Connection not Content

A Blog for MOOCs and Other Animals

Posts Tagged ‘mooc

Commenting in MOOC forums (or not)

with 4 comments

Listen to Yourself (XKCD Webcomic)

As a confirmed sampler of MOOCs I’ve had plenty opportunity to roam around the enormous clunky forums that characterise xMOOCs. I try to make sensible contributions to the argument of the day but participant behaviour and interaction can be a compelling distraction. Some things are clear. Commenting on xMOOC forums nowhere plumbs the sickening depths of some comments elsewhere (eg YouTube). Also, real out-and-out trolls are rare. All the same, I think that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

What will cause a comment to give offence and what level of offence is caused can be difficult to judge. In my young days using the F word was clearly offensive in polite company and even now I can’t help feeling a bit offended when it’s used needlessly on the web. (It’s even in the title of a popular science website for godsake!) These days and depending on the circumstances, such usage might be considered only mildly offensive by many participants in a forum but it stands to reason that, among a large population of users, some could be very offended indeed.

So care should be taken writing comments addressed to diverse international audiences although second-guessing exactly what’s offensive can be extremely difficult or even futile. For example, my use of ‘godsake’ above does not offend me at all but could offend some on religious grounds so I might be reluctant to use the word in a public forum – sound thinking or over-thinking? Also, if you were Danish and not too familiar with English quotations, might you be offended about the rotten state of Denmark above? I really don’t know but it’s possible!

MOOC forums usually have some degree of moderation so that really crass comments are swiftly removed but there are other less obvious circumstances where forum participants themselves can help set the tone. On one occasion I was appalled that a perfectly sensible comment by a lady tentatively posting for the first time, was considered “stupid” by someone else (OK, a man). The forum was huge and his was the only other contribution in the thread. Throwing caution to the winds, I commented that his comment lacked substance (it did) and then made a brief comment on the topic of the thread myself. Someone down-voted my comment (slight offence taken! I’ve mixed feelings about the use of down-vote buttons.) There was no response from the original poster until a host of comments began to arrive (all from women), including some really good substantive contributions. Although nobody mentioned the original male put-down, solidarity with the original poster was very evident. Finally, she actually thanked me for intervening. She’d genuinely feared that her comment was somehow inappropriate. Such apprehension by forum newcomers is not uncommon. Newbie posters who are not offered support when it matters may never return to the forum again.


A Support Group (Wikipedia , W. H. Calvin)

I once had an argument in an xMOOC forum with someone who held that a MOOC forum should not to be regarded as a support group. I disagreed. He was a champion of robust no-holds-barred debate and had a good grasp of most topics under discussion, contributing real expertise, useful links and references etc. But he could be pretty bombastic and nit-picking and sometimes just plain insulting to those brave enough to comment on his posts. This led to some very heated arguments but if you can’t stand the heat should you not stay out of the kitchen?

Lively robust debate does have its attractions, if only as a spectator sport and it’s understandable that moderators are reluctant to intervene until clearly unacceptable levels of confrontation are reached (see Godwin’s rule of Nazi analogies!). On the other hand, in a large forum, there are usually participants with the necessary topic expertise and sufficient empathy to respond constructively to a badly expressed question or a mistaken assumption in a way that aids understanding, positively advancing discussion without any suspicion of a put-down. Can some way not be found to encourage those who revel in confrontation to conduct their ding-dong battles elsewhere, perhaps in well-advertised threads or sub-forums, so that safer spaces are left for the vast middle ground of learners who appreciate less competitive and more supportive environments?

A great advantage of online asynchronous discussion over face-to-face is that there is a golden opportunity for considered thought and reflection before responding. No matter how irritating the indiscretions and errors rightly or wrongly perceived in the comments of others, there’s usually time to allow tolerance and understanding to break through. Commenting with caution and sensitivity to context is always a safe alternative to knee-jerk reactions made in the heat of the moment.

Can opinions be freely expressed in a supportive environment without giving offence to anyone anywhere? At one extreme, robust debate can degenerate into aggressive personal attacks while at the other, excessive concern about giving or taking offence can stifle discussion, particularly if confronted with closed minds and fixed ideas. More empathetic moderation and a re-think of how xMOOC forums are structured is in order but forum participants themselves should have at least some responsibility for everyone’s learning as well as their own. A thick skin should not be necessary in a forum but a paper-thin one and extreme readiness to give and take offence, is unlikely to further anyone’s learning objectives. We must all learn to tolerate minor perceived offences …. hmm… . so now I’m off to visit that popular science website but without naming it here!

Written by Gordon Lockhart

November 14, 2016 at 10:44 am

Posted in Mooc, Uncategorized

Tagged with

MOOCow Meets The Hound of the Baskervilles – #twistedpair

with one comment




Hound of the Baskervilles

(The Demon Dog of Dover by Shadow-lightning)

Hound of the Baskervilles:


MooCow: Beg Pardon?
HOB: I said, HOWOOooo … Oh never mind – it’s supposed to be scary!
MC: Connectivist cows don’t scare easily – now push off before I connect with your butt!
HOB: Hey! That’s no way to talk to an authority on education!
MC: Authority my hoof – you’ll be telling me you invented MOOCs next!
HOB: Got it in one! Best thing I ever did since corporal punishment. Why do you think I go round dropping these red pills in university water supplies? I give ’em 20th century traditional education on steroids! Turn mild-mannered professors into raving rock stars overnight. They love the attention and not having proper exams to mark helps develop their video skills – you know, make-up and a proper dress sense.
MC: Holy turnips! It’s the 21st century. Humans should take responsibility for their own learning.
HOB: Oh yeah? They’re miles too stupid for that but I do encourage nice debates in closed forums so they can’t escape instruction. They do actually teach themselves a little but you should see how grateful they are when a real professor comes down and gives them the right answers! What they really love though is discussing the grading schemes and they’ll do that until the cows come home. The forum threads get so long they can’t even find their own posts!
MC: Hey! – less on the cows Hound Dog! I don’t have much time for grading with peer assessment and multiple choice questions.
HOB: Me too – it’s all a lot of nonsense but humans are nostalgic about their school days and expect to be examined by the teacher. They won’t all get all the questions right – like, “When’s the 10 o’clock News?” Some tick ‘midnight’ and then there’s furious debates about it in the forums! Same with peer-assessment. The range of grades has to be so narrow – like 98, 99 and 100, to stop them marking each other down but with a pass grade at 98 they’re still happy to buy our x-certificates for 1st, 2nd or 3rd class honours! OK, we all know it’s a lousy product so now we’re planning to sell Pavlovian style edu-bracelets for wearing during exams so we can electrically shock ’em when they give wrong answers! No gain (for us!) without pain (for them!) – Ha! Ha! The wronger the answer the higher the volts – and watch the drop dead rate! What’s more, we’re into artificial intelligence with fully-contented, self-driven robo-profs. Add them to your online shopping basket for only a few thousand dollars and we’re goin’ to …….
MC: Enough! No more of this dreary dog-driven drivel! I don’t like to say I invented MOOCs (to be honest I think it was some Canadian oddballs whose names I forget – maybe even human) and you and your x-certificate MOOCs aren’t a patch on the original cMOOCs. While you’ve been contaminating university water supplies I’ve connected more times than you’ve had dog dinners! You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog and you ain’t no friend of mine! You ain’t never caught a rabbit …. so I’m using my superpowers to turn you into one! Byeeee!
HOB: Howooooooooooooo ……….. grunt!
MC: MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOCCCCCC!!!!! Dratted dog made me late for my next keynote.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

October 6, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

The Wonderland of a Literary MOOC

with 6 comments

I recently joined ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World‘ by Prof. Eric Rabkin of the University of Michigan. This is a typical Coursera xMOOC with the usual closed forum populated by a minority of participants. I never spotted Prof. R. in the forums but there are a number of helpful TAs, some having completed the course on a previous iteration.

Videos are presented in ‘flipped’ format. Prof. R. releases a brief ‘Before You Read’ video, setting the scene for each weekly topic (eg ‘Lewis Carroll’) and then there’s assigned readings and a 270 to 320 words essay to write, “on any literary matter that you studied in that reading: plot, style, theme, structure, imagery, allusion, narrator reliability, and so on.” The essay, “…should aim to enrich the reading of a fellow student who is both intelligent and attentive to the readings and to the course.” So far so good but the essays are peer reviewed and the system software only allows essay writers to see their own reviews after they review 4 or 5 other essays. A small minority of reviewers submit a minimum of desultory remarks, or even random nonsense, just to comply!

Several videos by Prof. R. discussing different aspects of the topic, (eg 8 videos for Lewis Carroll), are released following the peer assessments. Prof. R. has a very relaxed style of delivery and I found the videos really enjoyable and informative. Writing the essays before the videos does seem the better strategy but some participants would rather have the videos first to spark off ideas. Could anyone reading ‘Alice’, perhaps for the first time, really not have ideas of their own? Perhaps a lack of confidence and a mistaken belief that the only ‘correct’ interpretations are the ones handed down by the Professor is the root cause.

The last literary essay I wrote was a very long time ago but I did manage 4/6 on the two essays I submitted for peer assessment. This is not too surprising as the marking scheme is tightly constrained. There are two categories: form (grammar, usage, and structure) and content (matters of insight, argument, and example). Each is marked on a scale of 1 to 3 so the marks awarded can only range from 2 to 6 and unless the form or content perceived by a reviewer is undeniably awful or absolutely brilliant, the most likely score is 4. Most participants make 4 but not all are happy and there’s the usual controversy, beloved of xMOOCs, about given grades and the marking scheme. The marking scheme is probably designed to keep up grade averages and limit excessively low or high scores. It’s certainly crude and of course it’s operated, with or without due diligence, by other participants. Perhaps a participant’s averaged grades will make some sense by the end of the course but peer assessment is the only means of assessment. My feeling is that these grades have considerably less significance than many participants are led to believe.

The feedback on my own essays was brief but friendly and quite helpful. Many participants (like me) are unpractised literary essayists so some inconsistency between 4 peer assessments on the same essay is to be expected. One peer comment really made me think, “Be careful of words like would, may, appear etc. You are convincing me of your point, use more aggressive language.” But my literary interpretations can be quite speculative and so too are many other interpretations I’ve come across on this course – sometimes wildly speculative! Dressing up speculation with unduly assertive or aggressive language seems a bit like getting a debating point across by shouting.

This course is a new experience for me. I enjoyed the reading and writing but found it all very time-consuming and now with several other projects on the go I’m only monitoring progress. I hardly participated at all in the forums but there was good discussion and debate there.  This was clearly the focal point of the course for a small minority of participants and participatory learning and engagement was certainly in evidence. Participants were urged to use the forums but in spite of the usual section for “General discussion about the course, life and everything under the sun.” attempts to move outside the silo’s unspoken limits were politely discouraged. For example, a few participants (not me!) wanting to publicise their own writing met with dusty responses. Of course it’s not a creative writing class but what do Michigan or Coursera have to fear? – criticism by participants who Know What they Signed Up For? – mass exodus from the Proper Course? – overloaded servers? I doubt if these concerns are significant. Some mild ‘forking’ of the course might even help reduce the dreaded dropout rate!

Exercising my new-found powers of literary interpretation I realised that the Lion and the Unicorn episode in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass was really about something else. Unfortunately, Carroll does not make this too clear so I had to rewrite it:


The Uniconx and Lionc with the Connected Cake

(John Tenniel’s Lion and Unicorn illustration for Lewis Carroll’s’ Through the Looking-Glass’ – Wikipedia)

The Uniconx, the Lionc and the Connected Cake

(Apologies to Lewis Carroll)

At this moment the Uniconx sauntered past with his hands in his pockets. ‘I ran the best course this time?’ he said to the King.
‘A little — a little,’ the King replied, rather nervously. ‘You shouldn’t have run them through with your pointed questions you know.’
‘It was for their own good’ the Uniconx said carelessly, and he was going on, when his eye happened to fall upon Alice: he turned round rather instantly, and stood for some time looking at her with an air of the deepest disgust.
‘What — is — this?’ he said at last.
‘This is one of your Customers’ replied Haigha eagerly, coming in front of Alice to introduce her. ‘We only found it to-day. It’s as large as life, and twice as natural!’
‘I always thought they were invisible until monetised!’ said the Uniconx. ‘Is it alive?’
‘It can talk but it can’t think for itself,’ said Haigha, solemnly.
The Uniconx looked dreamily at Alice, and said ‘Talk, Customer.’
Alice could not help her lips curling up into a smile as she began: ‘Do you know, I always thought Uniconxes were invisible too! I never saw a visible one before!’
‘Well, now that we have seen each other,’ said the Uniconx, ‘if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?’
‘Yes, if you like,’ said Alice.
‘Come, fetch out the cake, old man!’ the Uniconx went on, turning from her to the King. ‘Certainly — certainly!’ the King muttered. ‘Open the bag!’ he whispered to Haigha. ‘NO! Not the one from the silo — its stuffed with graded ticks! The other is discontented.’
Haigha took the large connected cake out of the bag and gave it to Alice to hold while he got out a dish and carving-knife.

The Lionc had joined them while this was going on. ‘What’s this!’ he said, blinking lazily at Alice, ‘Are you animal — vegetable — or mineral?’
‘It’s my visible Customer!’ the Uniconx cried out proudly before Alice could reply.
‘Then hand round the cake, Customer,’ the Lionc said, lying down and putting his chin on his paws. ‘Everyone sit down. Aggregate, remix, repurpose and feed forward: fair play with the cake, you know!’
The King was evidently very uncomfortable at having to sit down between the two massive creatures; but there was no other place for him. ‘What a time the Customer is, cutting up that cake!’ he sighed.

Alice had seated herself on the bank of a little brook, with the great dish on her knees, and was sawing away diligently with the knife. ‘It’s very provoking!’ she said, in reply to the King ‘I’ve cut several slices already, but they always connect up again!’
‘You don’t know how to manage cakes,’ the Uniconx remarked. ‘Hand the content round first, and cut it into facts afterwards.’
This sounded nonsense, but Alice very obediently got up, and carried the dish round and the cake divided itself into three pieces as she did so. ‘Now try to cut it up,’ said the Lionc, as she returned to her place with the empty dish.
‘I say, this isn’t fair!’ cried the Uniconx as Alice sat with the knife in her hand, very much puzzled how to begin. ‘The Customer has given the Lionc more than me!’
‘She’s only trying to share but she’s kept hardly any for herself’ said the Lionc. ‘Don’t you like connected cake?
‘I can’t tell for certain’, said Alice dubiously as the cake re-formed on the plate. ‘It’s all very confusing..’
Several pieces of the cake fell to the ground and found their way into the brook.
‘Why not?’, said the Uniconx. ‘Learn to live with certainty. There’s no secret about a prescriptive cake. Start at the beginning, get to the middle and follow it right through to the end – or die! If you join it in the middle you pay a price.’
‘Not if there’s no content!’ countered the Lionc, ‘and what’s more, a cake should have several middles and ends or none at all.’
‘Scaffolding!’ shouted the Uniconx, standing up. ‘She can’t live with uncertainty because she can’t think for herself!’
‘Oh dear!’ muttered the King disconsolately. Is it off with her talking head then?’
‘Of course I can think for myself!’ cried Alice indignantly.
‘Then choose to run the course with me’ said the Lionc triumphantly and offered her a paw.
Alice started to her feet and they both sprang across the little brook stopping abruptly at a single path sign-posted ‘Self-direction Only’
‘Multiple choices!’ shouted the Uniconx at them from the other side of the brook. ‘Only chaos, confusion, bewilderment, bafflement, or perplexity down there! You’ll all drop out of course!’
‘This way, that way or the other?’ asked the Lionc pointing down the same path but he bounded off before Alice could answer.
The Uniconx turned to the King in frustration. “She can never be told a thing!”
‘Rather like the Bell-Ringers Daughter – ha! ha!”, exclaimed the King as he wandered off.

Written by Gordon Lockhart

July 14, 2015 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Mooc, Uncategorized

Tagged with

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 , ,

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 ,

Collecting Connected Courses Comments (#ccourses)

with 9 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.


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.


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 ,