#EDCMooc – the view from the other side

By Hilary Griffiths

Now the dust has settled I thought it might be useful to post some thoughts on our EDCMOOC experience. Once a week educational technologists, students and academics had the opportunity to meet for a coffee, and to reflect on their experience of participating in a MOOC – these are some of the thoughts expressed during those meetings.

Only two or three of the group had participated in a MOOC before so it’s perhaps unsurprising that the most common reason for participation cited in the first meeting was curiosity – what exactly is it like to be a student on a MOOC?

The general impression after week 1 was one of feeling overwhelmed – both by the range of tools participants were directed to use, the percieved lack of explicit direction or course structure, and the amount of “noise” in the environment. Some participants struggled initially to make sense of how they were expected to use the tools (which were things like Facebook, Google +, and Twitter as well as in MOOC discussion fora.) One participant cited the fact that they didn’t want to have to sign up to Facebook or Twitter but through the ensuing discussion it became clear that given the number of participants you didn’t need to use all of the suggested tools, but could pick a couple you were most comfortable with and still get a good experience of the course.

It was interesting that the participants cited noise as adding to their feeling of being swamped by the MOOC – the sheer amount of information being uploaded, commented on, communicated, microblogged and hyperlinked to was overwhelming, especially if you arrived in a discussion or activity area some time after it had started.  Given the participants use a range of ways to filter and organise the information they receive in their life outside the MOOC, it telling that at least initially they did not seem to apply the same strategies within the MOOC.  Generally better ways to filter and surface activities was seen as key – along with some way of allowing late arrivals to jump in to activities  without having to wade through masses of information, for example a daily digest of key discussion board conversations to allow later arrivals to contribute to the current conversation more easily.

A concern from a current undergraduate student was the perceived lack of validation of her learning. Was she learning what she should be? Was her understanding correct? In the absence of feedback from the MOOC academics the student was relying on a validation by peer consensus in a course where a lack of academic rigour characterised many of the contributions.

My perception was that those who had the most enjoyable and engaged experience of the  MOOC engaged early and managed to form small, self supporting groups which helped reduce information overload and the lack of a present academic by filtering information, alerting group members  to things they may have missed and also offering feedback on their learning. Groups offered a way to move beyond the experience of the central discussion boards,  often characterised by a lot of posts but not a great deal of dialogue,  into an area where participants could start to develop a sense of the experience and expertise of the people they were communicating with. One benefit of the MOOC use of external social media like blogs and twitter are that these conversations can continue after the course has finished.  A final suggestion was that perhaps we should lobby for some kind of advisory service for students to consult before they sign up for a MOOC – MOOCAS anyone ?