Shoring the fragments of #edcmooc


Eleni Zazani’s competition entry

This week I had to try to pull together a position, a wide view, of what’s been happening on the EDC MOOC, in order to present at a symposium on ‘Disrupting Higher Education’ in Dublin (blogged here by Eoin O’Dell). It was hard. In the end, the best way I could find to do it, was by piecing together fragments, snippets from the work of the teaching team and of the participants, to build a picture of what we’ve achieved over the last few weeks, and the questions which remain unanswered. The Prezi I made of this is viewable here.

I’d like to summarise roughly what I see as being the gains we’ve made, and what I was trying to convey in this presentation. First, we’ve made a start on an important project: we’ve created a Coursera MOOC with a particular ethos and design, and we now have some data to work with in thinking about how we refine that, and whether our own strand of higher education has a future – disrupted or otherwise – with this kind of MOOC pedagogy.

We’ve also seen that the personal learning networks and communities being formed for some participants through the MOOC have been intense, enriching and deeply motivating. That is something of great value. The challenge here, of course, is in considering what happens to the participants who wanted networks, but have not been able to make them, or have not found them. As Jeremy said in his post this week, we can’t make a MOOC work for everyone, not at this scale. But we still have a responsibility to consider what participation and inclusion means in a teaching event like this, and do our best to make these things happen for as high a proportion of learners as we can.

Then, we’ve seen this great burst of multimodal creativity, innovation, sharing and making, as Jen highlighted in her post. For me this is a major achievement: if we can begin to see the MOOC as a (relatively) low-stakes space where experiments in representation and scholarly ‘writing’ can be nurtured, that will be a major gain and potentially a big contribution to the debate around digital academic literacy.

For me one of the biggest and most difficult questions remaining is how we think about the nature and value of ‘teacherliness’ online, where we are working in courses in which we started with a 0.0001 teacher:student ratio (thanks Hamish Macleod! Christine blogged about this too). How do we navigate a pathway somewhere between what seem to be the two main options for the MOOC teacher currently: celebrity professor or automaton? The subject of another blog post perhaps. 

Sian Bayne


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

Assessment, #edcmooc style

I guessed it would happen, because of our experiences on the MSc in Digital Education, but I am delighted to see what is happening around the edcmooc digital artefact assignments. There are three things in particular that stand out: the effort, the sharing, and the feedback. These observations are based only on what’s been shared in forums, twitter and blogs – I haven’t looked at any of the formal submissions yet.

1. Effort. Digital artefact creation seems to inspire great creativity and effort. Inviting people to go ‘beyond text’ to represent academic knowledge, and to create work in public, appears to be motivating in a way that, say, writing an essay that only three people will read, generally isn’t. I think this is about audience, and about the pleasure of sharing and expressing understanding in multimodal ways. We are seeing people drawing on their own personal and professional expertise (coding, writing, film-making, music, photography, expertise with web-based tools, knowledge of interesting bodies of literature, and so on) to really grapple with course themes. I love it and will have a terrible time tearing myself away.

2. Sharing. A number of MOOC participants are rejecting (sometimes explicitly) protectiveness and secrecy in favour of sharing their ideas, drafts, processes and final artefacts. We could claim that we have reached a utopian state of trust within the MOOC (of course!!), but the networked nature of the assignment makes it possible, too. In a public, web context, sharing doesn’t take anything away from the sharer, but rather stamps ideas as theirs, drives traffic to their artefacts, and gives a reputational boost. This is digital scholarship in action. Those who are sharing in this way are providing helpful examples for others to build on, too. (The merits of the ‘exemplar’ are sometimes contested, but in general I am a fan.)

3. Feedback. The generosity of those sharing is matched by the generosity of those responding with enthusiasm, suggestions, constructive advice and audience responses. Particularly impressive has been the references to the assessment criteria, which a number of people in the forum are making in their informal feedback. By bringing these criteria into play at this stage, discussing and debating what they mean, and trying to apply them in context, MOOC participants are involving themselves in the feedback process in ways that I think will be extremely helpful during the peer assessment activity, and for those still working on their artefacts.

To sum up: heaps of praise for EDCMOOC participants, and the work they are beginning to do on these final assignments.

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

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

MOOC day: the best-laid schemes #edcmooc


Thanks to cathleen_nardi for this image – her entry for the week 3 competition. Click to favourite this and others!

I mentioned course development and how that worked for us in terms of time commitment in an earlier post (How long did it take you?). I thought at this point it might be useful to follow this up by saying a few things about how we organise our teaching time on this MOOC – I get the sense a few of our participants are curious about this. Partly this is prompted by MB Wall’s question in the forums about ‘instructor compensation’ and how that’s managed in our case. As Jen made clear in her response, Hamish, Christine, Jen and myself are all full-time academic staff (faculty) here at the University of Edinburgh. Jeremy is a full-time PhD student who is researching MOOCs and open education. We all teach on the MSc in Digital Education, and all conduct research in various aspects of education and the digital, so we’re doing our MOOC teaching alongside multiple other tasks. The course does not employ any teaching assistants, though some of our Masters students are contributing to the discussions.

The way we’ve organised ourselves since the MOOC opened, is by each having ‘MOOC day’ – a working day on which we take responsibility for monitoring the discussion forums, and making the blog post here. We’ve also divided up responsibility for each weekly announcement, and seeding the discussion forum with a few questions – we take a week each. This works neatly as there are five of us!

However, that’s not to say this tidy division is absolute – we are all monitoring the twitter feed and the blog posts every day (including weekends and evenings), and we are all dipping into the discussion forums most days too (though we aren’t systematically looking at the student created social spaces – Facebook, G+ and so on). We’re doing this on an ad-hoc basis, but because we are a well-established team and we know how each other works, we feel fairly confident that our coverage of media is reasonably good. However, we know that “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley” (see here for translation!) so we’re talking regularly to each other about how things are progressing and whether we need to be adapting what we do.

Sian Bayne


Something for everyone? #edcmooc

There have been a couple of themes of particular interest to me in the forums over the past week.  A lot of conversation, first of all, has run with the “thought experiments” that can be derived from science fiction to explore the impact of technology on human life and society.  I always find these stimulating in their own right.  But there have also been many excellent recommendations of films, books and authors that I have not come across before.  And some threads have addressed the topic of games and gamification in support of learning, which is a particular interest of mine.  We have a course on game-based / game-informed learning in our Masters programme, and it is running at the moment, so there are many cross-linkages for me.

I have also been browsing around in the blogs linked from the EDC News collection.  One item of particular interest – science fiction linked, but not science fiction – was an interview with Isaac Asimov from 1988 on technology and learning; including why you should learn about baseball if you want to, and how that might bring you to questions about mathematics and physics.  As the blogger, David Hopkins, observed, for a conversation that happened nearly quarter of a century ago, it is remarkable just how right, and level-headed, Asimov was.  I will certainly be using this video in teaching in the future.  Or is that the present?

Prominent in the blogs has been discussion of the issue of the need for connectivity, and how it cannot be assumed – either technically, or constitutionally.  I particularly liked a blog from Jeff Merrel making a comparative analysis of different MOOC styles.  One important point for me was about the valuing of connection over content, and the place of blogging versus the discussion forum in an online course.  This reminded me of the oft repeated quote from Cory Doctorow about content and conversation.

I have been watching some valuable connections and interactions going on in various places around the course – both blogs and forums.  Half-way through now, and for some, no doubt, the discomfort increases, but some are finding their feet, and making their own way.  Jen raised some important points about the need to understand who is actually being served by the MOOC format; and this (our) MOOC format in particular.

People are doing different things with the MOOC content and conversation; some are weaving it into their lives, reflecting on the interactions between for-credit courses that they are working on and the topics and issues being flagged up by MOOC colleagues.  Some are framing their own questions that the stimulus reading and video materials seem to have raised for them, beyond anything that the designers might have had in mind.

In passing, I like that this is being referred to as “the Scottish MOOC”.  Perhaps some play on Macbeth.  Don’t worry – I’m not an actor.  It’s not unlucky for me.

Hamish Macleod

“This river of learning is not unbounded” – educational openings

We have plunged into the flow of the opening of education. …[but] this river of learning is not unbounded… (Betha Gutsche, EDCMOOC forum)

Betha’s post has helped me to articulate the sense I have that an opening education (Campbell, 2012) is not limitless or unstructured. An opening is a way through to somewhere, but it’s also, in itself, a place. What Christine might call a liminal place. It is here rather than somewhere else. And, depending on where you are and where you need to go, it might or might not be a good starting point.

One reason that matters is because it suggests that an opening isn’t an opening (or not the right opening) for everyone. If this is true of MOOCs, it might help us think about the concept of ‘retention‘. Perhaps we should ask about who stays in a MOOC, not “who is motivated enough?”, or “are MOOCs overhyped?”, but “for whom is this course an opening?”.

To pose this question might highlight new responsibilities for teachers and researchers in this area. For instance, if it turns out that MOOCs tend to be openings mostly for those who are already educationally privileged, we need to consider carefully what this means for the mission of the MOOC, which is typically framed quite differently.

On the level of the individual, we might also help MOOC participants to consider if the opening is in the right place (or appearing at the right time) for them. It can be understandably hard for people to see themselves as ‘dropouts’, even when it is clear to them that the course is not working for them. Maybe we need a ‘trial period’ (a money-back guarantee? :-)) for the MOOC, where people can check it out before they make a psychological commitment that might feel hard to back down from. A big “loitering allowed” sign by the opening…

A few of my favourite EDCMOOC things (today!)

In no particular order, a few EDCMOOC things I’m enjoying today.

Conversations in the cloud – – ten EDCMOOCers have been exploring presence and connection through a series of Voicethread comments.

Digital Vikings “Kapsul” – a crowd-sourced gallery for representations of the Digital Vikings meme that’s emerging in the MOOC, in opposition to the natives/immigrants binary.

The EDCMOOC tag on Flickr, where so far 140 people have tagged images.

The “metaphors for opening education” thread in the forums.

Rage Against the Machine

Rage Against the Machine – EDCMOOC image from heywayne. CC: by-nc-sa

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