Building a better #EDCMOOC?

One of the most interesting aspects of my participation in this course so far has been the attention paid to the MOOC format itself.  In a course about education and technology, discussion of the MOOC seems inevitable, but also pertinent to our focus on cultural influences and ‘e-learning’ histories.  Perhaps most significant has been the interest in developing strategies for ‘dealing’ with a MOOC, both from a student and teacher perspective.  It comes as no surprise that a significant proportion of EDCMOOC participants are educators interested in how they might go about delivering such a course.  We are asking ourselves the same questions as we explore the new territory of the MOOC, and it has been a privilege to read numerous responses from a broad spectrum of experienced educators.

I’ve been thinking about this relationship between content and process, and I keep returning to this useful Wallwisher which I came across the other day.  While this, and other great posts like it are helping me to think through the experiences of designing and teaching a MOOC, I have some concerns with a focus on process.  Strategies for teaching people ‘how to MOOC’ often appear disconnected from ‘content’, and indeed this attention to ‘process’ is what the connectivist-informed MOOCs have advocated.  At its extreme, this approach seems to disregard the centralised curation of content in favour of strategies for independent information retrieval.  Learning to use social media is clearly important in this kind of course, however many of the suggestions for building a better MOOC appear engaging enough to constitute a five week course in themselves – an indication, I’d suggest, of the depth and merit of these strategies.  Given the incredibly diverse skills apparent in EDCMOOC participants, crucial questions are emerging for me this week regarding this relationship between process and content.

For the moment, one of my main concerns with ‘process’ is the assumption of a ‘right way’ to go about things.  For me, this seems to tap into the same inferences as the ‘digital natives’ debate; that there are people who know how to use technology correctly, and hence can get better ‘results’.  I’m slightly wary of an orientation towards achieving the ‘right’ answer through a ‘correct’ aggregation strategy.  While I value the articulation of strategies and the circumscribing of approaches, particularly in relation to the overwhelming information coming together in the EDCMOC, I’m also concerned with what is lost in such classifications.  The ‘correct’ way to use Twitter, for example, should perhaps be contested, rather than reduced to a bullet pointed list.  In the same way that ‘digital immigrants’ are devalued, strategies which call for the ‘technology savvy’ to teach others seems to diminish the worth of a fresh insight, an alternative perspective, a view of technology that does not come from ‘within’ technology.  EDCMOOC participants appear to be rich and varied, and it is perhaps from diversity, not homogenisation, that we can learn the most.  This week I’ll be looking out for the ‘mistakes’…

Jeremy Knox
@j_k_knox