Is this a course or something else?

I have just closed down the Elluminate session. This was the most interesting for me so far as it centred around what participants think of the course so far – what do we think works and what do we think doesn’t work so well. Fascinating and very relevant to me.

I’m going to try and get my thoughts down straight away before I forget. It seems to me that the real problem is that this is called a course but that Stephen and George are trying to introduce a new view of what a course should be, based on principles of connectivism. So it is not only a course about connectivism – it is also trying to enable connectivism practice.

I suspect that the majority of us have a fairly traditional view of what a course should be – so many of us here will not only be learning about connectivism, we will be learning how to learn about connectivism in a networked environment.

I have tried to summarise my thoughts in this table:

My work experience What I am experiencing on the Connectivism course Comment
I am responsible for authoring or co-authoring online courses, or facilitating on a course that has been authored by others. The course is planned out into a given number of weeks to cover a given curriculum Stephen and George have structured the course very clearly and it is there for everyone to see on the wiki It’s clear what will be covered. As on all online courses, in my experience, there is a tendency to include an amount of content that simply can’t be covered in the time. Why do we always do this when authoring online courses? Stephen said today that each week on this course could be a degree module. The problem with a course like this, and all online courses, is that when so much content is available, discussion ranges extremely widely. This is good in the sense that participants can access discussion at a point of entry of their choice, but can also be extremely confusing to new learners. George has said (and I agree) that learning is often confusing, but I think there is a balance to be maintained. I’m not sure what that balance should be on this course, but I think it should aim to ensure that the majority of participants can learn.
I do not assume that course participants have the technical skills to engage with the course. Technical Help is always on offer Some people are struggling with the technological demands. Someone asked today about how to connect better with the blogs. The question was not answered (I don’t think) I suppose you could assume that people would have the confidence to ask and that the network would respond. I can see no evidence that this works. In my courses I include a set of FAQs which might help answer some of these questions and always try to ensure that technical questions are answered, but here I think the assumption is that you can find out if you want to. For myself, I would like to have RSS feeds to the blogs that I am interested in on my blog, but despite ‘googling’ this, I do not understand the information I have gathered (technology is not my thing!) so can’t do anything about this. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere that I can raise this in this course.
The purpose of the course is always spelled out – aims, objectives etc. Now, I might have missed this, because I was late joining – but the question was raised in the Elluminate session today, so perhaps I am not alone in not being absolutely clear. Even if we are expected to work out our own purpose, maybe this could be made clearer – so, for example, I have participated in other courses where we have been encouraged to articulate our own goals. If this course is about gathering information, then this might not be necessary, but if it is about learning, then opportunities for increasing learning shouldn’t be missed.
Pre-requisites for the course are spelled out in the marketing materials Again, I might have missed this, but I had no sense before starting that I would have to work out my own ways of connecting without any guidance. This has been a steep and valuable learning experience, but I would rather have spent the time engaging with the content In the Elluminate session today, Stephen winked at my question about whether he knew what was going on in the network and implied (I may have misunderstood) that in a network facilitators don’t necessarily know what is going on. In courses that I have experience with, the facilitator always has an overview. On this ‘course’ I only discovered today (by chance) that there is an email group. I do know that there is a Facebook group, a Ning group and an SL group (all of which I have chosen not to participate in), Moodle forums (which I read), Blogs (which I selectively subscribe to), Twitter (which I have chosen not to follow), page flakes (which I look at from time to time), The Daily (very helpful), Elluminate and Ustream sessions (which I have always attended) – but is there anything else that I don’t know about and will only find our about by chance. What would be so wrong in having a list of ways of connecting which we could subscribe to if we wished to? Is there a reason for not providing this sort of support to network participants?
We spend some time socialising and getting to know each other There was an introductions forum – but for me it still shows over 1000 posts not opened. It did not help me connect. Perhaps more time needs to be spent in encouraging initial connections. The beginning of the course was frantic and chaotic. It is always a bit like this, but with 2000+ participants, perhaps more thought could be given to this. I would simply allow more time, simply for this and let the chat run for a while, before getting to the content.
I view my role as a facilitator. I know I do not have control over learners. No-one ever can. As far as I am concerned participants can engage as much or as little as they wish, in whatever ways suits their learning. But I do feel responsible for them  – after all, I initiated the course (the largest for me being with over 500 participants) – and I do encourage them to feel responsibility for each other From the beginning I knew that George and Stephen were responsible for this course, but at no time have I felt that they have been interested in me. Of course they can’t be with 2000+ on the course, so this is not a criticism, more an observation. However, I have also observed that they are interested in the participants who are doing the assessments and are also interested in some named individuals. If this is a course and not simply an experience of networked learning, then my feeling is that every learner deserves to be recognised. With only 2 facilitators this is not possible. The course needs more facilitators. If it is not a course, but simply a network, then 2 facilitators is ample for 20 people on the course. The rest of us are not on a course – just having an experience – but this (if this is how Stephen and George view it) has not been made explicit – at least not as far as I can see. We have all been invited to attend a course.
As a facilitator and having a responsibility to participants, I have various roles – the principal one being to enable learners to learn. The Daily is a fantastic help in keeping tabs on where we are up to. Both George and Stephen’s posts are wonderfully helpful in focussing attention. But I find the Moodle forums very difficult – very strange since I have authored and facilitated many Moodle courses. I don’t feel comfortable in these Moodle forums at all. It was suggested in the Elluminate session today that posts in the Moodle forums should be restricted to a certain length. Personally, I don’t agree with taking responsibility away from participants. But I do think summaries could be a help, although I don’t think facilitators need to do this. In my own courses, after modelling how to summarise in the first week, I ask participants to take over. I am now thinking of having wikis associated with each forum where key points could be posted by anyone as we move through the discussion – these key points would serve as a summary and would be the responsibility of all. I think there might need to be some rules to ensure that the wiki did stay as a summary and didn’t become yet another long document to read. I will have to try this out to see whether it would work. Unfortunately, my experience is that the minority in any community will take on this sort of responsibility – but I can try! 

Francis mentioned enabling the ‘international voice’ and associated ‘global perspective’. Absolutely – I couldn’t agree more. Inclusivity is a facilitator responsibility in the sense that the facilitator needs to raise this with course participants – but again, this might be different in a course as opposed to a network.


And finally, the facilitator has to determine whether some participants’ learning is being inhibited by others. In the courses I run, we overcome this by breaking out into smaller groups at some point in the course. I don’t think this is going to happen on this course – and the idea of it would probably be against the principles of a network. Here it has been assumed that people can find their own small group – but I’m not sure that this is the case. Despite my better instincts, I have been affected by the negativity in some of the forum posts  – and by some of the chat comments in the live sessions about these posts. It all feels a bit unsavoury and unhealthy to me – but I know this is a personal value judgement.

A course has an ending and as a facilitator, I would try to ensure that participants end it knowing what they have learned and what they still need to learn. The course has a given number of weeks, but beyond that – will the network ( I don’t regard it as a community) continue? Does it need to? I think there is a tension between what is widely regarded as a course and the work of a network. My understanding is that Stephen and George are trying to open our eyes to possibilities for new ways of learning. The problem is that they are using an old method i.e. course
Overall comment: I think Stephen and George could choose another way to describe this experience rather than use the word ‘course’. The word ‘course’ has many traditional connotations that do not seem to fit what they are trying to do here. They could then make it explicit what they are trying to do in terms of introducing a new learning experience. For example, they could have a list of things that you should NOT expect from this learning experience (e.g. tutor support) and a list of things that you SHOULD expect – e.g. to make your own choices about how you will connect to people to find the information you need, to determine your own curriculum, to determine your own assessment criteria, to determine your own assessment methods, to determine your own success criteria, to set your own priorities, to order you own learning environment etc. – whatever it is that they see as the key learning elements. Isn’t this what Ausubel calls ‘advance organisers’?

10 thoughts on “Is this a course or something else?

  1. mmvcentro October 3, 2008 / 1:05 am

    Hi Jenny!

    I am sorry I did not find you before, I have similar views.
    This is entirely a personal value judgement.

    On the live session I said that they should have posted a warning in the description of the “course”. I have read the description many times trying to find out what I missed, what I left out, what led me to believe that it was going to be a course to the extent that I payed for it. Nope. I printed the wiki pages and showed them to others asking them: Do you think this is a course? All of them, with no exception, believed it was a very interesting and structured course, as I did.

    Nevertheless, I am meeting new people, I have expanded my network, I have found a way to connect. I still don’t have the concepts clear but that is irrelevant, I am navigating through the network and that is learning. I go to the SL meetings, I attend every live session, I tweet, I read papers, blogs and post in mine, I participate in some Moodle threads, I am in the FB group, I started the YH group, I look at Pageflakes and of course read the Daily which is the only rope I see. When I joined the course I wanted to learn about Connectivism, it seems that I am living it, that’s what this experiment is about. Maybe in eight weeks I will appreciate what I am learning and all this effort will acquire value.

    I see that if you don’t’ tweet or participate as much as I do, it does not make a difference at this point. Your post expresses very well where “I” am standing regardless the connections I am apparently making. It doesn’t matter either how much I read, I do not get the point, knowledge is not growing in me yet. Maybe my context is not mature, maybe knowledge is being stored in my body or my network and it will bloom later. I hope.

    Love: Maru

  2. jennymackness October 3, 2008 / 9:59 am

    Hi Maru

    Thanks for your comment. I agree that we seem to be living this connectivism experiment – you have expressed this so well.

    I don’t know how you have time to participate in all those groups and activities. I’m struggling to keep up with the limited number of connections I have – and like you, I haven’t fully understood the concepts yet.

    Thanks again Maru for making contact.


  3. Keith Lyons October 4, 2008 / 8:13 am


    I missed the second Elluminate session this week. Your post is an excellent aide memoir for a non participant.

    I was interested to read that you posted your ideas to your blog shortly after the session. Donal Schon differentiated between reflection in action and reflection on action. Your post combines both reflections admirably.

    I have posted a comment on Stephen’s post about Dave Cormier’s post and on Dave’s post too.


  4. Jorge Crom October 6, 2008 / 1:48 am


    For me it is a course and a metacourse. This mean that at we practice the course we observe ourselves in doing it as a connectivism learning practice.

    Like your ideas.


  5. jennymackness October 6, 2008 / 8:55 am

    Hi Jorge – Thanks for your comment.

    I agree – a metacourse in which we observe ourselves doing it as a connectivism learning practice describes it really well. It’s a new type of course, which requires new learning behaviours and understanding new norms.

    What I have been wondering is who helps the new learner to do this, since in Stephen’s words this course is not instructor led. I’m trying to clarify in my own mind what the role of the teacher is in this model of teaching and learning and what implications this has for learners.


  6. Pingback: Jenny Connected?
  7. Frances Bell October 14, 2008 / 2:07 pm

    Interesting post Jenny. Thanks for mentioning my comments on the international perspective.
    One way to encourage broad participation is to make difference in culture the focus of threads and posts – e.g. explicitly share our experiences, interpretations from different cultural perspectives. However that requires trust – a commodity that may be in short supply on the forums – and perhaps a different communication ethic from that which is, paradoxically, shared by many opponents. My own view, that I have expressed on the forums, is that with freedon of speech comes responsibility. My suspicion is that the ‘anything goes’ ‘truth will out’ attitude is a barrier to those who favour dialogue rather than bitter conflict.
    Here is a link to a post that may help you with RSS

  8. jennymackness October 14, 2008 / 3:39 pm

    Thank you Frances – yes I agree that it helps to make cultural perspectives explicit – particularly when online. I should imagine that some cultures are finding some of the Moodle forum discussions difficult to relate to if not disturbing.

    I completely agree that freedom of speech brings with it responsibility and I think it’s worth remembering that a few ill-chosen words can do a lot more damage than ‘sticks and stones’.

    It’s interesting that you raise the importance of ‘trust’ as this is currently being discussed in a community I am working with, where we are thinking about the key principles we need to consider when launching a community. Trust comes very high on the list.

    Many thanks for the link. It’s very helpful.

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