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Reflections on MOOC week 2 (and a bit of 1)

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Sancha de Burca
22 January 2013

MOOC week 2 (and a bit of week 1)

Sancha de Burca

So, the MOOC began nearly two weeks ago any my first reaction was that it was so fragmented and indeed, massive, that it was really hard to know what to do and where to do things. There are so many different sites for placing things or finding things. The first task of virtually meeting peers and forming study groups was almost overwhelming. I only accomplished this in week 2, rather belatedly.

In fact, at first I was so overwhelmed that I thought I would give up but then by mistake I started looking at week 3 thinking it was the current stuff and got so interested that once I realised my mistake I went back to the start of week 2 to work through. Week 1 has been abandoned (for now) – I haven’t even introduced myself or described my dream project. First thing to learn – just pick the bits you can cope with! Actually, I’ve done quite a lot in week 2 but this is because work and son’s school were called off on Friday and Monday and today (Tuesday 22nd) my son is off school ill – so five clear days to do OLDS-MOOCing. Not sure how next week will go.

I’ve joined a group who want to explore social media and networking sites as a place to educate. Instead of being traditional and getting the learners to come into our spaces, how can we go to them? I am especially interested in blogging as a way to develop problem-solving and design processes and, indeed, to raise grade levels where applicable. Blogs as professionalisers!  At the start I actually found most information in the MOOC through the Twitter feed and I use my (only) business Twitter  for retweeting design that I think my learners would appreciate and could use for inspiration and information. So there is mileage in the idea. But, I wonder….what student wants their tutor in their social spaces? If we go there, won’t  students go somewhere else?

One of the first learning curves then was about the introduction to courses and how soon – or not – learners settle in with the systems and can get on with learning. The motivation to get to grips with technology at the start of a project, or the fearlessness of the approach to this will of course depend a lot on the context of the learner’s situation and how familiar or not they are with this kind of technology already. At this point in a course any learner – me, for example – can begin to question their own skills and potential abilities and think about quitting. I am familiar with e-learning and a few of its technologies but this MOOC’s structure nearly finished me off. I am glad to say that I have since read the blogs and comments of others that show that I was so not alone!

I’ve found the work on context very interesting and it has really made me think. I’m not sure it was exactly a new revelation or anything, but I guess I’ve thought about it in more depth. I based my personas partly on (semi)-real people or “types” I was aware of. But it really helped me to consider them and their challenges and me and my tutoring and design challenges, or should I say “filters”.

I got kind of addicted to the MOOC over the weekend and was really pleased any time I got a comment or reply. I especially enjoyed getting recommendations of articles to read etc.(Today I was reading an article recommended by Josh about identity, which gave me plenty to compare to and consider).  I was a bit disappointed that my study group didn’t even look at my posts let alone reply, though one person from it has commented very usefully in Cloudworks.

I try not to be embarrassed when I post things multiple times or into the ether on Cloudworks! I’m getting the hang of it a bit now.

So despite an initial feeling of confusion I think quite a lot of learning has taken place for me because I constantly considered:  Do my own learners feel like this? What do we do to avoid this? What else can we add in to support starters? I felt better when I saw that my experience was shared by my peers. In face-to-face situations, like school or university, students can discuss their feelings and those experiences, once shared, help each individual. But in an online situation perhaps a forum or a Facebook group would be a good idea. So, for some of my prospective learners - lone homeschoolers -  the issue is doubled when they wish to start a new project using a new technology.

I found I was also learning about the contexts of MOOCs, for example -  are MOOCs the way to go? There is a very interesting blog post on the site WikiQuals called Building Democratic Learning: The Limits of MOOCS (http://wikiquals.wordpress.com ).

This, in a nutshell, stressed that the first MOOCs that were developed were indeed “democratic” in that they were open to interpretation and design by the participants and that the whole point of Open learning is to get away from the institution agenda-led education of places like universities. These, it is suggested, lead by subject matter and direct learners in a controlled manner around the curriculum. The more recent MOOC usage by large American Universities, it is argued, is not any different and they use a US business model to try to lead global education. These MOOCS again control the learner, pushing them through specific content. The post also argues that to create a more democratic world we need to educate people in this manner and the pretence of the “openness” of MOOCs is not doing this. The only “open” aspect, it seems, is that it is free. I always wish to train my university students, in particular to be sceptical and to take nothing for granted (too directed?). Could a massive free course inadvertently persuade people that it is “free thinking” too? The post argues for more design participation in MOOCs by the learners.

I think this also asks the question, if learners direct ALL their own learning, how will they ever learn the boring bits they need to learn, for example, to enter a specific profession? But this then raises a further question – why is the professor’s “learning” better?

My own MOOC experience shows me that already participants are discussing the re-design of the MOOC itself, just as much as they are discussing their own personal curriculum design projects. For example, the infathomable Cloudworks is up for grabs with people suggesting “star maps” to help us navigate an ever-growing site (Sheila MacNeill  http://blogs.cetis.ac.uk/sheilamacneill/2013/01/14/cloud-gazing-maps-and-networks-some-thoughts-on-oldsmooc-so-far).  I wondered how much the designers had meant that to happen along. And, as I said before, it is perfectly viable to cherry pick aspects of our MOOC and still have a full and useful experience.

Another post by Cathy Davidson lodged by my study group  (http://hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/2013/01/13/if-we-profs-dont-reform-higher-ed-well-be-re-formed-and-we-wont-it-s) suggests that there are so few university places globally that MOOCs might end up being the only option for many would-be students.

I’ve felt a bit of a fraud I suppose because my dream project is actually already started in real life. It’s a for-profit outfit producing graphic design “access” courses for beginners, portfolio-builders who wish to return to education or gain employment; and especially for homeschoolers. But I really don’t want it to be a Mickey Mouse outfit. If it could be not-for-profit that’s be great but I’m not sure how to do that right now. So I’m doing the MOOC to test and re-develop the projects so that they are really first class for learning. I’m also holding up the university courses I have written in the past and ones I’ll design or re-design in the future to scrutiny too. I want something concrete to come out of this in terms of my skills and in terms of what my future learners will gain.

People have been talking about metaphors for online learning on the Google Groups area and suggesting that the internet is still too new to have metaphors, apart from the inevitable “landscape” one. But a metaphor for the MOOC itself struck me – it is like a really useful book about curriculum design with an appendix of participant’s comments that had been torn up and thrown to the wind. My experience is gathering the torn segments from each of the learning sites (YouTube, Twitter, Google, Cloudworks) and try to work out what chapter they came from. It is quickly beginning to make sense.

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