Well folks, what an amazing five weeks it has been on the E-learning and Digital Cultures Coursera course with the University of Edinburgh and I have enjoyed very single second of it – what a brilliant and fantastic experience to be part of this endeavour. As promised, I am going to be using this blog post to critically reflect on the overall online experience, drawing in some of the issues raised by both the students and course tutors. This is the first of 2 blog posts.
Assumption Recognition and Analysis
Before I do, I think it would be useful to lay bare on what Prof Stephen Brookfield calls “checking your assumptions“. This is one of the processes that Prof Brookfield talks about when engaging in critical thinking, in doing so we can try and avoid, or at least recognise, personal biases and prejudices in order to be objective.
I think it would be useful to “check my assumptions“. First off, I am a graduate of the MSc in e-Learning (now Digital Education) from the University of Edinburgh, so I am familiar with the teaching methods of some of the tutors on the #edcmooc . I was also aware that they were planning to “research the new and sometimes uncomfortable territory that the MOOC foregrounds” (Knox et al, 2012), so in many ways the #edcmooc was going to be experimental and exploratory. I like to think that I am pretty social media savvy, so using a range of digital spaces that sat inside or around the #edcmooc wasn’t going to faze me too much. I also have a hearing impairment which means that I tend to be a solitary learner who leans towards more co-operative, rather than collaborative, ways of learning. I am hugely passionate about lifelong and life-wide learning, and more importantly, this is my first MOOC experience.
So if any bias or prejudice creeps into my critique, then you will know where it is coming from.
Student-generated Spaces, “Infowhelm” and Critical Filtering
I enrolled myself on the #edcmooc course on the 14 November 2012. The first thing that you soon discover is that a number of other students on the course have created a bewildering wide range of other digital spaces (see my previous blog post) around the “parent” space which contain a staggering amount of pre-course activities – which is nothing short of “digital activism” on the part of the learner(s). At the time of writing this post, there are currently 4,808 people enrolled on the EDCMOOC Facebook group; 2,045 people enrolled on the EDCMOOC Google+ community; and 202 people subscribed on the EDCMOOC Twitter list with around 700 tweets begin sent out with the #edcmooc hashtag a day (Bayne, 2013b); not to mention the various YouTube, Flickr and Diigo EDCMOOC spaces. What we were witnessing was the creation of Personal Learning Environments (PLE) and Peer Learning Networks (PLN) on a large and rapid scale as the participants formed personal spaces to support their individualised and collaborative learning experiences (see Lepi, 2012 for a fantastic infographic on the different types of learning theories). Henry J Burnett (2013) makes the following observation on this phenomenon:
E-learning and Digital Culture from the University of Edinburgh was designed specifically for me… An Audience of One…
A number of the #edcmooc students observed that the surrounding social media activities that were taking placed mirrored the spirit of the cMOOC model (i.e. connectivist paradigm), even though the course itself was sitting on a xMOOC platform (i.e. instructivist paradigm). For me, it is Andy Mitchell, one of the #edcmooc participants, who sums it up nicely with the following tweet:
I think a good MOOC is more than the sum of its parts. For this one, it’s the community that formed around it which is its Xfactor
Needless to say, a lot of people were beginning to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information, content, resources, discussion and activities that were going on in these student-generated spaces. This led to some students describing the whole experience as being in a constant and perpetual state of “infowhelm“. In the EDCMOOC discussion forum thread called “Strategies for dealing with the ‘massive’“, I commented on how I was dealing with all this content:
The way I am an tackling this MOOC is similar to the way I tackled the wholly online MSc – I’ve adopted what I can only describe as a “critical filter”…
I guess the point I am trying to make is that you cannot do it all – there are bits that are essential and you need to do (the videos and/or readings); there are bits that are desirable and you might like to do (writing a blog post and/or contribute to a discussion); and there are bits that “add value” to your experience, but you don’t have to do (taking part in a Twitter stream, Facebook group or Google+ community). All this boils down to time availability, your learning preferences, and what you hope to gain from this experience.
The key thing here is cultivating a “critical filter” in dealing with this deluge of information. There have been a number of useful insights and strategies in experiencing MOOCs in ways that are both “meaningful and manageable” (Bayne, 2013a; Chan, 2013; Hopkins, 2012; Online College, 2012).
Managing Time and Expectations
This brings me to the suggested workload time which was (originally) 3-5 hours/week (this has since been amended to a more realistic 5-7 hours/week). This was something that concerned a lot of students, myself included, and prompted David Hopkins, another of the #edcmooc participants, to tweet the question: “How much time do you think ur spending on #edcmooc?“, those students who responded to David’s tweet indicated that they had spent more than 5 hours.In the “Strategies for dealing with the ‘massive’” forum thread, I attempted to “break down” the time that I spent per week:
I have set aside an evening (about 1-2 hrs) to view the videos and make some preliminary notes or capture some immediate thoughts. I set aside another evening (1-2 hrs) to read some (but not all) of the articles and make some notes or collect some quotes. Another evening is set aside (2-3 hrs) to blog my thoughts or ideas about what I have read or viewed.
Throughout the week I dip into the #edcmooc Twitter feed responding to any tweets that catch my eye, as well as the Google+ Community (again I will respond to any messages that catch my eye or read any suggested material / resources offered by the rest of the group).
This workload issue did not go unnoticed by the course tutors who suggested that it was “something to consider with regards to our thoughts on content“. However, they were also keen to stress that they were also “cautious” that it did not mean to imply “that all content needs to be read in order to understand what [was] happening in [the] MOOC” (EDCMOOC Team, 2013). Fair point, but in the course information page it explicitly states that “no background knowledge or skills are required“, I would humbly suggest that there are some “skills” involved, namely time management, note-taking, speed-reading and not to mention a range of “technical” skills that would have been needed (or acquired) to be able to complete the final digital artefact (though it could be reasonably be argued that participants could have written a report or essay in Microsoft Word and uploaded somewhere for the rest of us to get to it). Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the 9-12 hours per week on this course, I am also fortunate that I had the means and time to indulge myself in this course. But not everyone was as fortunate as I to have that luxury.
I will be continuing my reflection in Part 2.
Bayne, S. (2013a). “Chill, it’s a MOOC”. Teaching ‘E-learning and Digital Cultures’ blog, 31.1.2013. Available at: http://edcmoocteam.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/chill-its-a-mooc/ [Accessed 25.2.2013].
Bayne, S. (2013b). “University space: MOOCS, distance education and the sentimental campus”. Disrupting Higher Education Symposium, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, 19.2.2013. Available at: http://prezi.com/fsfqdiusthcc/sentimental-campus-dublin-february-19/?auth_key=eb36ed77d88e4c2a191d5a7df9d0eba58f701a8c [Accessed 25.2.2013].
Burnett, H.J. (2013). “Pedagogy for an Audience of One…”. Henry J Burnett Blog, 24.2.2013. Available at: http://henryjburnett.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/pedagogy-for-an-audience-of-one/ [Accessed 26.2.2013].
Chan, B. (2013). “There are 40,000 people in my class… My strategy to avoid becoming overwhelmed #edcmooc”. MOOC Nook, 28.1.2013. Available at: https://moocnook.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/there-are-40000-people-in-my-class-my-strategy-to-avoid-becoming-overwhelmed/ [Accessed 25.2.2013].
EDCMOOC Team. (2013). “Staying the course… but doing #edcmooc differently”. Teaching ‘E-learning and Digital Cultures’ Blog, 18.2.2013. Available at: http://edcmoocteam.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/staying-the-course-but-doing-edcmooc-differently/ [Accessed 26.2.2013].
Hopkins, D. (2012). “Why I failed a MOOC”. Technology Enhanced Learning Blog, 21.08.2012. Available at: http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/mooc/why-i-failed-a-mooc/ [Accessed 16.01.2013].
Knox, J., Bayne, S., MacLeod, H., Ross, J. & Sinclair, C. (2012). “MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera”. ALT Online Newsletter, 28, 08.08.2012. Available at: http://newsletter.alt.ac.uk/2012/08/mooc-pedagogy-the-challenges-of-developing-for-coursera/[Accessed 16.01.2013].
Lepi, K. (2012). “A Simple Guide To 4 Complex Learning Theories”. edudemic, 14.12.2012. Available at: http://edudemic.com/2012/12/a-simple-guide-to-4-complex-learning-theories/ [Accessed 26.2.2013].
Online College. (2012). “25 Tips to Make the Most of a MOOC”. OnlineCollege.org, 21.8.2012. Available at: http://www.onlinecollege.org/2012/08/21/25-tips-make-most-mooc/ [Accessed 25.2.2013].