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Some thoughts on my MOOC experience

Posted by Melissa on August 27, 2012

As I mentioned earlier, I participated in a mini-MOOC about MOOCs a couple of weeks ago. I left for vacation before the week ended and never had a chance to reflect on my experience. I’ll admit I had (wrongly) thought most MOOCs were xMOOCs, doing nothing more than providing a way to replicate the sage-on-the-stage model of education and transmit it to vast audiences. Participating in the mini-MOOC opened my eyes to the possibilities of connectivist MOOCs (or cMOOCs). (If you want some background on these different types of MOOCs, check out the essay created by one of the groups within the MOOC MOOC providing an overview of the MOOC landscape.)

Even with the potential of cMOOCs, my week of participation in the mini-MOOC left me wondering if I would ever feel completely comfortable in any “massive” educational endeavor.  Collaborating with 50+ other people I didn’t know to write an essay about MOOCs in Google Docs wasn’t exhilarating; it was anxiety producing. I’m a slow, reflective writer. I have to spend a lot of time thinking, testing a fragment of an idea, and then revising both the idea and the words that capture the idea.  In Google Docs, watching words and concepts, even entire paragraphs, change, appear, and disappear as I tried to add my own thoughts frustrated me. I felt wholly inadequate.  I also wondered how dissenting opinions would ever be heard when a group of 50+ people were writing and revising each other’s words to create a common document.

If collaborating on Google docs was unsettling, “discussions” via Twitter were even more so. Trying to engage meaningfully in 140 character snippets with people who are completely unknown was wholly unsatisfying. The constant barrage of tweets felt helter-skelter; it was too much, too fast, and without real connection or direction.  The steady give and take, the seeing in someone’s eyes when they are lost, or emphatic, or playful, the sense of shared enrichment that arises from face-to-face conversations, those things were entirely missing from the on-line conversations. As one of my fellow MOOC participants noted, MOOCs favor those who are on-line extroverts, and unlike a real classroom, there’s no teacher to encourage the introverts to participate, to find creative ways to allow everyone to speak up, to actively work to make the classroom an inclusive space.

I may be the exception to the rule, but from the time I was in 7th grade, I knew I wanted to attend a small liberal arts college. The summer before 7th grade I attended a summer camp at a Big 10 university, and I walked away from the experience saying, “I never want to go here for college.”  The University made me feel alone among thousands of students; my experience with the MOOC MOOC made me feel the same way. I felt overwhelmed and isolated, and I was without a coach (read teacher) to help me make the most of the experience. Did I learn something from the MOOC MOOC? You bet. Do I see potential for MOOCs in some arenas of higher education? Definitely.  I can even imagine finding ways to interface some MOOCs with a traditional residential college experience. But MOOCs are not for everyone, particularly those who are on-line introverts and those who lack self-confidence or direction. I’m not yet convinced that Twitter conversations with thousands or Google Docs collaboration with hundreds can create the same connectedness and community that make small liberal arts colleges such a wonderful place to teach and learn.

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8 Responses to “Some thoughts on my MOOC experience”

  1. atscatsc said

    Sorry to hear you had this experience of MOOCMOOC. But do note it was aCMOOC experience. Perhaps try a course style xMOOC? My experience was quite different in MOOCMOOC. However I am a twitter user and highly educated in eLearning and similar. BTW I would say they are for introverts – at least face to face class introverts…

    • Melissa said

      I certainly agree that some students who are introverted in a face-to-face classroom may find it much easier to connect via on-line classes. However, the disadvantage of the MOOCs is that there isn’t anyone facilitating the classroom who can encourage and find ways to ease the involvement of the introverts.

      I think one of the challenges with the MOOC MOOC was the varying backgrounds of people. It seemed as if a number of participants (like yourself) already had extensive e-learning and MOOC experience. That I lacked that background added to my feeling of being out of place. I realize this might not be possible in these “massive” courses, but I think creating small subgroups of perhaps six or eight individuals, half of whom had previous MOOC experience and half who did not, and beginning the MOOC by having these small groups work together might have helped ease the transition.

      • atscatsc said

        Good idea… Same happens in face to face and distance classes though. Peer support is the issue here and not really the mode. – How do you get disparate individuals to come together and work constructively while supporting each other. Look at http://peeragogy.org for details and some support materials… The main issue I have with moocs is they require independent learners and also require peer support from the group (which in turns means group members must realise this need). If either or both sets of skills are lacking in the individual or group, dropouts and other rick factors will occur…

  2. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist said

    Thanks for these great comments. I can’t imagine writing an essay with even one other person! I’ve used collaborative gdocs sessions to make planning documents, and that went fine because there wasn’t as many connections among the paragraphs. I also appreciate your comment about online extroverts, even though I’m learning that those aren’t the same people as in-person extroverts.

    Do you think cMOOCs could be really just several sections of the same course? Do you end up interacting with everyone or just a smaller group?

    • Melissa said

      Andy, one interesting way I can imagine using cMOOCs would be to have students from different face-to-face classes at different institutions come together and interact via the cMOOC. For example, the cMOOC might focus a big issue — a global public health issue or a sustainability issue — and students from various classes (econ, bio, engineering, physics, political science, etc) could all interact in the cMOOC and share the perspectives that they had been exploring in their face-to-face classes to connect the learning across different disciplines and different locations. In this way, students have guidance, depth, and coaching in a particular topic, but they also get the benefit of expanding their knowledge and making connections beyond the local classroom.

      • atscatsc said

        I’m not sure I can see that working in practice. Too many factors would intervene to curtail this. Trying to get 1 face to face lecturer interested, let alone trying to coordinate 2 different groups with potentially different timetables, learning goals etc would be problematic. However cMOOCs will work for such courses. In fact a sustainability course is running right now… Suggesting to your students to join such a MOOC however is another story. And it is something I will be promoting internally to our (distance ed) program facilitators. Not sure though how confronting they will find sending students off to learn from someone else!

  3. Joss Ives said

    Hi Melissa. I get a sense that a lot of University administrators are flipping out about the “MOOCs are going to run us out of business” threat, but I think your comments about how they are different from the small liberal arts colleges highlight where our schools can deliver something which compliments the MOOCs instead of fighting against them.

    I also really like the idea that you were thinking about college in Grade 7. I don’t think I even started thinking about high school until I was in Grade 8 and high school started in Grade 9 locally.

  4. laura said

    Hi Melissa,

    One thing that I think it missing in MOOCs is the academic relationships. MOOCs can scale the content, but while you’re in “class” there’s no way to raise your hand (and your teacher can’t tell if you’re getting the materials simply by scanning the room), you can’t walk over to office hours, and you can’t turn to the person next to you and whisper that you don’t understand. While we focus on scaling content, we also need to focus on scaling these meaningful educational relationships.

    The company I work for, InstaEDU, is trying to do this for tutoring. Where we see the most potential for MOOCs is when they figure out how to scale the relationships needed to make online education really stick. It could be through a collaboration with a service like ours; it could be through the use of something like Google Hangouts… there are a lot of options. It will be super interesting to see where MOOCs end up once this initial buzz has worn off.

    -Laura

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