Connection not Content

A Blog for MOOCs

The Anarchy of Words

with 4 comments

La bocca della verita

“The Mouth of Truth – no-one knows the truth about how humans and technology relate to each other – all we have are perspectives, ideas and so what is dystopian for one may be utopian for another – hence this obviously ‘fake’ mouth of truth artificially spewing forth words.” – By welshmackem on Flickr.

I wrestle with the meanings of words such as ‘knowledge’, ‘networks’, ‘information’ and even ‘education’. I only found out what ‘pedagogy’ meant after I retired from more than 30 years lecturing in higher education. As for ‘critical pedagogy’, MOOCMOOC takes credit for the very little I know about that. Of course I have an everyday understanding but different authors use these words in different ways and I don’t have the theoretical background or appetite to figure out. So I’ve been trying to follow MOOCMOOC but not keeping up with the readings. I started well with Freire but came to a grinding halt with Giroux. I never really got going again but I did find several participant blog posts and comments very relevant and enlightening.

A problem with the more theoretical aspects of education or, to be fair, any theory that resists objective verification, is that what individuals absorb may be much more of an interpreted, filtered or ‘cherry-picked’ version than whatever was hatched in the minds of its originators. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it contrasts greatly with some of the technical areas I’m more familiar with. Take Information Theory. Here an entire theory builds on a narrow but mathematically precise definition of ‘information’ leading to deep insights into digital communication and a multitude of useful applications to prove its worth. Theories involving human communication may appear half-baked in comparison, open to interpretation, even inconsistent and their worth endlessly debatable. However, they do attempt to address a far wider range of important and complex issues and when conclusions emerge they deserve to be made comprehensible. Advanced thinkers may arrive at perfectly good and reasonable conclusions through theoretical discussion and debate among themselves but persuading others outside the loop can be a very different matter calling for very different skills.

Consider ‘anarchy’. In an enlightening blog post by Sarah Honeychurch she mentions her old supervisor saying, “…the anarchist is not typically found skulking outside the Houses of Parliament with a bomb beneath her long, black coat– the philosophical anarchist is a gentle soul with a belief in the innate goodness of her fellow humans.” Well maybe but the destructive image is probably the one most people immediately think of including myself. I recall anarchists being the first to break away from official routes at political demonstrations, stop non-believers from speaking, start throwing stones, create mayhem and ….. well, anarchy!

Words like ‘anarchy’ and ‘anarchist’ carry so much baggage in common usage. The gentle and well-read philosophical anarchist may enjoy a clear vision of what anarchy is about but is unlikely to convince others without choosing words very very carefully. The same consideration applies to today’s politicians. Almost regardless of their political philosophies, few now will openly describe themselves as ‘anarchist’, ‘communist’, ‘socialist, or ‘marxist’ and remain electable.

Even the ‘MOOC’ word in the minds of many, now identifies rather negatively with ‘xMOOC’  along with all the associated hype. Some time ago I suggested using Massive Open Online Learning Event (MOOLE) as a neutral and generic term for just about any learning event that’s open and involves large numbers of participants. So, in the first instance, cMOOCs, xMOOCs, or even mass twitter chats and educational games would be simply and literally described as MOOLEs !

Written by Gordon Lockhart

February 27, 2015 at 10:49 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

Caring about Caring

with 6 comments

Once (and only once) and for a reason that escapes me now, the engineering professor had written the word ‘love’ on the blackboard, He stepped back and mused, “….don’t see that word often here …” and we males all shifted uncomfortably in our seats. At the time I thought him a little eccentric and behind the times. Rather than building on past successes his research had veered towards psychological and even philosophical aspects (OMG!). I preferred the nitty gritty of technical detail. He was not a particularly good administrator either but his door was always open and when I was in financial difficulties (more than once) he always managed to help. Not all the academic staff were so caring.

University engineering departments probably represent an extreme when it comes to caring about caring. In an almost all male environment it can be difficult to even discuss relationships let alone agree what needs to be done for the better. In particular, the small minority of female students, however academically gifted and self-assured, can find it difficult adjusting to an atmosphere of boyish geekiness and literal mindedness exhibited by some male students and academics.

Engineers – can they ever live a normal life? (Dilbert – The Knack; video via sillytoy)

Being a bit geeky and literal-minded myself and having no background in social sciences, much of the pedagogical discussion in MOOCMOOC either goes over my head or comes through too simply as exhortations to ‘Do Good!’. But I am invigorated by the stories of real teachers and real students and there have been some excellent thought-provoking examples of this. Some caring suggestions I came across could apply to the type of Higher Education environment I knew as a lecturer and I try to envisage the practicalities.

For example, turning up early at lectures for casual chat is one suggestion I considered (apologies as I can’t find who suggested this!). Sometimes students approach the lecturer before a lecture and conversation can flow but it’s not so easy when setting up overhead projectors, drawing curtains, dispensing handouts and attendance sheets, organising demonstrations etc and having to start more or less on time. For the career academic at a UK university, teaching, admin and research usually account for most working activity and in my experience (albeit last century) only the superhuman can balance all three satisfactorily. Promotion prospects hinge primarily on research and that involves travelling to meet potential sponsors, supervising research students and contracts, nail-biting applications for funding, ordering equipment and so on, not to mention actually doing research and writing it all up. The result is that teaching may come to be regarded as a secondary activity or even a necessary evil. Those taking the time to excel as teachers can be sidelined by a lack of publications.

Passion and involvement of the whole self are advocated and for good reason but displays of passion are not without danger. The prof I mentioned above liked and respected his young secretary but became worried that a goodnight kiss following a tequila-laden social event was a little too fond. So he apologised profusely to her the next day. Fortunately, to everyone else, including his secretary, this was nothing more than amusing evidence of his humanity and careful sense of propriety.

Most university academics probably recognise the benefits of getting to know students on a personal level but this can be difficult for practical reasons such as lecturing large numbers of students from different departments and can even be counter-productive if not approached with skill and maturity. The dean in Tom Lehrer’s comic song who “Tried so hard to be pals with us all” illustrates this nicely. These lines also highlight the stark ‘them and us’ divisions that can characterise university life.

To the beer and benzedrine,
To the way that the dean
Tried so hard to be pals with us all.
To excuses we fibbed,
To the papers we cribbed
From the genius who lived down the hall.

To the tables down at Morey’s (wherever that may be)
Let us drink a toast to all we love the best.
We will sleep through all the lectures,
And cheat on the exams,
And we’ll pass, and be forgotten with the rest.

Tom Lehrer – Bright College Days (video via slayerowns666)

The trouble with ‘linear’ subjects such as engineering, or STEM in general, is that there actually is a considerable amount of content that has to be transmitted into heads one way or another before moving on to a next stage. Yes, tutorials can be used to get to know students, problems can be framed authentically to spark interest and engagement but can calculus or circuit theory ever have the same potential for intimate discussion and reflection as poetry, art or philosophy?

UK universities seem better prepared for personal interaction between academic staff and students these days. There are formal systems such as staff/student committees and personal tutor schemes in place for mentoring and identifying collective and individual student problems. Personal tutors are encouraged to meet regularly with their tutees helping them with any type of problem arising but again, properly keeping track of perhaps 8 tutees is time consuming and may not be regarded by some tutors (or students!) as important. When borderline exam results are discussed in the privacy of examiners’ meetings the input provided by personal tutors can be crucial for fair decision making. Sadly, some tutors may have little to contribute – some may not even recognise the names of their tutees!

All sorts of practical issues bedevil good healthy interaction between academic staff and students. Perhaps things will change with the climate of opinion inside universities but I find this difficult to envisage without systemic change and proper resourcing.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

January 30, 2015 at 5:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

On Poetry, MOOCs and Mind the Learning Gap

with 8 comments

I’m rather wary of poetry but this ‘pedagogical moment’ by Emily Dickinson suggested by MOOCMOOC seemed less than scary. It’s short, reads well and actually rhymes, so perhaps it’s comprehensible fodder for the poetically challenged. My powers of analysis reach only as far as trying to find out what it’s about. With some help from Wikipedia, raw googling and my nearest and dearest, I equate: Prison = School, Mob = Children and “only Afternoon” refers to Saturday afternoons when 19th century schools closed down for the day.

From all the Jails the Boys and Girls
Ecstatically leap—
Beloved only Afternoon
That Prison doesn’t keep

They storm the Earth and stun the Air,
A Mob of solid Bliss—
Alas—that Frowns should lie in wait
For such a Foe as this—

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

I’m not too clear about Frowns and Foe though. Who’s doing the frowning and who’s the Foe? First, I think it’s the frowning teachers treating the kids as foes to be subdued and conquered but then the “lie in wait” suggests something rather longer term; so I really don’t know. Perhaps Emily intended the uncertainty or perhaps I’m so poetically challenged that something pretty obvious has escaped me. As a schoolboy I didn’t appreciate the value and validity of different interpretations when it came to poetry and suffered humiliation by the class intellectual (for liking the ‘Lady of Shallott’!) Some anxiety still remains about getting it right assuming there is a ‘right’.

school_is_prison

SCHOOL IS PRISON by paradigm-shifting on DeviantArt

At all stages of my formal education solid barriers were created and maintained between teacher and pupil, professor and student – jailer and jailed? I don’t think I viewed school as a prison but certainly ‘playtimes’ at school and the social aspects surrounding formal education were often far more memorable and instructive than the ‘lessons’ themselves. I think that one of the best things about MOOCs is their potential to break down these barriers and smooth over the perceived gap between learners and the so-called learned. cMOOCs are supposed to do this anyway but so can the larger xMOOCs, at least to some extent, for those who dare enter the mammoth discussion forums.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find some xMOOC professors willing to engage with forum participants and deal patiently and diplomatically with all sorts of questions, even admitting to learning things themselves! Best of all, some advanced learners with no formal connection to the xMOOC are willing to assist others and, in contrast with the inadequate sprinklings of formal teaching assistants, their numbers tend to scale with the size of the MOOC. This can make a big difference, particularly in STEM areas where hordes of participants can grind to a halt at any point as they plod their way through basic linear material. Though the quality of informal advice can be variable and not all advanced learners are patient and diplomatic, their contribution to xMOOC success is probably more significant than the xMOOC providers are prepared to admit.

I hesitate to update Emily Dickinson’s excellent poem for the age of MOOCs but having already done so for T S Eliot, I am compelled by the muse.

To all the MOOCs the Girls and Boys (with apologies to Emily Dickinson).

To all the MOOCs the Girls and Boys
Ecstatically leap—
Beloved all their Afternoons
In rapt Attention keep

They tweet the Earth and stun the Cloud,
In MOOCs of solid Bliss—
Alas—Assessment lies in wait
To bring an End to this

Written by Gordon Lockhart

January 22, 2015 at 9:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

March of the MOOCs (serious interview)

with 15 comments

moocow

MOOC Cow @MooCow
@Gordon_L
M-M-MMMOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOCC-C-C !!

Hi G! Let me on your blog!
0 secs ago via Twitter for cPad

Gordon @Gordon_L 
@MOOCow Sure come right on! – good to see you again!

Gordon: So what have you been up to MOOCow? Can’t talk for long – doing serious coding in Python.

MOOCow: Hi G, I’ve been privately interviewing people about MOOCs – I need your frank and honest opinions.

G: Well OK, I’ll be frank as long as it really is private.

MC: Trust me G – cross two hearts and hope to die! I’ve done interviewing active MOOC participants and now I want your thoughts as a Veteran Lurker.

G: Woah MOOCow! – we don’t use the ‘L’ word now – I’m a Sampler!

MC: Oh yeah? Downloading videos from every xMOOC going and never looking at them? Following cMOOCs as if they were soap operas and now you can’t stop playing with your Python!

G: That’s not very nice! Downloading new stuff always takes longer than learning the old. As for soap operas, cMOOC discussions can make for good rollicking stories – heroes, antiheroes and the odd cliff-hanger! I’m a serial monotasker. I’d rather do something than talk or blog about it and while Python programming may be too geeky for you I’m proud of my new Comment Collector and pleased to describe it to you in great…….

MC: That won’t be necessary G. Let’s have your current thoughts about MOOCs instead.

G: Well OK then – I enjoyed Rhizomatic Learning (rhizo14) though I never really understood the theory. Reminded me of when I was in CCK11 (NOT as a Sampler) – couldn’t get my head round Connectivism either but great fun all the same. When you’re in a theoretical MOOC – Connectivism, Rhizomatics, Marxism, whatever – just go along with the crowd then, quick as a flash, change your spots before the next one!

MC: Nonsense! You never understand anything properly because you’re too lazy to read stuff and then you’re too scared to ask for help! Get over it or stay stupid – good learners make their own learning. You humans are like sheep – one of you (usually male) says “BAAA!” and you all go “BAAAAAAA!” and follow him, 3 bags full, until someone else comes along with another theory. Use your meager intelligence to learn what’s actually useful for YOU – and then MOOC on!

G: Hey! – that’s unfair. Look at the Connected Courses MOOC (ccourses) – not much theory there and plenty educators actually trying things out with real students. All the same, I just wonder how much was learned. I tell you, they were drawing cartoons, posting photos, doing these Zeega things – even writing poetry!!

MC: But even you tweeted a ‘where you sit’ photo for ccourses and not so very long ago you even munged a silly poem about cats into a silly poem about MOOCs!

G: OK! OK! – I got over-excited and carried away. Sure, some of the ccourses Zeegas were really good, learning about new tools and so on but there was off-topic stuff, personal revelations and what’s more….

MC: Off-topic, my hoof! – I thought you’d got it into your head at last that a cMOOC isn’t a trad course at all – it really IS Something Else. Education really is life – the more excitement that can be pushed online the better chance you humans have of learning something – anything! Play games, post silly drawings, sing and shout, write poetry, confess your sins – doesn’t matter what you do as long as you make waves and connect and that’s how MOOCs progress – the march of the MOOCs! Great waste of time though. We cows have a saying, ‘The best way to cross a field is to cross it!’ – we don’t get over-excited before we ruminate.

March of the MOOCs

march

‘The best way to cross a field is to cross it!’
MOOCows based on ‘la vaca de los sinvaca’ – by José Bogado); ‘Grass field…’ by David HawgoodCreative Commons Licence

G: Eh? That’s all very well but some of us don’t like games and of course you can never be too open. I keep photos of myself off the public web – might get hounded by lonely women if my image gets stolen and used by scam dating websites.

MC: Um .. little danger for you there G. Look, in some very important ways the web is NOT like real life. Let me elucidate in 4 easy Lessons all you need to know about the web.

Lesson 1 – The Very Wide Web

There’s room enough on the web for all you humans to do whatever YOU want, setting your own targets and boundaries. It’s far easier on the web to avoid being drawn into something you don’t want than it is in real life – eg futile face-to-face arguments. And you don’t HAVE to work yourself into a frenzy reading those appalling comments on YouTube – one click and you’re off somewhere else. Unlike real life there’s always somewhere else to go or any number of ways to make your own space.

G: I think that….

Lesson 2 – The Eternal Web

Assume everything you do is recorded and stached away in a cloud for ever by somebody somewhere – it probably is! Don’t do anything you don’t want your friends / employers / kids / grandkids / great grandkids / great great … (you get the idea) to know about. Nothing is forgotten. The web is for ever.

G: What about the…

Lesson 3 – The Educable Web

Too many people have NOT learned Lessons 1 and 2. You’re not born with a domain of your own or a Rheingold Crap Detector inside you – so see to it! The web’s becoming much more complicated, mixing and mashing with real life. Heard of the ‘web of things’? It’s not just about fancy wristwatches or talking to your fridge. Educate your kids about the web – and your ignorant old goats too!

G: The people I’ve come across in cMOOCs anyway are certainly not ignorant – some are very able and they do know their way around the web. Many of them have higher degrees, some have written books and write with great authority on different topics. I’ll have you know that contrary to what you say I’m almost certain that…

MC: You humans love to make up your minds about stuff or, better still, have it made up for you – jumping to conclusions faster than a cow on a cactus! What’s that? – oh sorry G, I was on my cPad. Of course they’re not ignorant but they’re just a tiny elite – future leaders perhaps, who knows? I only hope they know enough to get off their hindquarters and do useful stuff in the real world. Leadership IS important and some MOOC participants are great communicators but they’re not necessarily good at anything else. Rheingold, Cormier (and his boss) and a few others are probably harmless enough and maybe worth following if that’s your thing but as for that Levine….

G: Alan Levine? You’ve got the wrong end of the stick there MOOCow – he’s done so much to…

MC: He’s a COW HATER and should be prosecuted! “… COWS, THEY LOOK SILLY. AND FART A LOT.” – it’s all down here on his stupid dogcog blog!! He’s barking mad!! I’ve never been so insulted since I thought Siemens called me a Nonsensemaking Artifact.

G: You’re barking up the wrong tree MOOCow – look what Alan said when I talked to him about you on Twitter:

Alan Levine @cogdog
@Gordon_L She’s in my slidedeck today! A true beauty.
8:31pm · 30 Sep 2014 · TweetDeck

MC: Oh!! Well – that does have the ring of truth. OK, he’s probably got over his existential angst but he should get out more, take up a hobby – photography or something. Hey! – there goes my cPad again! Have to get over fast to Heathrow to join George for the next flight to Kyzyl for another keynote on something or other – hope no crying babies! Well thanks for letting me interview you G. I’ve said lots of good stuff here and I really think all this should be published.

G: No way, this is a serious blog. People might be offended and you promised it would stay private. By the way, what was Lesson 4?

MC: Lesson 4 – The Untrusting Web. Be careful who you trust on the web – very important.

G: Nobody knows you’re a cow on the web – Ha! Ha!

MC: And I’m using my superpowers to lock this interview down, publish it and send out a tweet in your name!

G: MOOCow! NO!! – I trusted you! – WAIT!

MC: Byee!

Gordon @Gordon_L
‘March of the MOOCs’ Private thoughts of Veteran Lurker revealed by humble MOOCow!
gbl55.wordpress.com #rhizo14 #ccourses #mooc
0 secs ago via Twitter for cPad

MOOC Cow @MoocCow
@Gordon_L
M-M-MMMOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOCC-C-C !!
#remember #LESSON4
0 secs ago via Twitter for cPad

Written by Gordon Lockhart

November 13, 2014 at 11:21 am

Posted in Mooc, rhizo14

Tagged with ,

Collecting Connected Courses Comments (#ccourses)

with 8 comments

comI’ve been running my new Comment Collector program during the Connected Courses (ccourses) MOOC and updating the output on a daily basis. The idea is to get a quick impression of current MOOC activity by bringing together in one place brief summarised versions of blog posts and their comments. Posts with comments are displayed for 15 days in order of their latest comments while posts without comments are flagged ‘New Post’ and displayed for 3 days. These parameters reflect my own ideas of what might be useful and can easily be changed.

The Collector currently scans the RSS post and comment feeds of a subset of blogs taken from the list of syndicated blogs. RSS feeds can lose old data so the Collector aggregates posts and comments over the 15 day periods. Posts intended as ccourses contributions are recognised by a tag placed in the post. There are currently over 230 syndicated blogs listed but some are inactive or have posts without recognisable tags in a label, category or in the title. Originally, the Collector recognised only ‘ccourses’ as a tag but this was altered so that variants such as ‘connectedcourses’ or ‘Connected Course’ were also recognised (not ‘cc’ – ‘cute cats’?) resulting in a significant increase in the number of accepted posts. The Collector works with most WordPress or Blogger blogs but not with some other commenting methods (eg tumblr, G+, FeedBurner etc) or blogs without comment feeds. At present, the Collector scans about 80 blogs with suitable feeds and probably covers the majority of active ccourses bloggers.

I ran a previous version of the program during the rhizo14 MOOC producing a graph showing (roughly) how commenting developed with time. The first graph illustrated below is similar and shows the total number of posts (blue) and comments (red) displayed each day (normally evening BST) and published with recognised ccourses tags over the preceding 15 day period. Again, this is no scientific study. The Collector is experimental and adjustments were made during the 31 day period covered by the graph This applies particularly to the first few days when blogs were being added and removed and the aggregation period was less than the nominal 15 days. A few blogs were removed because apparently valid RSS feeds could not be accessed by the Collector (reasons beyond me!). A sudden increase in posts and comments on the 25th Sept was caused when the number of recognised tags was increased. Subsequently, the graph is at least indicative of post and comment activity over the 80 or so blogs being scanned with not much variation around an average of about 60 posts and 225 comments over 15 day periods. For clarity, the average number of comments per post for each period (yellow) is scaled up by a factor of 100.

g1

KEY:   BLUE = No. of posts. RED = No. of comments
YELLOW = Average Comments per post x 100

The second graph below is an attempt to estimate the distribution of specific numbers of comments among all recognised posts (495 in total) over the entire period from Sep 24 to Oct 24. For example, the first point indicates that 19 posts received 1 comment. The missing zeroth point corresponding to posts with zero comments would have indicated that 78 posts received no comments at all (displaying it would have compressed the vertical scale). This seems high but includes blogs with at least one recognisable post followed by other posts that may or may or may not have been intended for ccourses but with no recognisable tags. The sample lacks statistical significance but a cluster of posts with around 2 comments and maybe other clusters are discernible followed by a long tail of up to 18 comments for some single posts.

g2

Other quantitative types of analysis are possible and may be useful for research or other purposes. For example, representations of the network of connections created by participants in a MOOC as they comment on each other’s posts could be of interest, maybe along the lines of what Martin Hawksey has done for Twitter. There are other possibilities – ranking people by name in order of number of posts or comments? This seems more questionable than ranking tweets in the same way but where should the line be drawn and why? Advice and suggestions welcome!

Thanks to all ccourses folks who have retweeted and favorited the Collector updates. The rapid turnover of ccourses posts and comments has field-tested the Comment Collector well – sometimes to breaking point! I will keep it running until the formal end of Connected Courses and now that the program is reasonably stable it’s little trouble to continue publishing the output. However, there are several other methods available to ccourses participants for monitoring activity such as the blog aggregator, the forum, the Facebook page etc and I’m unsure to what extent the Comment Collector has a useful or distinct role to play.

As always, comments and suggestions are very welcome but at the very least if you find the Collector useful, please ‘like’ this post so I have some measure of the Collector’s value in the context of ccourses – thanks!

Written by Gordon Lockhart

October 26, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Mooc

Tagged with ,

Experimental Comment Collector (ccourses)

with 6 comments

com

Current ccourses comment collection (click on image)

I’m all set to field test my new Comment Collector. I’ve been tracking the acclaimed Connected Courses MOOC using blogs from the syndicated blog list . There are almost 200 blogs listed now and there’s considerable activity and commenting – I can’t keep up! The Collector is set up only to process blogs with ccourses as a tag, as a category or in the title of a post [now extended to accept connectedcourses and several variants], indicating that the post is intended as a ccourses contribution. Only a fraction of listed bloggers seem to be using this tag at present and I have not yet included some who are.

As a sampler of MOOCs (I’ve stopped using the ‘lurker’ word!), I’ve found the Collector very useful for cMOOCs where activity is distributed among many blogs. Everyone has different aims and objectives however and comments on the usefulness of the Collector or otherwise are very welcome. I will try to keep it up to date as ccourses proceeds.

In summary:

  • The Comment Collector generates brief summaries of many WordPress and Blogger posts and comments by scanning and aggregating RSS feeds. The idea is to highlight centres of activity and discussion rather than aggregate whole blogs. Original posts with full comments are accessible (in new browser tabs) by clicking on the post titles.
  • The Collector is experimental and I may change some of the settings as ccourses proceeds. A recent change ordered posts according to the date of their latest comment (rather than date of post) to achieve a ‘Facebook style’ presentation. Also, post summaries now expand as the number of comments grows.
  • Currently, the Collector displays new posts with or without comments for 3 days and posts with comments up to 15 days.
  • Previously I used a page on this WP blog (eg for rhizo14) to publish output but found that placing output here is more straightforward in view of the HTML coding required by recent changes.
  • It’s not practical to ask permission of all MOOC participants who may have fragments of their posts and comments published (and maybe munged!) but I will exclude any blog if requested by the author.
  • The Collector amasses a considerable amount of data on the progress of a MOOC. This may be used for statistical purposes (eg the graph produced during the rhizo14 MOOC).
  • I have no intention to develop the Collector for any commercial purpose and Programming details are openly available.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

September 17, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Posted in Mooc

Tagged with ,

Stitching Together the Fragments of a MOOC

with 5 comments

I read with interest George Siemens’ recent article on ‘Activating Latent Knowledge Capacity‘ and in particular:

The one draw back to networked learning is that while we have managed to advance conversation on the fragmentation of learning so that it is not a cohesive whole created solely by the instructor, we have not yet advanced the process of centring or stitching together fragmented parts into cohesive wholes for individuals.

jigsaw

Scattered puzzle pieces next to solved fragment – by Horia Varlan

This has certainly been my experience of networked learning and is particularly true of the mammoth xMOOCs where huge clunky forums can be so overwhelming that a majority of participants just keep away. In connectivist MOOCs, participants are encouraged to use their own blogs and social media for interaction but there’s still a need for ‘defragmentation’ – a means of signposting MOOC activity in one place in ways that are meaningful to the individual. There are of course RSS readers but these focus on the aggregation of blog posts rather than active discussion and interaction between participants. MOOCs sometimes pull together participant blog postings into a single ‘blog hub’ but the resulting presence of duplicate posts can be confusing, particularly if discussion about the same post is fragmented with comments appearing on the hub independently of other comments on the original post.

Interaction between the participants of a MOOC can centre around social media such as Google Plus, Facebook or even Twitter and a dedicated Facebook Group page can be very effective in tracking current activity. In this case, the most recently active threads appear first, often with relevant images and the non-active ones gradually fall into obscurity. This can result in timely and fast-moving forum discussions although the various threads are unlikely to carry the more substantive contributions typical of blog posts. Over-dependence on social media is not without a price. Participants who are not registered for some services will be excluded and there is the inevitable manipulation of users and their data for commercial purposes.

Setting aside the practical problems of implementation, what considerations should apply to the design of a ‘MOOC defragmenter’?

  1. Give primacy to personal web space - First and foremost participant web spaces should be recognised and scanned as the major source of data. Currently, most participants are unlikely to have their own web spaces but setting up a personal blog has never been more straightforward. The trend towards establishing a digital presence on the open web is set to continue as the benefits of controlling one’s own data and digital identity become more widely recognised. Innovation such as ‘Domain of my Own‘ demonstrates that owning and managing one’s own slice of the web is not just for the geeks.
  2. Signpost current activity – Create a concise overall view of current MOOC activity on a single page. Focus on the wood rather than the trees. Activity could be signposted by direct links to participant spaces with older material dropping down in classic Facebook style. Little manipulation of content or additional material is envisaged so that participants are encouraged to move on to whatever fragment of the MOOC they find of particular interest.
  3. Openness Rules! – Clear information about rules, settings and any other uses made of participant data should be freely stated and available. Selecting output from a miscellany of inputs necessarily involves a set of rules that are designed to bring together and output MOOC fragments as a cohesive whole. Rules, however, can be manipulated, commercial advertising being the obvious example. Data could also be collected for academic research or other purposes. MOOCs are complex systems and the rules governing effective defragmention are also likely to be complex. Some rules may be misunderstood, unacceptable or even detrimental to the interests of some participants.

Returning to the practical, I have experimented with a ‘MOOC Comment Scraper‘ that generates brief summaries of WordPress and Blogger comments and posts by scanning the RSS feeds of participant blogs. The latest version was well tested during the excellent Rhizo14 MOOC and considered to be a useful facility by many participants (see MOOC Comment Scraper Output – #rhizo14 ). Further development has now resulted in a ‘Comment Collector’ where output items are ordered according to the date of a post’s latest comment rather than the date of the post itself. An example output was derived from a real MOOC (nonsense text replaces real). The presentation could be enhanced in a number of ways but as an amateur programmer I’m unlikely to produce a really comprehensive MOOC defragmenter! All the same, I’d be pleased to find another MOOC for a field test.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

July 25, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Posted in Mooc

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