My experience of being a student on the ‘Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application’ MOOC that was suspended after just one week due to the technology not being able to cope with the numbers. Image courtesy of AJ Cann (CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative

– Woody Allen –

 

My first experience of being a MOOC student ended prematurely last Sunday, a day before we were due to have submitted our first assignment. The course could not cope with the 41K students accessing the Google spreadsheet set up to organise us into groups. Ironically, my course was the (now infamous) ‘Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application‘, run by the Georgia Institute of Technology via Coursera.org.

 

What is a MOOC?

MOOC stands for ‘Massive Open Online Course’. Originating from institutions such as MIT and Stanford, these courses are free and available via mainly private providers, Coursera being a big player. Mine was supposed to run for 6 weeks, with students expected to spend round about 7 hours per week engaging with the content and contributing to group discussions. See the JISC webinar, ‘What is a MOOC’, for more information.

 

#oldsmooc

 

A logistical problem…

There were initial problems with early students not understanding how to use the spreadsheet – easily resolved with clear instructions, which were provided fairly quickly. However, on Monday (day one) the spreadsheet couldn’t cope with the traffic and kept crashing. I was lucky – I managed to assign myself in the few seconds the form worked! Many weren’t though, with some still not ‘grouped’ until Thursday. Consequently the first assignment deadline was postponed for a week and then the course suspended. I have to say I thought the tutor, Fatimah Wirth, was great at letting people know what was going on, emailing us frequently with updates and links to new resources. This course was also a research project – resulting in some very quick findings and dissemination! See ‘MOOC Mess‘ (Inside Higher Ed); ‘How NOT to design a MOOC‘ and ‘The MOOC honeymoon is over‘ (online learning insights)

 

My experience…

I was really enjoying it and was gutted to be notified it had been suspended. My group had a range of educators from around the world, who all seemed keen, friendly and very helpful. One member was really organised, setting up sections in our Group Discussion area for the weekly assignments, although I was surprised that this hadn’t been set up previously. The Discussion Forums are managed by Coursera and, although many reported that they found them confusing, they seemed fine to me. You had to search for your group initially but from then on I found it fairly clear where you had to post, although I didn’t get that far.

The lecture videos, chunked into past, more recent learning theories and teaching approaches, provided short overviews. They and the (non- formatted) transcripts could be downloaded in a range of formats. It would have been helpful if they had titles, as I had to keep on checking which video was which. The slides were slightly cluttered – text with Fatimah mainly reading what was on the slides. Perhaps this would be better communicated using something like TimeGlider – a timeline to which you can add text and images. This would really help me to visualise who influenced who!

The week’s reading list contained some thought-provoking articles. You had to register with a site to access one of the articles, which I thought was a bit off, especially as I had an initial problem registering – I was in a non-productive loop for a while. A problem with being a Learning Technologist is that you sign up for many accounts – sometimes it’s difficult to keep track!

Personally I didn’t have any major problems with the course, but then I have some experience of being an online tutor and am an LT geek. A technophobe would have felt very differently.

 

What I learned…

  • Don’t assume students are familiar using technology
  • Don’t use a Google doc to organise huge numbers of students into groups!
  • There are more effective ways to deliver content than the slides/ talking head combination
  • Don’t use resources that require students to register an account with a third party

 

I can identify with being a ‘Trans-Classroom Teacher‘ (Lowes 2008) i.e. feeling confident delivering both online and face-to-face teaching. I was a tutor on the University’s General Teaching Assistants course while studying for my PGCE, leading classroom activities and facilitating online discussions. The GTA course was obviously much smaller, with the online discussion groups consisting of around 10 students with at least 2 tutors. Students were introduced to the environment in a face-to-face workshop, so that we knew they would feel comfortable using the technology so could focus on the tasks. The discussions, therefore, were vibrant and diverse, with students being encouraged to draw from their own experiences. It’s difficult to say how the discussions would have evolved in the MOOC – my group still seem keen, in fact one is encouraging us to join a Google+ community, ‘Instructional Design and e-Learning Professionals‘. If your group consisted of people new to teaching it would be crucial to have more dialogue with the tutors.

 

A contradiction?

One of the articles discussed the effect emotion can have on learning, and how to encourage engagement…

“Maintain contact with each student, offer encouraging, positive feedback and avoid penalizing mistakes that come from the learning curve associated with technology.” (Clemons, 05)

Being so massive, how can a MOOC do this effectively? Is it reliant on ‘peer learning’? ;o)

I would love your thoughts on this and any experiences or expectations you have of participating in a MOOC…

 

 

References

Clemons, S. A. (2005). Brain-Based Learning: Possible Implications for Online Instruction. [Online] International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning. Vol.2 No.9. Available at http://www.itdl.org/journal/sep_05/article03.htm [accessed 31 Jan. 2013]

Lowes, S. (2008) Online teaching and classroom change: The trans-classroom teacher in the age of the internet. [Online] Innovate 4 (3). Available at http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=446 [accessed 31 Jan. 2013]

 

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