Thursday, February 6, 2014

Flitting from MOOC to MOOC

Butterfly by fox_kiyo, on Flickr
CC BY-SA some rights reserved by fox_kiyo

I've just started another MOOC this week called Open content licensing for educators and offered by the OER university partnership on their WikiEducator platform. This one is genuinely open with all resources shareable and involves some major figures in the open education movement. The aim is to help educators learn more about open education, open licensing and how copyright functions in a digital environment. Although there is a schedule I think it's rather flexible so you can probably start when you like. I'm a little worried about starting a new MOOC because so far I've never completed one. I enjoy dipping in and picking up a little nectar here and there, like the butterfly in the photo above, but I don't seem to settle for long. This one is supposed to take only two weeks to complete, is nicely divided into short digestible units of 1-2 hours and therefore suits the short attention span of the average MOOCer.

My impressions so far. Firstly it's always amazing how efficient some people are. It's only day 2 of the course and I see some participants already posting their final assignments; rather daunting to the new recruit I imagine. It's mostly self study however despite the clear ambitions of the course leaders to offer arenas for discussion such as groups in Google+, Twitter and using the hashtag to aggregate relevant content from our blogs and other channels. This leads to a dilemma when approaching a MOOC. You can focus on ticking the boxes and completing the course but you may not have time to notice the fascinating little byways that appear now and again that invite further investigation. If you choose to go off the beaten track you may learn a lot but you may never return to the course path. I tend to wander off and I'm sure many others do too. That's why I don't think "drop-out" rates are so relevant in open learning. Open means you can come and go as you want.

Since I've been working with OER and Creative Commons for several years now the subject matter is pretty familiar. What's more interesting is reading the comments and interactions and trying to contribute without simply echoing others. One question was whether teaching is a profession or a vocation and this has forced us to formulate an answer to a question we probably haven't really thought much about. After some thought I decided that "Vocation is a feeling/passion, profession is a role/skillset" and that set off a bit of discussion that was unexpected and welcome. I realised that just as we talk about formal and informal learning we can also have formal and informal teaching. Many of the greatest teachers were not trained, they simply taught driven by a passion for it. Many formal teachers are highly trained and qualified but lack the passion to genuinely connect with their students. Having both the passion and the professional expertise is of course the perfect combination but passion trumps qualification every time in my opinion.

Lets' see how where the path leads next.


  1. Great post Alastair. As a fellow Scotsman (also working in a foreign country now) I would like to explore the issue of passion more. Yes it is important and is a key part of what makes any great teacher, but to look at the Scottish Football Team passion alone is no guarantee of success! You also need a degree of professionalism to reflect on your success and failures and learn from them. Perhaps that explains why Scotland's teachers do better than her footballers :-)

  2. Don't get me started on our football team Malcolm :-)

  3. More seriously, I think that the people who have posted their final assignments already are missing the point. Surely the real value of courses such as #OCL4Ed are the discussions that occur amongst participants, and these are best when people chew over the issues for a while rather rush to post, tick the box and jump immediately to the next assessment without much time for thinking. I don't think a MOOC is a race, unless you want to emphasize the need for commitment and sustained effort, in which case you could call it a marathon (though don't expect a medal at the end).

  4. Thanks for the previous post quoting Lord Putnam's latest utterance. His example of primary school teachers sharing a million lesson plans (71% of which were user generated) could be a great example of successful OER use.

  5. Another thoughtful #OCL4Ed post - Thanks Alastair.

    To be honest -- I don't think attrition in open online courses is a useful metric. A visitor who pops into an open course and posts a contribution, can potentially offer a degree of peer-learning support by virtue of open sharing of ideas. I think that's valuable for learning.

    Running open online courses in the WikiEducator community since 2007 - our data suggests that a 2 week course is about right before attrition rates of free learners increases noticeably. We're building this into the OERu delivery model through the incorporation of "micro" courses where micro refers to a sub-component of a full credit course. As mentioned above -- the learners who pop into a course out of self interest provide valuable peer learning support for those learners who are taking the course for full credit. Our micro-courses are designed to incorporate a 2-week block of interaction with the remaining learning hours focusing on the summative assessment piece.

  6. Thanks for the comments. We tend to focus too much on the "course" aspect of MOOCs expecting participants to follow the given schedule and complete the assignments on time. Those time restrictions can be imposed on a regular course where there's a contract between student and university but in a MOOC there's no agreement at all. It's my schedule on my terms, not the university's. I like the idea of more open ended MOOCs where I can still follow the course without feeling guilty about already being x days/weeks behind the rest.

  7. I think you've caught some of the problems of working with MOOCs well here Alistair. I'm finding a tension between completion and interest as well - I want to explore byways, but I find deadlines coming. I must say too that I don't find the Wiki environment the easiest to get around, and I'm not sure I would use it if I was running a MOOC. I like the idea of a PLE, but I don't find it easy to ground myself, or track down other people's contributions.

  8. I agree that the wiki platform does seem a bit clunky compared to many LMS and I can imagine that some newcomers to open education may get a bit confused at first. I like the feel of the MOOCs using Canvas but I respect OERu trying to keep their courses on truly open platforms. It's tricky to find the right balance.