Received a request from Stacy Herrick at the State University of New York Institute of Technology to fill out a survey about my participation in #CFHE12. I thought I’d share my responses with all of you.
How many MOOCs have you been involved in?
I have signed up for and participated in at least 10 MOOCs and audited or sampled another 10. My most significant experiences have been with connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs): Change 2011, Learning Analytics 2011, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2012, and the Current/Future State of Higher Education 2012. I have also surveyed and audited a wide range of courses on the major cloud-based LMS platforms (xMOOCs) including courses from Coursera, Udacity, Stanford’s Venture Lab, and Google. Finally, I have engaged a number of “indie-MOOCs” like #DS106 (led by Jim Groom et al) and #MOOCMOOC.
How did you find the MOOC? Did it matter to you which university/group was presenting it?
I was aware of the MOOC from following several of MOOC organizers on Twitter. The involvement of MOOC pioneers George Siemens and Stephen Downes was more important than the sponsorship of particular universities and organizations.
What made you decide to take this particular MOOC?
I was interested in connectivist-style MOOCs and I had an interest in the future of higher education with respect to technological change. More importantly, I was working with a group of scholars who wanted to explore MOOCs and their potential for facilitating innovation in the academy.
Did you already have a base knowledge of the subject or were you learning something new?
I had previous experience with MOOCs, connectivism, and open education. More generally, I am a practitioner and researcher of technology-enhanced teaching, open source, and network-based collaboration.
In what capacity were you involved? Were you a student or a facilitator?
I took part as a student and as a facilitator for group of faculty taking and researching the course experience together. Our group is hosted at https://cultivatingchange.wp.d.umn.edu/community/.
Please describe your experience taking the MOOC.
For myself, as I imagine is true for most participants, MOOCs take place at the margins of my core work flows. Through any MOOC my available attention tends to fluctuate along with my levels of interest. For this MOOC, I was very engaged for the first 3 weeks, but fell off in week 4-5 due to conference travel and other commitments. I returned and “caught up” at the end. This pattern was shared by several of other participants in my immediate group. I find that the core experience of any MOOC is a balancing act between participation levels, outside demands, topical interest levels, and social presence factors.
What was your favorite part?
The most exciting part was facilitating a “study group” for the course. It was definitely a learning experience and really added to my appreciation of the challenges that the course organizers face. Many questions of too much/too little: structure, amount of material, social engagement vs scheduling and time commitments, etc.
Was there anything that you didn’t like about it? What was that?
I think this course suffered a bit in comparison to the epic Change11 MOOC from last academic year. The real strength of Change11 was that each week was given over to a major guest researcher and provided a window into their work. The course offered an amazing breadth over the course of its 37 weeks, but more importantly, there was depth to be had by following up and investigating in greater detail any given researchers’ work and projects. The CHFE12 MOOC, on other hand, revealed some challenges and liabilities of the MOOC platform. The broad, topical theme lent itself to a “my 2 cents” style editorializing and opinion making that can have diminishing returns and seem a little superficial through repetition. I think this points to a more substantial issue with MOOCs and open collaboration in general. In order to be accessible to wide audiences, these experiences are built with freely available materials. In some cases, this means that the most relevant, substantive, and important materials may be left out and left behind the “paywall.” This is problem and significant obstacle for both open collaboration and for content creators moving forward. It speaks to the absolute necessity of “open scholarship” to facilitate innovation and collaboration in the academy moving forward.
What did you expect to learn from the class? Did it meet your expectations?
My hope was to learn more about facilitating networked collaboration. I learned a great deal from this experience. On the one hand, I think it clarified for me the necessity of helping new MOOC participants adapt to a surprisingly different learning orientation demanded by the connectivist style MOOC format. On the other hand, I think it helped me discover some boundaries between the value of a wide-open, networked learning experiences and the kind of social scaffolding and project management necessary to help communities “work.” Going forward, I see the challenge of facilitating network-based collaboration as a balance between decentralized, aggregative value generation and supporting organization and convergence toward worthwhile specific goals, projects, and deliverables.
Did you finish the whole class? If no, why not? And how far into the class did you make it?
I did finish the course, but I would argue with premise of the question. I think one of the ways that MOOCs overturn traditional pedagogical approaches is by making “completion” and “content-coverage” outmoded frames of learning. I would argue that for most participants MOOCs offer a window of exposure (however short or long) to networks of ideas, people, organizations, and learning processes. The wonderful thing about MOOCs is that each individual is likely to have a radically different experience if only because each individual can only read and follow up on a small fraction of the total material generated by course participants (blogs, tweets, meet-ups, etc.) We must leave factory and assembly-line models of education behind. The super high attrition rate of MOOCs (80-90% for many courses) is not a weakness, but a strength. It means many people are finding it useful to sample and strategically engage the learning experience that is being offered. It extends the reach and impact of the learning activity of dedicated participants and facilitators, while also providing a larger audience and sounding board for their work. MOOCs make the long tail of networked learning viable, visible, and hopefully increasingly useful.
Would you take another MOOC? Why or why not?
I will continue to take part in MOOCs because they are an incredibly efficient and effective way to grow capacities for adaptability, innovation, and way-finding. In my work, I find that useful connections, references, ideas, and insights often combine from the most disparate and unlikely corners of my personal learning network. Connectivist-style MOOCs have become fully integrated as a perspective on my work habits. I take time daily to browse my materials curated by my learning networks: stories and ideas from social networks like Twitter and feeds from journals, organizations, and individual blogs. These sources and my engagement with them have become essential to my processes of inspiration and ideation. When I create something, I share it publicly and faithfully. I surface my work and my work process as much as possible to facilitate collaboration and mutually beneficial cross-pollinations of ideas. With the help of a simple recording tool, even a talk delivered to a small, local audience could potentially have a global audience of relatively many online and over time. There is a hidden intensity to MOOC courses that stems from the “network effect” and “long tail” of online distributive communication patterns, and the inherent promiscuity of ideas and learning. Little things aggregate into big things and small changes at distance places can have unforeseen effects near at hand.
How would you compare this to taking a traditional (or online) college course?
Traditional (and online) courses have a very particular approach to “gamifying” the experience of learning. Through assignments, deadlines, grades, and regular meetings the course structure helps focus attention and energy toward discrete and measurable accomplishments. These feature function to deflect entropy, tangents, and help the course material and activities win out over other uses of time at critical junctures. The experience of MOOC can be very disorienting because its incentives are so different from traditional courses. Everything about a MOOC is optional; this is initially exciting and engaging and makes learning play. However, making a MOOC work for you over time is more challenging matter. Self-direction and motivation are critical aspects of participation in MOOCs. Each participant has to find ways to fill the role of project manager, cheerleader, and coach which in traditional courses are supplied the course context and instructor. Yet, MOOC-based learning can be uniquely rewarding.
What do you think the benefits are of taking these courses over traditional or online classes?
Delight, dabbling, prodigality, dilettantism, renaissance, diversity, creativity, networking, innovation. See also my responses to “Did you finish the class …” and “Would you take another MOOC.”
What advice would you give someone that is thinking about taking a MOOC?
● Accept that you will do “some” of the work: completionist or perfectionist approaches will only frustrate you
● Accept that valuable learning comes from simply engaging and even struggling with new experiences, new tools, new discourses: “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few …”
● Forge strategic alliances between your course interests and the workflows of your daily life
● Recognize the value in cultivating “know-where” and developing a personal learning network that serves up curated flows of information relevant to your interests and development
● Follow tangents, leave off unexpectedly, come back later: this is learning you should allow yourself to have in “fits and starts” so that over time you might grow by “leaps and bounds!”
Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience?
“… I despise everything which merely instructs me without increasing or immediately enlivening my activity.“ – Goethe qtd. by Nietzsche in “On the Use and Abuse of History for Life”