#PLENK2010 Scaffolding Open Courses

I have just attended the Friday Elluminate session of the Plenk2010 course (will post recording as soon as it is available).

I have been out of touch for more than a week trying to meet research and work deadlines and so it was great to be able to attend this session and also that the session focussed on a topic which is of great interest to me. The question that I honed in on was around the role of educators in ‘massive/large’ open courses. I have missed more than one week’s content of the course, so I am unsure of the context in which this question arose, but since I have participated in at least one other large open course – notably CCK08 – I do have some thoughts about this.

It hit me today that in a MOOC, the massiveness is not a given in that for an open course the facilitators/moderators/tutors (whatever you wish to call them) can have no idea of how many people the course will attract. CCK08 was massive – more than 2000 people signed up. The critical Literacies course was less ‘massive’ in terms of numbers and definitely fairly small by the end. PLENK2010 is massive – more than 1000 participants – many of whom are very active.

But the ‘openness’ is a given. We can attend for ‘free’ – but – we are expected to work autonomously and openly ‘share’ our resources and thinking in a very diverse group. The expectation is that thinking and learning processes will be transparent – but despite these expectations, we can still choose not to – making the whole experience very flexible. This flexibility can be experienced as a double-edged sword.

We found in our research following CCK08 that the more massive the open course the more difficult it becomes to function effectively as autonomous independent learners and the more difficult it is to adhere to the expectation of openness – Also, the more likely it is that participants will congregate in small groups and therefore be liable to ‘group think’ – another problem that was mentioned today – although my personal experience has been that small group work does not necessarily lead to group think, but can instead lead to significant learning as has been my experience with Matthias, John Mak, Roy and other f2f colleagues.

But if we stick with learning in a ‘massive’ network – as a number of people have already noted in PLENK2010 it is easy to feel lost, to find the open course lacking in terms of ‘tutor’ support and scaffolding, to experience the ‘dark side of networking’ as was mentioned in the chat room today.

It seems to me that it’s not possible to have it all ways. Evidently Alec Couros has managed to provide scaffolding in his open course (which I admit I know nothing about so this is second hand information) by ‘recruiting’ mentors to support his online learners. I would have to see this for myself to be able to judge it in action.

My feeling – during the session this evening (UK time:-)) – was that it’s a question of knowing what you have signed up for and what you can expect – and given that these open courses are free, then, as learners, we have a responsibility to check on what we have signed up for and what we can expect.

My expectations would be:

– for a small open course, there would be recognisable structure and ‘tutor’ input (small I would regard as anything under 30 – or possibly 50)
– for a medium sized open course, I would expect less tutor interaction and more peer-to-peer support (not sure about the numbers here, but anything between 50 and 200)
-for a large open course – I would be thinking in terms of ‘networked learning’ rather than course and not expect any personal interaction with the ‘tutor’ at all and to have to rely totally on my peers for support.

The numbers I have put in here are arbitrary – and just to give and idea of what I mean.

However, if I was paying for the course I would expect significant tutor interaction and support, but not to ‘have my hand held’ by the tutor. I would hope that even on a paying course a tutor would be encouraging independent autonomous learning.

I think it’s rather a shame that convenors of a ‘MOOC’ have to justify their approach when they are giving freely of their time and effort. That’s not to say that we and they don’t have a lot to learn about the management of open courses – but it is something we can do together rather than being an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation.

4 thoughts on “#PLENK2010 Scaffolding Open Courses

  1. courosa October 2, 2010 / 6:20 am

    Hey Jenny,
    In case you wanted to know a bit more about my course and how I’ve set up the network project, take a look at my recent blog post. http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/1877

    If you have any questions, ask away.

    Best of luck with your MOOC experience.


  2. suifaijohnmak October 24, 2010 / 11:16 pm

    Hi Jenny,
    I like your post on scaffolding open courses and I waited until now to comment.
    Your expectations have surely responded to some of the questions that I posted here http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2010/09/27/plenk2010-research-into-the-design-and-delivery-of-mooc-i/
    What would you like to include and expect in the design and delivery of MOOC?
    As you said:” was that it’s a question of knowing what you have signed up for and what you can expect – and given that these open courses are free, then, as learners, we have a responsibility to check on what we have signed up for and what we can expect.” With that in mind, this would not only allow others including course conveners, but all peer learners to know what one wants, and what those expectations are.
    Would you mind me including your response in the research? I might need to post the formal questions to the research at a later stage, but I think this might be an equally effective way of getting feedback.
    Like to hear from you on this.

  3. Jenny Mackness October 25, 2010 / 5:21 pm

    Hi John – very happy for you to quote me in your research. To respond to your question ‘What would you like to include and expect in the design and delivery of MOOC?’ – I would hope that the design and delivery would meet the needs of the learners – but this raises the question of whether the learners know what their needs are. Tutors/course convenors therefore need to find this out. We used to call this pre-assessment (get to know your learners). In a MOOC, this is obviously problematic, but I don’t think the principle is impossible.

    As far as knowing what the expectations are – in principle this is fine and my view is that if tutors/course convenors are not clear about this then there’s no hope for the learners. The problem online – even in a small course – is that you cannot guarantee that learners will read/listen to/watch the video where you outline what the expectations are – which is different to having them sitting in a lecture theatre in front of you. In that case they might not listen, but cannot deny that the expectations were made explicit. Online – learners might follow a path that simply does not take them to where the expectations are made explicit – so it’s much more tricky. But as someone said somewhere in PLENK – the experience of MOOCs is becoming more familiar for some learners now – and the expectations are becoming implicitly understood by some, rather than having to be made explicit. The problem is that there will always be people who are new to MOOCs – as in any learning situation.

    Good luck with your research John


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