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:


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

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

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

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

Content by ‘devious’ means

I wanted to post something today on the content of EDC MOOC, partly in response to Jeremy’s earlier post on how it’s easy to let questions of process (and ‘correctness’) dominate our discussions about course design and partly in response to Dave Cormier’s mention of EDC in his interesting post on MOOC content curation.

Dave’s post draws attention to what was perhaps the biggest issue for us in making EDC MOOC – the need to only use open access materials, and ones that were all free of copyright restrictions. This was a hard call in a few ways. We really wanted to use clips from some of the movie ‘classics’ like The Matrix, 2001 and so on, but we were advised that this wasn’t on, even if they were freely available on YouTube, simply because their copyright status was likely to be compromised. As it happened, a lot of the freely available shorts were actually better for our purposes (and in many cases, just…better), so this wasn’t such a big issue.

Of more significance was the fact that we couldn’t draw on any of the literature published in ‘closed’ sources like journal articles and book chapters. This was a big deal for us because, while we are used to building online courses, we’ve only ever done so with the very rich resources of the University of Edinburgh’s digital library available to us. Sourcing quality academic work, at the right level, without access to closed journals was a real challenge. We’re happy with what we have, but the curation certainly wasn’t easy. For the publishers who are on EDC MOOC (and we know there are some) the message is that we need free stuff for our MOOCs : ) As Dave’s post makes clear there are licensing issues here, but the potential reputational gain for authors whose work is used on MOOCs is significant, and that carries benefits – sales among others.

Overall, the work of making the MOOC felt to us like curation but perhaps a little more opportunistic than that term implies. Something like bricolage –  working with what is at hand, and by ‘devious means compared to those of a craftsman’ (this from Claude Lévi-Strauss (1966) The Savage Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 16–17). I think we’re generally happy with that!

Sian Bayne

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