Connection not Content

A Blog for MOOCs and Other Animals

#Change11 :: Commentary on Comments

with 13 comments

Commenting in MOOCS

As I experiment with my comment scraping program I’m becoming more aware of the important role that MOOC participants play in commenting on each others blogs. As Mira comments (in a comment) “Some of my most memorable learning experiences have been reading blog comments . . .” In general, I find that there is usually something of interest in any comment stream – even on YouTube, and with some ‘reading between the lines’, online comments can provide a far better cross-section of opinion, informed or otherwise, than the typical ‘Letters to the Editor’ in a newspaper.

Sometimes lengthy comment strings blow up in no time at all before tailing off a few days later. (The recent thread following Jenny’s excellent post on The philosophy of MOOCs is a good example.) Such comment strings may lack narrative but the best examples can be highly engaging with overt signs of real learning. On one level they remind me of brief and informal staff room discussions over a quick coffee where participants come and go at will, questioning and interacting with those who appear to know what they are talking about but also talking over each other, mis-hearing and misunderstanding – all (usually!) in an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect. But the comment streams in a MOOC offer rather more than this. There is opportunity to put some real thought into what is posted and, something I suspect that many bloggers and commenters forget, the record of their words of wisdom remains for posterity. Given the interest engendered by these very first MOOCs, the associated blogs and comments could be picked over for many years to come!

One thing that strikes me about connectivist MOOCs such as Change11, is the number of blog postings that attract no comments at all. It is often not obvious why this should be so but when it is, isn’t there all the more reason for other participants, inspired by the connectivist spirit, to make a connection? I see that a large number of registered Change11 bloggers have never posted in the New Year and I wonder if this reflects a perceived lack of interest in their posts? On the other hand, some bloggers rarely reply to comments on their blogs, a practice that can hardly strengthen connections. Of course participants are free do as they like in a MOOC and I don’t mean to imply disapproval (as a semi-lurker, I’d be the ‘pot calling the kettle black’). Many, or even most MOOCers seem to get more out of the free-wheeling MOOC ethos than strict adherence to connectivist principles might suggest: more a case of (to misquote T S Eliot on cats [1]):

For they will do
As they do do
And there’s no doing anything about it!

Comment Scraping

Returning to the Comment Scraper, Jaap, John and Brainysmurf kindly gave me permission for their blog comments to be scraped and published on an experimental basis. This has been done and several program changes have been tested. I’m now in a position to try out the Scraper on a larger collection of blogs and this raises issues that I’ve mentioned before on the propriety of publishing other people’s material. It is not practical for me to contact the authors of many blogs individually so I am proposing to continue scraping blogs authored by the authors above while adding more blogs in an abbreviated style along the following lines:

#Change11 :: A ‘Comment Scraper’ for Aggregating Blog Posts with Comments in a MOOC by gbl55 on 04 Feb 2012
Trying to keep track of what’s going on in a MOOC where discussion is distributed over nu..

Comments:[04 Feb 2012] [ 04 Feb 2012][25 Feb 2012][25 Feb 2012][29 Feb 2012]

In this form, the content appearing from a blog is less than what is already available via the Daily and only the dates of comments are given. As the Comment Scraper is likely to be more useful in the full form, further permissions for this would be very welcome. Equally, any request by a blog author to refrain from scraping their blog in any way will be respected. At present I am focusing on Change11 WordPress and Blogger blogs but hope to look at other feeds and MOOCs in due course.

If the Scraper proves to be useful in a MOOC context I will eventually make it available (I’m no expert programmer and have only gone so far in learning Python.) I should point out that I have absolutely no interest in exploiting the program for any other purpose.


[1] Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot.

Checking out my Eliot misquotation above I also came across his poem on ‘The Naming of Cats’ and suddenly realised that he had some very important things to say about MOOCs:

The Naming of MOOCs (apologies to T S Eliot)

The Naming of MOOCs is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a MOOC must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that you find in The Daily,
Such as Eddy, Udastard, DS Something or Change,
All brief and hashtagable everyday names.
But I tell you, a MOOC needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else, how can she grow knowledge, her nodes perpendicular,
spreading connections with undisguised pride?
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess
The name no researcher will ever discover–
But THE MOOC HERSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a MOOC in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
Her nodes are engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of her name:
Her ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

March 18, 2012 at 12:09 pm

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13 Responses

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  1. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : repeat; } – Today, 7:21 […]

  2. a very impressive poem with a deep philosophical truth in it. well done.
    I am very curious about the results of the scraper, will you publisht them?


    March 19, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    • Thanks Jaap – For now I’ll continue to publish the output here (link to the page ‘MOOC Comment Scraper [alpha]’ given above). If the output gets too lengthy I’ll find webspace somewhere else.


      March 19, 2012 at 8:09 pm

  3. Great poem! I love the idea of a mooc as a living, breathing creature contemplating her own name.

    This is my third mooc and the one in which I’ve seen the least amount of action on blogs, both in posts and in comments. However, the Twitter harvest in The Daily seems to be very active, more so than in previous moocs. Perhaps many folks are preferring that medium this year. Not sure!

    Thanks for your post. 🙂


    March 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    • Thanks Brainysmurf – I’ve not checked but I think there’s less use of Twitter on Change11 than CCK11 (The 2 MOOCs I’ve only personal experience of) and certainly less activity in general in Change11.


      March 23, 2012 at 5:28 pm

  4. […] Commenting on MOOCs – Gordon Lockhart […]

  5. Wonderful, the Eliot, the naming, the scraping, everything. Lisa over at potcert11 is excited to hear about it too. I’d noticed shifting patterns in mooc interaction, my own and others. Change11 seemed to have less tweeting than edumooc. There is also an ebb and flow to blog commenting. Plus we may be in a phase of multiple mooc exhaustion or perhaps long ones are too long to maintain intensity. Perhaps opening this last trove will have answers for that as well.


    May 3, 2012 at 5:11 am

    • Thanks Vanessa – yes I think there’s some MOOC exhaustion around, certainly for Change11 but also some rejuvenation as new presenters come and go bringing out different sets of participants – unlike the CCK series where I have a far greater impression of a single coherent body of active participants.


      May 3, 2012 at 10:49 am

      • even moocs, especially the longer ones, may need some structure however loose or figurative. More bread crumbs for wayfinding through the forest. Some weeks invited more connection that others. I passed on CCK (other than signing up for the daily) and with that probably missed a number of your posts, which I enjoy. There a lesson there about feed management and bundling best reads no matter what courses they and I are or are not taking. I followed two smaller ones that I think worked better than the more massive models.

        I miss some of the features that came with Athabasca hosting, not the forums but better catch up spots and transcripts. Readable ones, how archaic of me. Still, it feels like there have been non-stop moocs for too long without a break. Mooc rats (Scott’s term) need Spring Break.


        May 6, 2012 at 12:10 am

  6. Couldn’t agree more re structure, breadcrumbs etc and I’ve never quite understood why this is sometimes interpreted as necessarily anti-connectivist (whatever that is!). MOOCs offer much more opportunity to pick and choose than most ‘real life’ courses. With MOOCs, whatever structure exists can usually be circumvented or ignored without losing face (or money) – as the Bonk MOOC may be demonstrating! I dabbled in the Udacity programming MOOC and was very impressed by a professionalism that’s not so apparent in connectivist MOOCs. Of course the latter never had anything like the same resources, financial or otherwise and what’s been achieved is very remarkable but I don’t think there are inherently 2 types of MOOC. No doubt time will tell but there must be considerable scope for hybrid MOOCs that attempt to combine the best features of each.


    May 6, 2012 at 11:02 am

  7. Reblogged this on MOOC Madness and commented:
    I was telling someone, a lit person, who admired the MOOCow about Gordon’s other talents. That sent me looking for his “The Naming of MOOCs” (apologies to T S Eliot). Too much fun not to share again: scroll down for the reading fun.


    June 2, 2013 at 7:48 pm

  8. Thanks Vanessa!


    June 2, 2013 at 8:37 pm

  9. […] 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 […]

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