Connection not Content

A Blog for MOOCs and Other Animals

#introphil MOOC – First Week Impressions

with 9 comments

After one week I’m really enjoying the Introduction to Philosophy MOOC and this is encouraging as I’ve no background in the subject at all. Thankfully, the academic level seems very basic and IMHO the lecturing style and performance of Dave Ward (and his jumper) featuring in the first week videos is very good. For me anyway, these five short videos were just the right length for single study sessions and they have a degree of clarity and a lack of verbal distraction (errs.. and umms.. etc) that I’ve rarely experienced in ‘live’ lectures. Some participants found Dave’s Scottish accent difficult but, being Scottish myself and having lectured to audiences of diverse nationalities, I’m fairly sure there should be no real problem for anyone with a reasonable grasp of English. In any case complete transcripts of all the lectures are available for download. The existence of Dave’s jumper though was a problem for some – ‘jumper’ is ‘sweater’ in American – not a potential suicide!

Questions(xkcd webcomic)

I think xMOOCs should become more like cMOOCs but I don’t think it’s necessarily all one way. As a beginner, would I have learned as effectively in a cMOOC offering a similar course without the scaffolding provided by a competent ‘teacher’? The introphil forum is overwhelming with hundreds upon hundreds of people discussing everything under the sun. This is excellent and there’s a reasonably good spirit of tolerance and respect among participants but I doubt if we could teach each other the basics of philosophy very well without teacher!

I must have contributed something to a ‘Meaning of Life’ forum because every few seconds another Meaning arrives in my email. There doesn’t seem to be a forum search box on every page and you can’t search for people by name unless they happen to be mentioned in the body of posts. With so many participants (around 90,000 evidently registered) the forums do not seem fit for purpose and my impression is that the well-meaning instructors are struggling to cope.

Occupy the MOOCs !

Looking through the massive introphil forums I came across an interesting contribution by a young lady from a so-called underdeveloped country – I can’t find it now of course! Looking at her profile, she was registered for around 16 different xMOOCs running this year. Now maybe she’s a budding genius with the time to participate and distinguish herself in so many academic areas. Or maybe she has a real but casual interest in a multitude of topics and intends to participate in as many MOOCs as she can whenever she has the time. Or maybe she’ll just login to download everything and study it at a later date and if she happens to be a teacher, pass it on to others. Maybe she even intends to print it up and sell it at cost – or even at a profit! Does it really matter much what she does?  Of course the more that goes into a MOOC by way of sharing and connecting with other participants the better the learning experience but many are not fortunate enough to fully participate. Let’s just be grateful that MOOCs are here to stay with a stupid name that might actually help to draw a sharp distinction between them and traditional courses, on or offline. Let’s accept that, on the whole, MOOCs are or should be FOR the ‘lurker’, the ‘toe-dipper’, the ‘dropout’ and not necessarily be considered deficient just because they don’t live up to the learning objectives of traditional courses. Learners of the world unite – Occupy the MOOCs!

Comment Scraping

Yesterday the Comment Scraper came up with 145 comments from 36 posts covering about a week of etmooc activity. (I’m only archiving the output now as discussed here.) I’m going to try aggregating comments from WordPress or Blogger introphil blogs in the same way – from small beginnings at present! It will be helpful if such blogs include introphil as a tag or text in the body of posts.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

February 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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9 Responses

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  1. I haven’t joined in with the discussion as I find it difficult to navigate and there is too much going on. It is quieter on twitter. Either that or I am looking at the wrong page. I did lecture 2 today and the quiz. It looks like I have finished for the week. I think I am clearer as to what philosophy is about.

    Louise Taylor

    February 5, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    • Thanks Louise – yes the navigation is hopeless with these numbers. I’ve only made a very few comments on the forum. Any one comment gets lost pretty quickly and – to quote the Beatles, “My independence seems to vanish in the haze” ! I much prefer blogs or even facebook – though the introphil page on FB with around 1000 members is a little too frisky for me.


      February 5, 2013 at 4:51 pm

      • I don’t understand how that many people can converse. Maybe that should be my philosophical question to write a paper about.

        Louise Taylor

        February 5, 2013 at 8:07 pm

  2. Thanks, Gordon – I’m happy to have found a fellow #introphil MOOCer (oh dear…) through the Twitter hashtag, blogging about the experience itself. I agree, the forums are too much – I’ve steered clear. That medium simply cannot contain that multitude of people, and any meaningful connection will be purely coincidental. It seems crazy to say it, but at least in this case, Twitter is a “slower” and smaller-scale way to see what’s happening in that course.

    Also, I love your calling to my attention to distinctions between xMOOC and cMOOC – very helpful!

    Brian R. Gumm (@bgumm)

    February 5, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    • Thanks Brian – I think having discussion outside the confines of the ‘official’ forum always enhances the MOOC experience. In a cMOOC the number of independent blogs can be well over the 100 mark – I’m afraid that I’ve not yet found more than 10 for introphil xMOOC, but I live in hope 🙂


      February 6, 2013 at 3:58 pm

  3. I’m noticing the same encouraging and basic level ~ and minus the classic Philosophy 101 approach, a thumbnail survey of Great Philosophers from Pre-Socratics to Existentialists (this is Friday, we must be in Rome) with definitions. Recommended hours per week is also encouraging. #etmooc, on the other hand, must be dreadfully overwhelming to the many unfamiliar with moocs, social media and the plethora of apps, especially if they don’t feel they can “just say no.” 

    Love the xkcd graphic, shared it with the “Philosophy for friends” group… waiting for the comix topic on the forum. 

    New material on an unfamiliar subject delivered on an unfamiliar platform is a lot to expect, and then some when you throw start throwing (aka recommending new apps). Still with so many Coursera repeaters, platform unfamiliarity is less of a problem…but the forums are still a mess. My daughter picked up some ruder but more accurate descriptive expressions in the army. They are just not usable without better search and linking, e.g. notice links taking you not just to the thread but exactly the right place in it. I wonder if dropping those was part of extreme scaling up. Too much load on the system. I remember accounts of the Stanford AI LMS (pretty much same model) crashing from unexpected overload. So they streamline and drop features that take up processing time.

    I’ve noticed (and followed) discussions among participants taking way too many to keep up with the work. Some may just be downloading materials for a variety of re-uses, but others are taking similar courses elsewhere for credit, so these are supplementary (or more). Others say they are taking courses when they are just auditing. It’s an all you can eat buffet reaction. Pile it on. 

    Venture Labs courses (Stanford) survey participants before the course starts as to how much time they intend to spend (multiple choice) and whether they are registering to complete a certificate or audit. This last can be changed ~ not a contract or commitment. It still really bothers many traditional educators that courses would register and count dilettantes. 

    I looked at the meaning of life forum but could not think of anything I wanted to contribute. Maybe I’ll see something next time by or in what is knowledge. Maybe I’ll manage another post at some point, after more flânerie



    February 5, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    • Hi Vanessa – couldn’t agree more about the forums. With all that investment Coursera should have something better by now.

      Yes I’m sure that participant activities are so many and varied and I wish that the xMOOCs would recognise this more rather than push the test and exam thing – presumably cos that’s the route to monetisation. Some participants seem genuinely worried about ‘passing’ – even the quizzes in the videos!

      I’ve had enough Meanings of Life to last a lifetime and so now I’m taking issue with Plato & Co on the JTB thing – it all seems so contrived but I can’t articulate why! Gordon


      February 6, 2013 at 8:26 pm

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