My Students’ First Reactions to the #EDCMOOC

As I discussed in my last post, I am teaching a blended or hybrid MOOC, where I use the #EDCMOOC as material for an onground course on Writing for the Web. Because the onground course requires a discussion of values, the MOOC topics fit well, and build on issues that we have been discussing all semester in the class.

I met face-to-face with my students this morning, for the first time since the MOOC began. We spent some time discussing their experiences. Some observations:

First, some of them were a little overwhelmed by all of the material, and most didn’t venture too far out of their comfort zone. I asked them to post to two different venues (EDCMOOC Twitter, YouTube Comments on the videos, Discussion Forum, Google Hangout, etc.) Of the 18 students who posted, only 3 actually posted to two different venues — all of them to a Discussion Forum and to a YouTube video. The other 15 all posted comments to two YouTube videos (despite my instructions to branch out).

I don’t see this as some kind of rebellion, or as some kind of laziness. I see it more as taking delicate steps into a fairly large, kind of scary learning space. As we got closer to the time that the MOOC began, I talked a lot about how MOOCs are indeed “massive,” with thousands of students from all over the world. And with so much material available, they knew they couldn’t possibly take all of it in (something the facilitators acknowledged in their course Introduction). Watching a video and making a quick comment was a safe way to dip a toe into these waters.

I also think that watching videos and commenting on them was a natural move for them. They are clearly visually-oriented, and pay close attention to videos that we watch in class, so I know this is the kind of thing they are drawn to. It’s an easier way to take in information than reading a text, even if the videos are more abstract, and their messages not as clear. I think there are real implications for online learning here, something that Coursera seems to recognize, if my experience with other MOOCs is an indication: videos are more likely to keep someone’s interest than a text:

In addition to the four videos for Week 1, I also asked my students to read the Chandler essay on Technological Determinism. I anticipated at least some discussion in class — at least some questions about it, given how tough a text it is. I asked for a quick show of hands for how many people had read it. Not a single hand was raised. I did get a quiet, “I started it….” from one student. But no one finished it, and the great majority seemed to have not bothered.

Again, knowing these students, I don’t take it as laziness or rebellion. This is a very different type of learning for them, and they don’t know how to approach it, so most aren’t venturing very far. The class much more “open” than most that they have taken —  there isn’t a systematic body of data to memorize; rather, there is much to interpret, a higher-order way of engaging material.

Interestingly, the students who did venture beyond YouTube comments had very insightful things to say. Whether that was because they were naturally more intellectually adventurous, and thus could make more interesting connections, or they were able to make those connections because they ventured out, I cannot say. But they were interesting.

One posted to a Discussion Forum thread on how much material there is, and how, as a student, he did feel overwhelmed. The original poster discussed the #EDCMOOC Twitter, and how hard it was to keep up with the stream. My student noted that he was also having a tough time, despite his familiarity with Twitter (and, interestingly, he did not post anything to Twitter).

Another student commented in class about how hard it was to get a discussion going on the Forums. It seemed like people were simply posting, and not engaging with one another, something she had hoped would happen. I suggested she look into the kinds of affinity groups that Hamish mentioned in the Hangout; that she comment on blogs rather than Forums (bloggers love to get comments); or that she create her own affinity group.

Interestingly, some of the students who did engage in conversations on YouTube did so with their onground classmates, but didn’t realize they were doing it, because their screen names didn’t match their given names. There is an interesting point about anonymity and freedom to make comments that could be worth exploring over the next few weeks.

So these are initial observations. I hope to continue to find some trends as we move on. While my students’ situation is a little different from most (they are taking the MOOC as part of another class; they are being forced to participate; they are being guided to participate in specific ways), I hope that their experience might serve as a kind of example for how people participate in a MOOC.

Fascinating so far.

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2 Comments

  1. This sounds like a really fascinating project, and I’m thrilled to hear that you are doing it! Using MOOCs in other on-campus (or not) programmes has always been something we’re interested in, and a few colleagues have attempted this in various ways in the past, and in different sectors, which has been really interesting.

    One of the interesting questions I have is how ‘open’ and ‘loose’ a MOOC has to be in order to accommodate the goals of a range of formal accredited courses. We’ve purposely designed EDCMOOC to have multiple pathways and different ways of engaging, so I wonder if that makes it more conducive to being ‘appropriated’ by other, more formal programmes. If we had more rigid weekly tasks and assessments, and one path through the MOOC, I’m sure it would be less useful as a pedagogical exploration for others. However, from what you have described, it seems that that ‘looseness’ is challenging for some, despite you specifying tasks.

    Look forward to reading more about the project!

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  2. Thanks, Jeremy. It has been interesting so far. I’m actually teaching two sections of the same course, and both sections are taking the EDCMOOC. They are very different classes (funny how each class develops its own personality), and I suspect the second class will have a different reaction to the MOOC. I’ll post tomorrow after that class meets.

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