Thoughts on my first Massive Open Online Course ever: #OLDSMOOC

MOOCs are all the hype these days on the field of higher education. They ally the convenience and flexibility of asynchronous distance education to communication technologies that have become increasingly common all over the world, generation a new model of education that brings benefits (and disadvantages) to both learners and teachers/institutions.

Among the benefits for learners are the variety of choice (if they are fluent in English, since there English-speaking countries are the main pushers of this new model), the possibility of acquiring knowledge backed by renowned institutions (Stanford, MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, etc.) and scholars, and even get certificates, the flexibility for time management given by the fact that MOOCs don’t have “classes” in the traditional sense but provide sets of instructions for learner to develop their autonomous work and, finally, the ability to access the course everywhere in the world, which makes them a truly great education opportunity for countryside regions where higher education institutions are usually more distant, and financial benefits, since these courses are mostly free to attend but may require a small sum for the completion certificate. Another benefit for learners is the ability to liaise online with fellow learners from elsewhere, since social networking is at the core of MOOCs.

There are also benefits for scholars and institutions. Scholars can reach a larger audience (+100.000 registered students in some cases), gaining recognition for them and for the institution, these same institution can potentially cut costs by assigning less human resources to a specific course (the ration of teacher/students in traditional models is obviously narrower) and have an offering for life-long learning, the desired paradigm for the present and the future.

Nevertheless, there are disadvantages as well. MOOCs are typically fast-paced, require a lot of willingness and self-motivation from the student to keep going and may be extremely for those not very digitally literate. On average, dropout rates for MOOCs are very high (they are reported to be about 90%), and fundamentally an online course (not only MOOCs, but those in particular) requires a big effort translated in terms of workload, time management and autonomous work.

MOOCs revolve around the concepts of openness (of access, educational resources employed, collaborative work, etc., but recent MOOCs are experimenting with different approaches), personal learning environment (PLE) and connectivism. The later is a pedagogical model first proposed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2005 and postulates the learning process as a continuum of establishing connections to knowledge sources that inform the learner and gain from his/her contribution, in a process where the learner is really at the core of the process and decides what, how and when we wants to learn. That model postulates as well that in our digital society knowledge is no longer static but changes every day, and the capacity of the learner to discriminate and keep updated with the latest knowledge is of the essence. In connection to this, the learner build his/her on personal learning environment, the matrix of relationships he creates with knwoledge sources, be them people, groups, institutions, machines, etc. Hence come the MOOCs, a novel way of institutions delivering courses under the connectivist  banner.

The OLDS (Open Design Learning Studio) MOOC “Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum” is partially funded by JISC, a UK higher education non-governmental association, and was developed by a joint team of Professors, fellows and researchers from several British institutions. It aimed initially for a target audience of around 500-1000 learners, but the figures have been decreasing through the weeks, due to the typical MOOC dropout effect.

A lot of effort has been put on the design of the MOOC’s activities, the weekly and daily introductions are absolutely phenomenal, as well as the team’s members support. OLDS MOOC was designed as a cMOOC where the participants are active and expected to connect in groups not only on the central hub, the CloudWorks platform, but all over the world wide web.

My personal experience on OLDS MOOC was a bit mixed. Although I liked the concept, I felt lost with the pace of the activities. In my opinion they should have given more time for socializing and making groups of interest before asking for people to share their dream project, and allow for groups to present common projects. It is a bit frustrating to idealize your project and then engage in another person’s project. Even if that was the intention it was not explicitly stated, so it made people (I know I wasn’t the only one feeling this) feel uneasy and dismotivated, since those who didn’t ever had a MOOC experience were already feeling lost from the chaos of learning how to use a new tool, multiple environments to keep track of and general confusion. Adding to that, many people didn’t have the English language skills required to successfully develop a productive participation, and I bet those were the main dropout reasons.

Despite all that, I rate my participation as a positive experience. I got some valuable knowledge from the activities I engaged in. Granted, I didn’t complete hem all, but focused on the most important, landmark ones, so I was awarded the 1-week and 3-week completion badges. I wasn’t very lucky with group work, though: a group I had joined and expected to develop activities with dissolved after a while because the founder had to cease participating, and my next effort to join another group was unsuccessful due to the same reason, but in that case I decided to keep the same project going on and developed it myself. That’s why I think they should have allowed more social interaction and group-making at the beginning, even if only by starting one week earlier on the Google foruns for people to meet. Just my 2 cents.

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2 comentários a “Thoughts on my first Massive Open Online Course ever: #OLDSMOOC

  1. This is very interesting – thanks for posting your reflections. I was one of the late joiners and early quitters in oldsmooc and one of the reasons I left was the frustration with establishing a project group to work with or even finding a group or individuals who might share interests (being really busy at the time did not help of course!). Despite having to leave I am very interested in this mooc design and how it all worked out in the end.

    Just like you I also felt that some more time for establishing individual presence, getting to grips with the environment and group coalescence would have been helpful. From what you are saying, it also looks like giving it more time would have also made sure that the people who engaged with the project were the more committed, hard-core moocers and it would have lessened the chances of project groups disappearing…

    Since I stopped the oldsmooc, I have joined another mooc which was designed with projects in mind – an ivmooc (information visualisation mooc – http://ivmooc.cns.iu.edu/). Here the projects were placed at the end of the curriculum, and large component of the mooc interactions is designed to create groups with diverse expertise around a list of project ideas. What I quite liked is the encouragement to form interdisciplinary teams (i.e. mixing individuals with expertise in different components relevant to the project) – this was facilitated by the structured form used to create learner profiles which included predefined expertise categories. The whole model seems based on course designs in engineering/graphic design/computer science where students end up doing projects with clients after covering theory and gaining some skills. Perhaps it may be more successful in ensuring successful project outputs – although you never know with moocs;)

    Unfortunately, my eyes turned out bigger than my belly in this case as well so I am no longer participating in the ivmooc full time. But I will keep an eye on how it goes and perhaps will manage a blog comparing the two in due course…

    These are all very interesting experiments with design – I feel like I would like to join them all to find out for myself what works and what doesn’t. Sadly not enough time in a day:)

  2. Hello Kay! Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts ☺. I’m happy you didn’t feel discouraged to try other MOOCs because of this experience, because I think apart from what I consider is that main design flaw at the beginning it is a very nice, informative and useful MOOC, and I’m grateful to the people who put all the effort in getting it going. I’m sure they (and everyone) will learn a lesson from the events that took place. MOOCs are always a kind of a social experiment, and their outcome is not 100% foreseeable.
    I’m not discouraged as well. The mooc you mention seems like a nice one, but data visualization is not a priority of mine at the moment. I’m hoping to take one on gamification of learning, that is something I wasn’t aware of until recently and I think has a lot to offer for learning design. Here is the link: http://gamesmooc.shivtr.com/.

    Cheers ☺

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