Reflections on the first week of the FutureEd MOOC

I’m participating in the History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education MOOC, on the Coursera platform, run by Cathy Davidson from Duke University. The subject of this MOOC, billed as looking at the Future of Higher Education, was interesting enough to a number of colleagues at the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at the University of Cape Town and hence we have formed a study group to meet once a week to talk about our experiences and to see how the experience of taking a MOOC from an American University might be made relevant to a higher education institution in South Africa.

Having a local study group has been motivating. By the middle of the first week, I had already watched the videos, annotated the transcripts with notes, read some of the articles, engaged a little on Twitter and felt reasonably prepared to disuss whether what the MOOC offers thus far is something that I and other colleagues can make use of in our context.

Thoughts on the MOOC Content

I’ve enjoyed the first week’s presentation of content and ideas, which seemed to set a background for framing the development of higher education in the light of what Davidson calls the four ‘information ages’ and to make links between what changed in these information ages (writing, moveable-type, mass printing leading to distribution of cheap literature and the internet) and that these changes led to changes in the social relationships and communications between people, leading to new ways of communicating and interacting.Davidson’s point seems to be that such changes follow a pattern of what might be termed ‘moral panics’. The availability of information in forms that led to social changes produced reactions that might seem to us now as patently absurd. For example, in the first information age, Socrates thought that writing would lead to a deterioration in the dialogic process, while the consumption (by women) of low-brow novels made possible by mass printing was considered  to making oneself open to sexual predators, as well as challenging structures of authority and convention. The implication is that the concerns brought about about by what Davidson calls the fourth information age, that started in April 1993 with availability of the internet and the word wide web, might be regarded by future generations as equally absurd.

Having framed the history through the lens of the four information ages, Davidson considers the types of new literacies required to learn in these ages and which education should be supporting and promoting. These include skills of privacy, security and understanding intellectual property that are necessary for people to understand, protect and negotiate. Other skills such as the ability to collaborate, establish credibility through ‘crap detection’ and being globally conscious are other ’21st Century’ literacies. Thus far, the course has set the stage and pointed to the types of discussions that are likely in future weeks, centred around imagining the Higher Education of the Future.

The study group’s thoughts

The study group members had a thoughtful discussion about their participation in the first week. The content itself was considered to be interesting, although at times simplistic, perhaps geared towards an undergraduate curriculum textbook level and to have predominantly US-centred examples. Those new to MOOCs found the Coursera platform rather busy and a little clunky although more experienced MOOCers shared tips such as using transcripts to get the gist of the videos. The first week’s quiz caused some bemusement, as it was seen as either so easy as to be a bit pointless, or that all the answers seemed to be right (Tip: ‘answer all the above’ to most of the quiz questions)! More interesting discussions centred around the motivation of this particular MOOC. Who is the MOOC really for? Can global participants, such as those in Africa, really contribute and influence the learning of others, as the course is billed to achieve. Or is it about taking what is offered (for free) and make the course relevant (localise) to particular contexts? As seen in this Google Hangout, Cathy Davidson’s face to face class at Duke appear to be studying this MOOC as part of their own course, and these students seem to be engaging with MOOC participants as a way of finding out more about MOOCs, almost in a strategic way. Are MOOC participants guinea pigs or test subjects for another more exclusive course? Furthermore,  this interesting blog post argues how global MOOC participants might help internationalize American higher education, which could be seen as a seemingly happy by-product of the global nature of MOOCs but also as a strategic view of the ‘benefits’ a global cohort might bring to a particular group.

So for me, the real value of the MOOC is the discussions it has engendered, which is what its aims appear to be. Members of the study group are sufficiently intrigued to continue with the MOOC and look forward, in particular, to seeing how the peer review assessments will work.

“Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong /”

Recasting H817open as a connectivist course


Having blogged previously about investigating connectivist pedagogy, in response to Activity 19 on H817, I thought I would consider how the H817 MOOC might be made more connectivist.  Actually this begs the question, in what ways is H817 not a connectivist course? After all it ticks many of the boxes outlined in Siemens (2004) connectivist elements:

Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.

H817 encourages discussion  and there are a variety of opinions and sources offered although (unsurprisingly) a lot that are from the Weller, Cormier, Siemens and Downes stable.
There is of course diversity in the learners’ opinions through their blogs and forum posts.

I think that the diversity element could be more stressed where there is more activity towards creating a curriculum. There is a general positivity towards openness, and more detractors in the readings or in live sessions in the form of debates might be helpful.

Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources.

This happens in various ways – for example through the blog aggregator. However the presentation of the course in the Open Learn VLE is linear and the way the groups have developed suggests more of a mini series of networks than a larger network. For example, some people on forums, others on Google +, some H817 formal learners staying in their tutor groups, others going it alone on blogs or just sampling.

I am not sure it is possible to say whether this course has connected specialised nodes or information sources beyond making links to relevant readings and peer connections – the very nature of network building is that it is unpredictable. Perhaps post-course analytics might help establish the formation of a network.

Learning may reside in non-human appliances.

The products and outputs of H817open will reside online, on blogs, discussions and as an OER so in that sense it will reside in a non-human appliance. (This is different from learning residing in a text book or lecturer videos because that is not learning – those are static teaching materials). The digital footprint that learning leaves is in the artefacts and products produced by learners at the moments of learning through responses to activities or on reflection.

Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.

This might be understood as ‘learning to learn’ or nurturing the network so that participants have the network in place to enable further learning as and when required. The work on developing Personal learning networks stressed this. I am not sure how to measure this or design for this, but activities that encourage discovery and critical thinking (like this one) will encourage the development of a PLN and an attitude to ‘building the pipe’ (Siemens, 2004).

Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.

H817 can, I would argue, be worked through individually, so this is not necessarily true. The activities do state that blogging, commenting on blogs etc is a task to help facilitate connections and continual learning. However, the lack of mandated group work does not allow for the practice of collaborative working or a requirement that connections happen.

Ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts is a core skill

The activities required that participants synthesize and bring together ideas presented. The activities that gave the opportunity to earn badges (OER and MOOC understanding) could formally be seen to encourage this. However, with no formal assessment, it is difficult for participants to know if they have achieved this, although comments by peers on blogs can give some indication.

Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.

H817 set down a curriculum that focussed on openness in HE and appears to have current resources in the form of readings, interviews and other media. The use and sharing of relevant research (on MOOCs for example) as it happens via Twitter and the Google+ group indicates that some participants actively share current knowledge.

Decision making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

The linear structure of the course and the emails that focussed on what to do if one was short of time acted against learners really deciding what to learn, as by signing up for this MOOC there is an implicit contract to accept what is offered. Participants constantly reported feeling stressed that they were behind and apologised for not getting through all the week’s activities. Some students, especially open learners, appear more free to pick and choose what they are interested in, but for many OU learners with an assignment following the MOOC, deciding not to choose to study something might be desirable but had to be made with one eye on the formal assessment.

Towards a connectivist design

Working through this suggests that there are many areas in which there are ‘maybes, perhaps, could be’. This post has made me realise that perhaps it is only possible to design for connectivist learning rather than design connectivist learning. The latter immediately mandates that learners must do such and such, which immediately negates learners’ decision making process and the meaning of incoming information. Designing for connectivist learning accepts that it is not possible to predict or control the learning that may (or may not) happen.

So how might connectivist learning be designed for?

Well, first of all if it looks like a traditional course (and H817 does) then many students will treat it as such. If there are activities, weeks, set readings arranged in a linear fashion, then students will assume that this is the way to do it. This is evident in some of the angst going on within the course forums, twitter, Google + as well as in the spaces only for H817 formal learners  such the H817 Facebook group as well in Tutor group forums. One option might be to throw out a linear course design altogether in favour of a problem or project-based approach with mandated group work. This thought-provoking post focusses on the importance of group work  in MOOCs (Cain, 2013) while Siemens (2013) advocates for group work and problem based learning within MOOCs.

Another area that might contribute to a more connectivist feel is the role of instructor or expert presence. The pedagogical value of this appears contested in the ‘sage on the sage’ and ‘guide on the side’ debates where the ‘sage on the stage’ is being replaced by the ‘guide on the side’. This is something I have previously blogged about when I was taking part in the BONKopen MOOC, where I slightly dispute that taking the sage of the stage is always effective, especially for motivation. This seems to be reinforced in recent article about how students on a Coursera course commented on the lack of an instructor in favour of what might be considered a more ‘connectivist’ course (Parr, 2013).

In fact this leads me to consider whether we should evaluate the value of the role of experts, lectures and the ‘sage on the stage’. Change11 was a cMOOC that heavily focussed on experts delivering a live lecture as the centre point of that week’s learning – a design that accords with Downes’ (2007) approach to connectivist teaching that has the teacher in the role of modelling and demonstrating. With social media and technology, the effects of the expert can be amplified through the connections made around the live event, much like attending a conference with a Twitter feed. Conversations and connections happen in real time during (say) a live presentation and then afterwards as recordings and associated resources are made available, commented on, blogged etc. While not only applicable to a connectivist approach, synchronous events can help establishing momentum and motivation giving learners a chance to interact with authentic practitioners at a distance, which can help build and nurture the network.

I said in a previous blog post that H817 looks like an xMOOC and behaves like a cMOOC. I would qualify that slightly now –  in looking like an xMOOC (linear week by week activities, no mandated group work, short video snippets) it may be that this militates against the nurturing of broader connectivist behaviours. Nevertheless, H817 also has positive connectivist elements such as the focus on blogging and responding to others’ blogs, the blog aggregator and optional badges rather than any formal assessment, yet could be enhanced with more frequent live expert interactions and group activities.


Downes, S. (2007) ‘What connectivism is’, Half an Hour, 3 February [online]. Available at

Cain, G. (2013) MOOCs, ‘Group work and Instructional Design’, Brianstorm in Progress, 17 April [Online]. Available at

Parr,C. (2013) ‘How was it? The UK’s first Coursera MOOCs assessed’, THE, 18 April [Online]. Available at

Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age [Online]. Available from

Siemens, G. (2013) ‘Group work advice for MOOC providers’, Elearnspace, 10 March [Online]. Available at

Image courtesy of Smarnad /

H817open: A Tale of Two MOOCs

This post looks at two MOOCs: Change MOOC and Coursera and compares the technology, pedagogy and other general approaches. I researched this post by reviewing the Change MOOC website and was able to draw on my own experience as an occasional lurker on that course late 2011 and 2012. Additionally, this week, I joined Coursera and signed up for Gamification which started at the beginning of April 2013. I have moved around the Gamification course, listened to some videos and viewed the discussion forums. Additionally, I read blogs of participants who had taken both these MOOCs previously to  provide an insight into some of the issues from learners themselves.


Change MOOC comprises of a course website with the course schedule, speaker names and relevant information including  help on how to succeed in MOOCs. A daily email newsletter was produced during the course  and a blog aggregator using gRSShopper  aggregated participants’ blog posts.  Elluminate was used for the live events.  There were no prescribed technologies for participants; the site states that ‘participants will use a variety of technologies, for example blogs, Second Life, RSS Readers, Ustream etc.’ (Change MOOC). Change MOOC adheres to what is typically considered a cMOOC mashup approach with a central web based platform and then distributed tools for engagement and where the actual work happens.

Coursera offers participating universities a technology platform for hosting and delivering MOOCS so it cannot be necessarily assumed that one Coursera course is like another, as individual courses may give different emphasis to different tools. There are however some core tools that comprise typical LMS features such as learner profile/dashboard pages, week by week readings and assignment, video lectures, quizzes, and discussion forums for discussion week’s activities. Unlike Change MOOC, all of these are hosted inside the platform. However, on the Gamification MOOC at least, the instructor encouraged Twitter and Google+ interaction. The discussion forums look reasonably populated. There’s also a course wiki which leads the user to a Coursera wiki system, currently marked as ‘beta’, where students are encouraged to upload resources.


Screen shot of Coursera menu and video links

One aspect of Coursera is the importance of video lectures. The quality and style of video was attractive with short snippets and good production quality. Videos appear to be released a few weeks at a time, with tracking of what has been viewed.

While both Change MOOC and the Gamification course supply a useful contrast between a central platform offering all tools to learners and distributed platform offering tool suggestions and accepting learner contrived spaces into the platform (through the blog aggregator), in reality the influence of social media, even on a central platform such as Coursera is apparent in the blogs, tweets, wiki option and communities that exist for each course. Additionally, Coursera provides links to Meetup to encourage physical meetups for students taking Coursera classes.


Change MOOC aligns with connectivist pedagogy where the learning happens in the interactions of students with content and instructors. Change MOOC enabled synchronous contact with high calibre individuals allowing for direct contact and questions from students.The students are able to make whatever meaning and products they want to through blogs, discussions with none being mandatory, although some might be recommended.


Change MOOC description on website.

As each week is facilitated by a different researcher or expert, the format and style of any activities varies week to week. There is no formal assessment for students on Change MOOC, nor any sort of certificate of completion. A comment on Cloudworks from one of the Change MOOC instructors indicates that this open pedagogy challenged instructors to deliver a week’s worth of learning in such a distributed course (comment from Diana Laurillard, 1:25pm, 4 July 2012)

The Coursera platforms’s core pedagogy is more instructivist with recommended videos and readings followed by quizzes and writing assignments. On the Gamification course, there is a peer grading exercise, which replaces a more traditional instructor feedback, not possible due to the number of participants. Assessment is very clearly linked to participating in the course. The  course blurb states that they consider students who do not take part in assessments to be ‘auditing’ the course. This does not really take into account that learning might be taking place elsewhere or even what activities might constitute as achieving the learning outcomes. Even taking a quiz late incurs penalty points.

One consequence of this difference is that is is fairly easy to ‘fail’ a Coursera MOOC if you don’t follow a pathway, while there is no such concept on Change 11.

It is possible that the presence of assessment may put off some students, especially if they fault to complete the first quiz and may lead to demotivation. On the other hand, the presence of assessment goals may motivate others. It’s not clear if assessment impacts on drop out rates as drop out rates are high on both cMOOCs and xMOOCs, but this could be a fruitful area of research .

General approach and philosophy.

With Coursera, the whiff of commercialisation and possible monetization is immediately evident. When I signed up for the (free) Gamification site, I was immediately prompted as to whether I wanted to join the ‘Signature Track’ for USD39, which would verify my identity through a photo and typing style which would create a biometric profile, with which I could sign my assignments and for which I would get some sort of verification certificate. And  if I was quite serious about doing this course, I might well buy this, if only to keep me on track. The instructor’s book is also made gently available to buy, even though it is stated it is not necessary. But I imagine if I was enjoying the course, I might well buy the book, especially as it is available on Kindle for about $5.

In a restriction of openness, Coursera course materials and videos are not openly licenced, and I don’t think it is possible to even view previous presentations of the course once it is complete.

No such commercial elements are apparent in Change 11, which seems to be more like a very long online conference and way of gathering some brilliant OER over 7 months. All the content is available aggregated, captured and created is available and the site serves as a valuable resource.  A community may still exist as learners formed groups during the course. I lurked a little in Change MOOC and when I went back into it again, I was pleased that I could go back to view videos for weeks I would have liked but couldn’t at the time.


While these differences seem stark, on both of these MOOCs, it is clear that there is passion on the part of instructors for the subject and the desire to share that passion with others. This is a difference I have noticed with MOOCs and formal online learning; the MOOC format seems to ignite some sort of passion and drive. Beyond personal inclination however, it is evident that Coursera is also a business entity. This impacts on what success means in a MOOC.

Completion rates and notion of success are an interesting area to discuss. The completion rate for the first Gamification presentation was 10% (Jordan, 2013), which seems to be an average completion rate for a Coursera course. I haven’t been able to find data for Change MOOC and I am not sure it is a meaningful question, as I think people could follow it without registering. However, even posing the question about whether drop-out rates are necessarily an indicator of a poor course is perhaps premature, since it is not clear why a student leaves a course or why a student even chooses to participate.

Perhaps they never intended to finish it. Signing up isn’t the same as committing, especially as no money has exchanged hands. Students may be using a course as OER to support formal study they are doing and might get what they need from a snippet or two. Leaving a course is not necessarily a sign of failing, although evidence on the digital literacies needed to engage in connectivist MOOCs is emerging (Kop, 2011).

Follow-up research on Change MOOC on how learners acted has revealed different groups of learners ranging from lurkers, passive participants (wanting a traditional learning experience with goals being set by course) and active learners (setting their own goals, creating artifacts, social networking). While these are broad (and contestable) categories (Hill, 2013), the research indicated it is these ‘passive participants’ that struggle to find direction and location in a connectivist MOOC (Kop 2011) and for whom a Coursera approach might be more attractive.

While Change 11 and Coursera seem miles apart in pedagogical approach and philosophy, asking which one is better for learning is the wrong question. If learning is to be truly learner-centred, there’s value in giving learners (and instructors) choices and experiences with different types of learning environments. Coursera’s seeming dominance in this sphere (Siemens, 2013) is also pointing to interesting developments; will there be one MOOC platform to rule them all and what will this look like, or can Coursera prove to a be a powerful force for experimentation and innovation in this space?

All in all, this has been an enjoyable and immersive activity. Despite negativity towards the pedagogical underpinnings of xMOOCS (Daniel 2012), there are evident co-influencing factors between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. Is H817open a cMOOC or an xMOOC? Four weeks in, to me, it looks like an xMOOC but behaves like a cMOOC.


Daniel, J. (2012) ‘Making sense of MOOCs: musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility’, Journal of Interactive Media in Education, no. 18 [online]. Available at jime/ article/ view/ 2012-18

Hill, P (2013) The Four Student Archetypes Emerging in MOOCs, e-Literate  [Online] 2 March. Available at

Jordan, K (2013) Synthesising MOOC completion rates, MOOCMoocher [Online] 13 February. Available at

Kop, R. (2011) ‘The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: learning experiences during a massive open online course’, International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 12, no. 3 [online], index.php/ irrodl/ article/ view/ 882 

Siemens, G, (2013) Coursera needs to start acting like a platform, Elearnspace 14 March  [Online]

H817open: MOOC ideas


I was thinking about the requirements of Activity 12 on H817open which is to ‘briefly consider if the MOOC approach could be adopted in your own area of education or training’.

Browsing fellow MOOCer, Nat Nelson’s post on potential MOOC learners being staff sparked off some ideas. I support other staff (L&D, trainers and teachers) who are integrating technology into teaching and learning. An MOOC that builds a personal learning environment for trainers’ evolving job roles or a MOOC on building a personal toolkit would support continuing professional development –  participants  would be using the tools themselves to gather appropriate tools and techniques about learning design for elearning and blended learning,  how to curate resources to build domain knowledge and keep up with developments, and engage in reflection on practice.

Another group I have been thinking about are parents who are worried about digital literacy, internet safety and want to get more familiar with tools such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Dropbox, Google search techniques etc. A MOOC would function as an open course to build familiarity with the various tools that they are concerned about, while more experienced parents (and kids) could share their expertise. The purpose would be to develop shared experience and knowledge around these issues and engage with good practices such as appropriate representation in social media, searching for resources online, engaging on Twitter and .  Hmm..I like the idea of developing a MomMOOC.

I see a cMOOC approach to both of these possible MOOCs rather than a  traditional instructivist design. Both these groups are communities whose members have much to offer. One aim might be to build a resource toolkit for other members of the community, so co-construction of curriculum would be part of the MOOC practice. While there isn’t a requirement for formal assessments, badges might prove to be motivators and signposts of key learning moments.

Image courtesy of Idea go /

H817open Great MOOCspectations

Block 2 of H817 Openness and Innovation in e-learning started this week and takes the form of a MOOC on Open Education. As a first impression, I am enjoying the injection of energy into H817 with the tutors and MOOC-Master Martin Weller’s active involvement. I’m enjoying the novelty of moving into the OpenLearn space and away from the OU Moodle environment.
Although I have participated in MOOCs before , I’m not quite sure what I am expecting of this MOOC but as an enrolled formal student on H817 it will be interesting comparing the experience of being in a closed, formal space and the more open and chaotic space of the MOOC. As a formal H817 student, I still have the tutor and group support if I need it so I think my experience could be a MOOC+ type of thing (the best of both worlds?).

In this context and considering that for me this MOOC is part of a larger formal learning experience, I’m planning to reflect on these specific areas:

1. How will the experience of the MOOC compare to the formal learning and tutor support of H817? Will Blocks 3 and 4 be a relief after the chaos of the  Block 2 MOOC or will they seem a bit flat?

2. There is a formal assessment for H817 following the MOOC, so how will focus on this assessment affect the way I participate in the MOOC?

3. What will the open students bring to H817?

4. Is a MOOC for time-consuming than studying the formal OU way, (as effectively it is the same material and activities but in an open format)?

I also hope that it will be possible to focus on the actual content and topics of this MOOC as well as on the fact that this is a MOOC, although I don’t think it will be possible to get away from a discussion on the relative MOOCness of this MOOC and all the associated hype that goes with this.

MOOCing around: reflections on Curt Bonk’s MOOC


Free images from

There’s a lot being written about MOOCs (massively open online courses) at the moment and what they might mean for Higher education or education in general going into the future. I’ve particularly enjoyed reading Martin Weller’s recent blog post, which acts as a ‘state of the nation’ overview about MOOCs as well as Kate Bowles’ blog post, which takes a thoughtful view to whether MOOC-like approaches might work for post-graduate level .  

At this point in time, I don’t have any firm view about what’s going to happen in the long term across something as broad and fragmented as higher education, but it’s hard to be negative about a diversity of open education initiatives which may give an opportunity of some sort of formal education to many people who currently have no access to higher education in developing nations, a fact made stark with the death of a student on enrollment day at a university in South Africa .

In this blog post, I’m going to reflect on my experiences of being a participant in Curt Bonk’s MOOC ‘Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success’, now in its fifth and final week.

Background, beliefs and history

To give some context, I’m going to compare this MOOC with my experiences of modules I have studied in the Open University’s Masters in Online and Distance Education (MAODE) and also my (rather limited) experiences of being a lurker on some previous MOOCs mainly Change11. These experiences are purely personal, but I’m drawing on my previous experiences as an online learner, as I think that what learners bring to a MOOC or any learning experience is a lot to do with their own beliefs and conceptions of how to learn, what constitutes successful learning and how happy or not their prior online experiences are. In an age of open learning, with a first come first served approach, I wonder how learning designers are  taking into account the very differing assumptions and starting potential online learners bring and how this colours their attitude even before the course starts.

What I think I am saying here is that my prior learning experience as an online learner gave me certain expectations of how I wanted to learn and not learn, and what works for me. This is why I think I struggled with the more open and disaggregated MOOCS of the connectivist type as I didn’t really know what to do, there was no obvious learning pathway and I am going to admit it, I was lazy. On the OU courses, there is a learning management system (Moodle), curated resources, guided discussion, small tutor groups, a dedicated tutor – a more standard walled garden approach. It’s a formal programme with assessments and accreditation and is not trying to be a MOOC. But the generally positive experience of this online learning experience has led to me want or expect certain things (even when I am not paying for it).

My understanding of MOOCs, on the other hand, is influenced by my readings of the original and older MOOCs (MOOC 1.0 if you will) and my admittedly lurker status despite signing-up. On Change 11, I read some readings, listed to one live lecture by Martin Weller, but did not have the motivation or an easy way of continuing to fully participate. I was at the time committed to formal study, and the MOOC took a backseat. I did allow myself to be generally permeated by being in the MOOCs by occasionally reading the newsletters and wishing I had the time to really get going, join some community somewhere (Second Life sounds good), or blog. But it didn’t happen.

The BONK MOOC on the other hand appeared more familiar with the CourseSites infrastructure. I joined up, partly out of curiosity about CourseSites, knowing that it was only 5 weeks long and had a finish date, and fell at a particularly convenient time as I am between modules on my formal Master’s programme. The topic looked interesting and practical and one which I felt I might immediately meaningfully in my own work.

Getting off to a good start

The set-up of the MOOC was familiar, and I was pleased to find the resources and LMS layout facilitated some kind of pathway. I was, however, somewhat put off by the discussion forums; there were just too many posts to go through in the first week with a veritable babel of ‘Hello, I’m x and I am here to….’ type posts. I also found some negative blog posts and comments about the set-up and closed nature of the blogs, wiki in CourseSites which seemed to turn the MOOC into a commentary on how to do MOOCS, rather than the subject/content/topic/learning outcomes aspect. There were various blog posts about how standard this MOOC looked, how it was aligned to nasty old Blackboard and that it was somehow lacking in MOOC credibility. I followed this compelling this blog post with interest for a while, but then became aware that I was being distracted from what I could get out of this learning interaction and worrying about what other people were saying before the MOOC had had much of a chance. My own personal view was that as far as I knew, this was a free course being provided, that it looked like an interesting course, and week one was a bit early to give up.

Things seemed to improve  after this (and as far as I know, the tens (or hundreds?) of other participants may not have noticed this chatter in any case). What was encouraging was the way in which the CourseSites team responded: engaging with critics, getting more support through the use of TAs and  acknowledging that the Discussion forums in particular were problematic. The next few weeks saw smaller and more focused questions to which fewer people responded. There was also, I think, a reduction in the number of people who chose to be in the MOOC, which seems to be common with many open courses. I nearly dropped out too, but found the readings interesting and practical sounding, and stayed on mainly because there were live lectures scheduled and at a time that just about suited me (10 pm in the evening).

The MOOC in action

I’ve already discussed the fabulousness of the live presentations by Curt Bonk, who really has to be seen to be appreciated in the live environment. This was a major motivator for me to continue. I’m pretty sure the live sessions helped me keep my own word to myself about participating in the course. I know I wanted to and I should as part of my own professional development, but knowing that and making me do it have not always happened. And I think that despite the flexible design of other more connectivist MOOCs, getting off to a good start and keeping with the pack at the begiinning is vital for many students to keep engaged. The live sessions gave focus to the week, prompting me to either review the resources, take notes, or think about questions I might have beforehand.

Lack of a community

One aspect that didn’t really happen (and that is seemingly so much part of a MOOC experience) is t
hat a community of students connecting and collaborating didn’t happen (as far as I am aware.) I’m not sure that 4-5 weeks is long enough for a community to form, at least one that feels accountable for and to each other (as happens on the longer and more formal OU modules).

What also surprised me was that Twitter didn’t play such an important role in this MOOC. Some participants did tweet around the hash tag #bonkopen, but not many. I’ve found in previous courses that Twitter does contribute to a learning community and for me is a vital part of social engagement. There were however, a few valuable connections and interactions I made in Twitter, and who I will continue to follow after the course.

Summing up

I’ll discuss what I actually got out of this MOOC in terms of professional development and subject matter in a future blog post, but for now, the course told me something about my own learning preferences, what motivates me, what I need in place to keep my word when there is no external pressure (such as I have paid for this, I am going to get accreditation, or there is a deadline and which I will look bad if I don’t meet it). I’m designing learning interactions for others, and this course reminded me about the different motivations for engagement for open courses where the traditional carrot and stick does not apply. I realise that in all of this, I may not be the model of a self-actualised learner that I thought I was and that I need systems and practices in place. My ideal online course environment comprises:

  • scheduled live events,
  • opportunity to connect with course author, instructor or teacher,
  • easy access to curated resources,
  • a community on Twitter, and some
  • some kind of validation or feedback/assessment

Wouldn’t it be great if students could choose the components of their ideal learning configuration before starting a course?

Future considerations for MOOCs

I think some sort of external assessment is a motivator. MOOC models of assessment could be  the type that students might pay for some formal feedback, or where there is machine-based assessment giving some kind of pass or score at the end. Whatever model it is, I think it should be an option for students. As an online student, I find assessment stressful but ultimately rewarding and transformative. The value is in the process as much as the result, the opportunity to reflect and respond. I think the CourseSites approach of giving badges for achieving milestones is a valid strategy for a MOOC of this short duration and self-directed study, but I am not particularly motivated (as yet) to get one because it seems to be ticking off tasks done, rather than any judgement of quality or actual attainment of anything.

In conclusion, I’ve really enjoyed the experience of this MOOC. In this case, the community ties are more vertical with a connection with the Instructor and team who have been very hands on in engaging with individual students, and with some looser ties with other students though Twitter and reading blogs. Although the community and social aspects of CourseSites didn’t really work out for me, (the longer term ties exist as connections on Facebook and Twitter), the virtual classroom afforded by Blackboard Collaborate (formerly Elluminate) and presentation of resources and clear course pathway within the LMS provided a reasonable foundation for the MOOC.

An evolution for the ‘Sage on the Stage’?



One of the tenets of ’21 Century’ education and learning is that the era of the  ‘Sage on the Stage’ is over and we should consider instead the ‘Guide on the Side’ who ‘facilitates’ learning; this is the instructor who creates a space for colloboration, who weaves discussions (in an online space) and does not teach or tell because that is SO not Web 2.0 or 21st Century.

By and large, that all makes sense. Nobody likes long drawn out presentations; the retention from lectures is generally poor and the flipped classroom method (while not new) is gaining in popularity and has probably tipped thanks in part to the Khan Academy’s popularizing it, so it has entered the mainstream education discourse.

However, some of this has been challenged by my recent experience as a student in Curt Bonk’s MOOC (massive open online course) entitled ‘Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success’. The outstanding and affective part of this open course has been the live conferencing where Dr Bonk is indeed the ‘Sage on the Stage’ (or Elder of Elluminate).

I’ve attended 2 live sessions of the MOOC and the experience has changed my own emotional response to this MOOC and has made me decide I am going to stick it out until the end. Partly due to the sense of occasion a live session engenders anyway, but mostly to the manner of presentation and the intelligent use of interactive devices which together create in a space of two hours a community of students. Surprisingly, I’ve been interested and energised during the live sessions and can partly attribute this to the ways in which Dr Bonk makes the experience feel personal: through reference to participants’ locations, use of personal names, responsiveness to questions, use of quizzing and polling, props and even prizes. (Disclosure: I won a book in the last session!)

Yet the live session was still very much a ‘lecture’ using powerpoint slides to deliver content and subject matter defined by the presenter. And it went on for 2 hours including Q and A. What has made this live presentation ‘different’ from other live webinars more commonly found is the sense of occasion and unpredicability of where it will go and from feeling on the part of  a participant that they are really participating.  The affordances of Elluminate enabling chat, polling, as well as the slides and video in combination create an experience not replicable to the same extent in a face to face classroom, not to mention the international flavour of attendees.

I think what I am saying is that I am willing to attend a live session if I am given the opportunity of co-creating that experience and the ‘sage’ is interesting enough that meeting him or her in real time is an experience different from reading his/her papers, interviews etc. In this session, Dr Bonk answered two specific questions I posed and genuinely seemed to want to be there and help participants come to an understanding of the issues and topics. ??????What I think I am seeing here is a coming together of the power of synchronous classroom experience (which can happen face to face or online) mediated by the appropriate and intelligent use of a live conferencing software (in this case Blackboard Elluminate) which allows things to happen that cannot happen face to face so easily, such as:

  1. Global login and participation regardless of physical location and geography. (The only constraint is access).
  2. Co-construction and realtime development of the presentation through use of interactive quizzes, polls, video and chat functions.
  3. Critical and visible mass of students to enable meaningful participation and meaningful lurking.
  4. The capturing of the near-totality of the experience (results of quizzes, chats, recording of lecture) for others to share soon after.

On reflection, perhaps ‘Sage on the Stage’ is not longer an adequate description of this type of guided live instruction. There is definitely an element of co-construction of knowledge and understanding as part of the lecture, so perhaps something more along the lines of a ‘Catalyser for Learning’ better explains the function and role of the instructor.