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Lesley's learning journey, 22nd January, 2013

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Lesley Shield
22 January 2013

Another day where I haven't really engaged with the MOOC beyond discussing with my colleague how we might structure our Study Circle. Although there are several study circle Google Groups, I find Groups - and Google in general - difficult and unwieldy. We're contemplating using wiki for brainstorming but the question is which tool to use for discussion. It's looking like Cloudworks for now. From my point of view, that's mainly because I know the tool more or less, so it saves learning time, however, the way artefacts are organised within Cloudworks isn't ideal, so we may do something else.

That takes me on to some additional thoughts about communicating in a MOOC. By definition, a MOOC is 'massive'. This means that finding someone whose interests overlap even slightly with my own isn't as straightforward as it might be in a different environment. If I take the example of a 'normal' online course or activity or project (one that isn't taking place in a massive environment) or even a group within that course. if required to work together in teams, they only have a small pool of others to contact and, unless asked to form teams on Day 1, they've had time to get to know where their opinions overlap and diverge, so, to some extent, forming teams should be relatively easy; I say, 'relatively' because it can still take a long time to form those teams, but at least team members are able to contact each other without worrying they could find a non-stalker order slapped on them and, because of prior knowledge, are less likely than in a MOOC to run into nasty surprises, though of course, the process still won't be straighforward.

I have been involved in team formation on Day 1 for some courses, and that's much more like the experience in OLDS-MOOC of being asked to find team members and to form teams with people you don't know and of whose real interests you have no idea. When they express interest in your 'Jumping in at the Deep End' project, is that because they're interested in risk taking or in swimming and diving? It may not be apparent when you begin, but it certainly will be when your project partner turns up in an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini, clutching a virtual rubber ring in the shape of sea monster and expectng to create learning material about jumping off the five metre board when you were expecting to develop scenarios around confidence building and risk taking. There clearly is some overlap, but it certainly wasn't what you were expecting...

Reflecting again on my previous reflections - this is all getting a bit circular now and I can hear the virtual orchestra tuning up for another chorus of 'Windmills of your mind' - where I mused upon what would happen if nobody wanted to join the party (your research circle, in case you're wondering), my mind was drawn back to another life in which I was working with networked environments and language learners. With a colleague, I was given some money to run a small project for learners of French using the environment of MOO (multi user domain object oriented), In this case, we used a semi-open, text-based virtual world which supported both synchronous and asynchronous text. We had two volunteer tutors new to networked learning and very new to MOO. One of the tutors said to me - in text, as we never met part from online in the MOO - that he found it to be a very different experience; he'd never met any of the students before and, because the MOO was semi-open, there were also participants who weren't part of the group of French learners, none of whom he'd ever met either. 'I find that I have to be verbally promiscuous,' he said. 'I don't know anyone here and yet I have to communicate with them without even having been introduced.' To compound the confusion, the activity was a simulation with participants taking on a persona other than their own to take part in a 'simulation globale' - but that's another story for another time and place...

Perhaps there's a cultural inhibition - the need for an introduction - or perhaps personal reticence is involved in how we interact in these environments, but even though I hadn't thought about that comment for a decade, it suddenly came back to me while I was pondering the MOOC experience. The metaphor of the message in a  bottle is possibly more apposite than I first imagined; we cast our ideas out into the ether and hope that someone in the MOOC will pick that bottle up and respond. There is  degree of optimism but also of promiscuity; 'Look at me! This is my project! Please join me! You won't be disappointed...'

Perhaps there's also a touch of the enthusiasm we feel when we meet people on holiday, 'Oh you must come to visit when we get home'; not only are we likely (in some real world cultures) to be horrified if they actually do turn up on the doorstep but, equally, our promises to visit them may simply have been lip service, not out of unkindness but because, at the time, we genuinely thought that it was a good idea or because we didn't want to hurt their feelings. No offence was intended, but some offence may be caused. If we promise to visit, isn't it only polite to inform the host of our absence, too? 

As I've said, so many things to think about and to consider. I don't think any of these issues are new or peculiar to MOOC, but perhaps the combinaton of a massive environment with a lack of information about (still) active participants magnifies the issues. I need to think about this more...

And then there's badges... More of that in another post. All I wll say for now is that my badge has arrived - thank you MOOC team - but I can't put it in my backpack as Mozilla doesn't recognise that it's been awarded. Rude! And demotivating!

I am now soooo behind with personas and context etc., I dont' know if I'll ever catch up. But it's an interesting journey and I'm certainly learning a lot about MOOCs and my preferred style of online communication, even if I have time for nothing else.

Is it time to refine my original target learning outcomes?

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Jonathan Vernon
9:28pm 22 January 2013


I just love reading when someone says they feel they are sooooooo far behind as I felt this to and have been playing catch-up today. Luckily I quickly got my head around most of it. Having had Yoshay pick out your learning journal and having enjoyed the read I'll come back for more.

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