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March of the MOOCs (serious interview)

with 15 comments


MOOC Cow @MooCow

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


‘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! #rhizo14 #ccourses #mooc
0 secs ago via Twitter for cPad

MOOC Cow @MoocCow
#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 ,

MOOC Comment Scraper – Update (4)

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MOOC Comment Scraper

No MOOCs were harmed by the Scraper. (Image via José Bogado)

My MOOC Comment Scraper had a great run during the Rhizo14 MOOC – was even mentioned by Dave Cormier in his recent presentation (‘Why teach MOOCs – MOOCs as a selfish enterprise (talk at MIT)‘)! Judging from the comments I received during Rhizo14, the Scraper could be employed in a variety of situations supporting MOOCs or other online events where it’s useful to aggregate blog posts and comments in an abbreviated form. There seems to be an unexplored niche for open aggregation tools that simply abbreviate text one click away from distributed sources – and don’t attempt to entrap users for commercial purposes!

Use of the Comment Scraper – My own conception of the Scraper seems best suited to cMOOCs. Here, much or even most discussion, is distributed among numerous participant blogs, some of which may be inactive at any particular time. A quick impression of where the latest posts are, how various discussions are developing and who is involved, can be more useful than aggregators providing considerably more text requiring lengthy scrolling.

The current version of the Scraper merely links to a post with comments giving very brief details: date, authors etc. (see sample output). At the expense of some extra text a more advanced version could supply more detail such as twitter and Facebook identities of post and comment authors. Since individual blogs are the focus of discussion in cMOOCs it may be counterproductive to allow direct commenting on a page along with the Scraper output although ‘meta-comment’ on the cMOOC itself might be useful if the Scraper output were displayed as part of a ‘hub’ website for the MOOC.

Potential uses for a Comment Scraper may differ, perhaps considerably from my own use, so I’ve briefly described my approach along with a summary of the program and this might assist a competent programmer to develop their own version for their own purposes. I’m not a particularly competent programmer myself (the Scraper was originally developed as an exercise in learning Python) but if anyone wants the Python source code for non-commercial purposes I will (shortly) make a cleaned-up version available on request.

Privacy, Legal and Other Issues – The Scraper’s output consists almost entirely of other people’s work, scraped from blogs and published without their permission. It’s not really practical to contact the authors of all blogs and commenters individually in a MOOC but I’ve always been willing to exclude any blogs or comments by any author on their request. To date I’ve never received any such request and those who contacted me have always been positive about the use of the Scraper.

I have little understanding of the legal issues involved here and confess I’ve done little to find out. I do not know who ‘owns’ the posts or comments in a proprietary blog nor the legal status of a ‘remix’ consisting of fragments of text from numerous sources with authors identified. I suspect it could be a complicated matter – any advice?

Unfortunately, the current version of the Scraper is only compatible with WordPress and Blogger blogs. Together these define ‘standard’ RSS formats that account for a very large proportion of all blogs but inevitably a small minority are excluded. Clearly, all participants in a MOOC should be represented on an equal footing regardless of their blog type. It may be possible to make special provision for some other blog types provided RSS feeds are available but if not, comment scraping would seem to be considerably more difficult to implement.

I did not use the Scraper to collect data in any rigorous way but it certainly could be used for research purposes such as studying the rise and fall of posting and commenting in a cMOOC (eg the graph I plotted using rhiz014 data). Again, this raises unexplored issues concerning the analytical use of a Scraper as there are clearly dangers in the misuse of such data even in a statistical form.



Written by Gordon Lockhart

March 27, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Posted in Mooc, rhizo14, Uncategorized

Deep Learning in MOOCs

with 7 comments

I’ve been following several MOOCs simultaneously and often just lurking as I’m usually more interested in how MOOCs are developing than their content. The smallish cMOOC on ‘Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum‘ (Rhizo14) led by Dave Cormier held my attention, partly because I was using it as a test bed for my MOOC Scraper but also because its ‘content’ was largely created by by the participants themselves. Cathy Davidson’s very much larger xMOOC ‘History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education‘ (FutureEd) was also fascinating but in a different way as she positively encouraged independent activity outside the MOOC – think Incredible Hulk trying to break out of its xMOOC clothes!

On the whole, I’m positive about MOOCs and there are several areas where I think MOOCs can be very effective. Connecting and updating professionals, stimulating the interests of well-motivated lifelong learners, providing educational opportunities where none existed before are a few. I welcome the different MOOC formats that are emerging and I don’t share the usual concerns about dropout rates. Someone close to me with lifelong interests in languages and literature joined an xMOOC on Climate Change and for the first time in her life bought a popular science magazine and found it interesting. MOOCs have the power to transform learners, sometimes unexpectedly but usually for the good. Even the removal of pig ignorance can count as education but ….. everyone needs to be a deep learner at times.

Deep Learning MOOC comic

Deep Learning MOOC comic (Kevin Hodgson on Flickr)

During Rhizo14 there was some controversy about the relevance or otherwise of certain French philosophers. ‘Skimmers’ and others may have perfectly good reasons for neglecting them but in deep learning mode you take the time and trouble to read them in whatever detail is necessary to make an informed decision – even if you find French philosophers excruciatingly dull and boring!

Having taught engineering courses at a university for more years than I care to remember, I wonder how MOOCs can deal with deep learning in circumstances where it’s vitally important to demonstrate competence, understanding something all the way through as opposed to a superficial or ‘working’ knowledge? This is no elitist concern of interest only to PhD students or just Higher Education. A huge number of vocational courses are wholly or partly of this type – an electrician’s understanding of your wiring is just as vital as a brain surgeon’s! Teaching something to someone else is not a bad test of understanding (as many parents find out trying to help their kids with homework!) but what proportion of a MOOC’s participants could begin to teach or demonstrate real competence in the topics they study? For the typical mammoth xMOOC I would guess very few, particularly if they had little prior knowledge of the subject matter. I would also be surprised if many of those gaining current Statements of Accomplishment could demonstrate real understanding. (Anyone want me for a Philosophy 101 tutor on the basis of my Coursera Certificate?)

Deep learning can be very rewarding but it can also be time-consuming, not particularly interesting and hard work – as many budding PhD students find out all too quickly. Encouraging deep learning in MOOCs may not be so problematical given well-educated and motivated participants as in Rhizo14 and FutureEd but in the wider world where education may be prized more as a meal ticket rather than for its own sake, the traditional training course, ‘taught to the test’, is often viewed by students as little more than an irksome chore unrelated to real life. I’m unsure how MOOCs might be used to improve things but maybe a crucial first step would be to encourage interaction, almost any type of interaction, between connected participants before expecting anything like deep learning to happen. Rhizo14 certainly encouraged interaction and passionate learning. Interestingly, now I see that several enthusiastic Rhizo14 learners may be passing the ‘teacher test’ by taking over and extending the course themselves – way beyond its nominal 6 week period!

Written by Gordon Lockhart

March 11, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Posted in Mooc, rhizo14

Tagged with

MOOC Scraper Update (3) – (and Hello #FutureEd !)

with 18 comments

MOOC Comment Scraper

Experimental Comment Scraping
(Based on ‘la vaca de los sinvaca’ – by José Bogado)


I unleashed my experimental MOOC Comment Scraper on the Rhizomatic Learning MOOC (#rhiz014) run by Dave Cormier from Jan 15th and have been updating it once or twice a day (latest output). The idea behind the Scraper is to get a quick impression of MOOC activity by creating very brief summarised versions of recent blog posts along with their comments. For some reason this type of presentation does not seem to be readily available via feed readers but I’ve found the Scraper useful, particularly for connectivist style  MOOCs where activity is typically distributed across numerous blogs, some of which may not be active at any one time.

In contrast, my xMOOC experiences (eg in a Coursera Philosophy MOOC) suggest that blogging around these ‘instructivist’ MOOCs is not nearly so common. Having joined Cathy Davidson’s ‘History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education’ (#FutureEd) my introductory spiel sank without trace in the usual enormous and clunky Coursera forum but Cathy Davidson herself has reservations about the stereotypical xMOOC and this particular Coursera MOOC (“…not just a MOOC, it’s a movement.”) does seem less centralised. I’ll be looking out for participant blogs.

Rhizo14 is a good guinea pig for the Scraper and I appreciate the significant number of participants who actively blog and comment on each other’s posts generating lively discussions with long comment streams. Some posts have attracted around 30 comments – all types and lengths and this has facilitated the squashing of several bugs in the Scraper program (A recurring problem is dealing with ragged loose ends when HTML and other ‘hidden’ codes in comments are chopped up.) At present, about 60 WordPress and Blogger blogs are being scanned and comments extracted for all posts tagged, #rhizo14 over a time ‘window’ of the last 10 days. The participants seem happy to have their comments abbreviated and published in this way but it would be a simple matter to remove any blog if required.

The graph below gives some indication of how commenting in rhizo14 is developing with time. This is no scientific study, particularly for the first few days when blogs were being added and  no posts were too dated to be lost from a  time window that itself was being adjusted. However, the period from Jan 23 was more stable with a constant 10 day window. Both comments and posts seem to have peaked around Jan 30 but interestingly, even though comment and post numbers have now dropped a little, the average number of comments per post is being maintained at over 5.


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

I’d be very grateful for any constructive comment or criticisms of the Comment Scraper, particularly if you’ve been viewing the output over a period of time. There are several directions in which the Scraper could be developed. More or less output text could be provided or posts without comments could be identified but there may be rather more fundamental changes worth making.

How do you rate the Comment Scraper? – please mark out of 10 where:

0 = Useless
5 = Sometimes useful but I rely mainly on other tools
10 = I couldn’t live without it!

However busy you are please try at the very least to leave your mark out of 10 below so I get some sense of the Scraper’s perceived utility! Thank you!

Written by Gordon Lockhart

February 4, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Posted in Mooc, rhizo14

MOOC Comment Scraper – Update (2)

with 10 comments

The MOOC Comment Scraper brings together brief summarised versions of recent blog posts along with resulting comments (See A ‘Comment Scraper’ for Aggregating Blog Posts with Comments in a MOOC, the update, FAQ and an output). The idea is to provide a quick up-to-date impression of posts and comments relating to a particular MOOC. I’ve experimented with the Comment Scraper on several MOOCs but not surprisingly, the concept works best with the connectivist MOOC style where significant debate and discussion can often be found in the blogs of participants rather than in the centralised forums favoured by most xMOOCs.

The P2PU course run by Dave Cormier, ‘Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum‘, is a good opportunity for further experimentation and several participant blogs have already appeared with comments. I’m intending to display the Scraper output on the page, ‘MOOC Comment Scraper Output – #rhizo14‘, and will try to keep it up-to-date. It’s not practical to seek permission to do this from all authors but past experience suggests that nobody is too concerned – of course I will exclude any author if they request.

I’m not sure how the Scraper should should be developed, if at all, so any comments about the design or about errors, omissions etc are very much appreciated. Previously I included an RSS feed on the display page so that the Scraper output could be fed to a Reader but had no feedback as to whether this was useful – I’d be happy to include it again if required (now included!).

Written by Gordon Lockhart

January 15, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Posted in Mooc, rhizo14