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

We have #EDCMOOC liftoff…

We’ll be using this team blog to document the ‘E-learning and Digital Cultures’ MOOC from the University of Edinburgh in partnership with Coursera.  We wanted to write about our involvement with the EDCMOOC over the next five weeks, recording developmental issues and reflecting on the experience of teaching and participating in this experimental course.  We’ll be feeding these posts back into the EDCMOOC as way of incorporating our perspectives as teachers, and we hope that it will also serve as a useful compendium for those outside of the course interested in our daily experiences as MOOC educators.  This first post outlines some of the dilemmas and challenges we faced in developing the EDCMOOC, and our reflections on the course launch and first day.

For a team used to working with in-house technologies on the MSc in Digital Education, developing a course in an externally provided platform was in many cases a new experience.  Furthermore, being as concerned with pedagogical methods as are with content, pushing the boundaries of the Coursera platform was always going to be in our interests.  We wanted to use the Coursera platform creatively, however this often meant requesting features that were not present, or were in development.  Nevertheless, experimenting with the early stages of such a high-profile platform have been rewarding, and we hope to see the technology develop as Coursera and their partners continue to explore new ways of teaching at scale.

While we wanted course activity to be distributed on the social web (with the use of blogs and Twitter for example), we were also interested in aggregating content produced by students so that it might be easily accessible from a single location.  The connectivist-informed MOOCs had employed this technique well, and we wanted to explore a similar approach from within the Coursera platform.  Using a combination of Yahoo Pipes and WordPress, we managed to develop an aggregated newsletter which displays participant blog posts each day, as long as they are tagged with the course hashtag: #edcmooc.  However, it remains an experimental system, and we are unsure about its stability as the course progresses, or its value as a way to engage with course content given the potential number of posts that could be pulled together.  We’ll be watching the EDCMOOC News closely in the coming weeks.

The course site was opened on the evening of Sunday 27th, and we were excited to see hundreds, then thousands, of participants enter the site within half an hour of the announcement email.  The Twitter stream erupted, and it was great to see such enthusiasm for the launch.  We were keen to gauge the reaction of participants, and Twitter proved to be a helpful way to get immediate feedback about the experiences of entering the course for the first time.  Most tweets were very positive, while a few flagged up issues and queries, some of which we were able to catch.  The forums within the Coursera site proved to be a better way of engaging with initial questions.

Early forum posts highlighted some lack of understanding with regards to the assessment and grading of the course, technical matters relating to the Coursera platform, and some initial engagement with the resources and themes.  While working to provide early clarification or responses to these posts, we also found the spread of different concerns interesting.  Early queries may provide some measure of what our participants find most important about the course.  Some immediately began discussing the resources, perhaps indicative of a primary interest in the content we had chosen, while others appeared to head straight for the guidance about assessment, clearly interested in understanding what the outcomes of participation might be.  Courses with such high enrolment numbers will inevitably have diverse participants, seeking many different things from a MOOC.  We’re really interested in whether courses of such scale can be everything to everybody: can they provide rich opportunities to self-direct and form personal learning networks, as well as guide learners through predefined paths, and do such all-encompassing attempts dilute the potency of a less-inclusive approach?

As the first day of #edcmooc Tweets streamed by, we saw a wealth of conversation, mostly positive feedback or comments focussed on the course content, interspersed with a few pleas for help, admissions of confusion and the odd unenthusiastic remark.  Something feels right about that kind of variety.  While MOOCs are sometimes thought of as being clouded by the optimism of their committed populations, we welcome productive critique and resistance, and hope it becomes an integral part of our continuing MOOC experimentation.

Jeremy Knox