First Steps to Planning a MOOC

We started planning for this MOOC last week – I blogged about it here –

There has already been a lot written about planning and running a MOOC. Stephen Downes has written a lot of blog posts about this and done many presentations.  (See for example, ; and )

There is also the MOOC Guide Wiki  – initiated by Inge de Waard

….. but there’s nothing quite like having to do it yourself for learning! George Marion  and I had our second Skype planning meeting yesterday to discuss the MOOC that we are planning for May/June this year.

The full Title of this MOOC, which is being offered by Oxford Brookes University,  is:

First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

This will be a MOOC for:

  • New lecturers in HE/FE
  • PhD students who are teaching in HE,
  • teachers in schools who want to move into HE/FE,
  • people in industry etc. who want to move into HE/FE,
  • Educational Developers who want to know more about Oxford Brookes University’s approach/resources
  • and … because it’s a MOOC, anyone who is interested enough to join us

Keywords associated with the MOOC are:

open education development resources oer mooc higher learning teaching pcthe further academy pgcert hea 

(We felt that these words in various combinations would probably fulfil most search term requirements)

Key issues at the moment, which we hope to finalise by early next week are:

  • a hashtag for the MOOC
  • registration – how will this be organized, especially for participants wishing to take the assessments
  • a web conferencing system. We hope to be able to use Blackboard Collaborate
  • a course home site. We think we will use Brookes’ WordPress site
  • a discussion forum area. We think we will use Brookes’ Moodle site
  • an aggregator. We are looking into Google Reader for aggregating blogs and for a daily online newsletter
  • Video. We will probably use the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD) YouTube channel
  • Collation of Resources. We are thinking of using Cloudworks
  • Assessment.  Those who sign up for and complete assessment will receive an OCSLD certificate.

Organising a MOOC really brings home the difficulty of planning for an unspecified number of people, especially in terms of the choice of technologies. For example, we need a robust web conferencing system, which works just as well for large numbers as for small numbers.

It has occurred to me to wonder whether just this one element of running a MOOC means that many groups who could really benefit from MOOC-like activities, such as charities, would not be able to afford to run synchronous sessions.

This begs a second question – what would be the effect of not offering synchronous sessions in a MOOC? Are MOOCs reliant on synchronous sessions? Do synchronous sessions dominate to the detriment of other modes of learning in a MOOC?

So we are nearly there in terms of decisions about the technologies to use. Next week we will finalise these and move on to focusing on the content of the MOOC

20 thoughts on “First Steps to Planning a MOOC

  1. Mark McGuire February 17, 2012 / 8:05 pm

    Hi Jenny

    For me, synchronous sessions seem to enhance the sense of engagement and “aliveness” with other participants, even if it is just a text-based environment (I joined one of the ConnectedPD sessions held using Twitter and it worked surprisingly well). I also wonder is live sessions are not different in kind from asynchronous sessions – not just in terms if the time, but in terms of the conversational space we inhabit.

    As I write this, I am sitting alone in a room, aware of the room, the coffee beside be, the sound of light rain falling outside. When I am listening to a live conversation (however it is mediated) I am in the space where ideas are swirling around, and my mind is running with the participants, following their creative process as ideas emerge, morph, and are taken up, or put down, by others. I feel this sense of engagement even when listening to a good conversation on the radio, when it is not possible to contribute and be heard (isn’t it interesting, though, to discover how good interviews prompt many, many emails to the interviewer?).

    As John Perry Barlow once said, “cyberspace is where you are when you’re on the telephone”. We are all familiar with the habit people have of looking at the floor, or staring into space when talking on a phone. That’s a sign that a person’s attention has shifted from the “here and now” to the “there and now”. A conversation creates space. Shared conversations create shared space. Public conversations create public space. A recorded conversation is a memory of a space in which people once lived, but live no more – like the ruins of Pompeii.

    When we take part in a conversation, we leave where we are and we enter a thinking space stripped of all extraneous distractions (including the awareness of the immediate environment and our own body). We enter a collaborative thinking space where only ideas, as conveyed through a shared symbolic language, matter. The wire connecting participants can be very thin, and still work just fine. Our own brain works best when the number of nodes connected, and speed of the connections between them, is optimized. Bandwidth is not a big issue (although blockages can me). An archived event lets us witness how ideas have been created by others. A live event allows us to be engaged in the act of creation. We become part of a conversation that we can change, and, because we have an active part in this live, dynamic process, we, too, are subject to change. We are in the land of the living!


  2. Jeffrey Keefer February 18, 2012 / 8:25 pm

    Jenny, this is so valuable that you are recording these questions and decisions along the way; it will become a rather rich resource for other people considering the same thing.

    BTW, I love the synchronous sessions in a MOOC, as that helps me to directly feel engaged. The trouble, as I see it, is that I have been conditioned to expect it, and thus struggle to become / remain engaged if I cannot make the synchronous session. I even struggle watching their recordings, as people seem to have such a good time together that I feel like an outsider watching the recording, knowing that I cannot l participate in the learning in the same active way I am watching.


  3. jennymackness February 19, 2012 / 7:42 am

    Hello Mark – thank you for a really interesting post.

    >An archived event lets us witness how ideas have been created by others. A live event allows us to be engaged in the act of creation. We become part of a conversation that we can change, and, because we have an active part in this live, dynamic process, we, too, are subject to change. We are in the land of the living!

    This struck home, because whenever I phone my 86 year old mother to ask how she is, her reply is always ‘I’m still in the land of the living’ 🙂

    Your comments about the spaces in which conversations are held and their relation to the act of creation is very timely for me – as Roy Williams – and I are just completing a paper we are working on in which we are exploring the characteristics of emergent learning. Quite a lot of our recent discussion has been around how conversations take place online – so I will be reflecting further on what you have said. I agree that synchronous sessions seem to enhance a sense of engagement.

    Thanks for your ‘visit’.

  4. jennymackness February 19, 2012 / 7:45 am

    Hi Jeffrey

    >I love the synchronous sessions in a MOOC, as that helps me to directly feel engaged. The trouble, as I see it, is that I have been conditioned to expect it, and thus struggle to become / remain engaged if I cannot make the synchronous session.

    In this comment you have exactly expressed some of our concerns with synchronous sessions. We are hoping that the MOOC will engage people in the activities we are planning as well as in the synchronous sessions. it’s a delicate balance – and I suspect – not that easy to achieve. We will be working on it though 🙂

    Thanks for your interest in the MOOC. Jenny

  5. brainysmurf1234 February 20, 2012 / 2:45 pm

    Thanks for these thoughtful questions and replies, everyone. For me, an ideal synchronous session is technically stable (e.g., Collaborate or WebEx), has a backchannel conversation and a dynamic presentation that evokes partiicipation (not reading bullet points).

    For the most part, the synch sessions in PLENK2010, CCK11 and #change11 have offered me the opportunity to participate in that type of experience. I find them immersive and downright fun. I feel like I ‘know’, or come to know better, some of the participants whom I either see on other live sessions or connect with on blogs. I hear some of their voices and sometimes I see their faces (presenters on video chat). At first, it was a little difficult to decide where to place my attention (back or front channel or switching between the two). I am used to that pace now and contribute actively in it.

    There is also something very different about the immediacy of conversation in a live session (even in a live Twitter chat) that doesn’t seem to be found in other activities such as composing a blog post or replying to one. One has to pay considerable attention and choose fairly quickly as to when to respond, what to respond and how much to respond.

    Like Jeffrey, I don’t find the recordings very attractive or useful. I know that I have missed out on the fun parts (the immediate responses to participants and/or presenters). There is lots of other stuff to read or review asynchronously in addition to the recordings so I don’t worry too much…on to the next week!

    I enjoy the live synchronous stuff greatly and would not likely enjoy a mooc without it. Thanks for getting us to reflect on why they matter and best of luck with your continued planning! 🙂

  6. jennymackness February 20, 2012 / 7:53 pm

    Hi brainysmurf – thanks so much for outlining your thoughts about synchronous sessions in MOOCs. It’s really useful to have your perspective, which I can relate to.

    Our discussions in planning the MOOC have been around whether the focus on synchronous sessions means that MOOC participants don’t engage fully with other activities on offer. I think it is noticeable in ChangeMOOC that on the whole the activities that presenters have suggested, which have been very good ones, have not been responded to very much. I am still thinking about this 🙂

    Thanks for your good wishes,


  7. brainysmurf1234 February 21, 2012 / 5:19 pm

    Hi, Jenny. I talked this over with my close friend, who has been active in massive multiplayer online role-playing games for years. Some additional thoughts that seem to apply to learning events and gaming:

    In asynchronous activities (like blog posts/discussion fora), contributors tend to present their most clever, funny, well-thought-out selves. There is an image to develop and maintain in that asynch space. One finds out who is ‘truly’ funny or clever in the rapid-fire live chat.

    One also likely takes more time composing an asycnh post than quickly replying in a live session. This can work to the advantage of someone who is more introverted, shy or more reluctant to contribute in a live session. Asynch may also work better for being more thorough or detail-oriented.

    Asynch activities can work well in some courses. Look at artifacts and The Daily Create assignments produced in #ds106 for example.

    We identified these characteristics and skills of successful live session participants:
    – more confident expressing oneself quickly and succinctly
    – fast keyboarding skills
    – able to organize chat windows (expand/collapse, public/private or use a third-party dashboard service such as XFire in gaming or HootSuite for Twitter)
    – courteous
    – follow protocol (such as using @ when referring to a previous comment)
    – mindful of ‘over-talking’ or having something to say about everything

    Hopefully this helps clarify why synch sessions are so much more attractive and successful than asynch activities, at least for some of the participants.

  8. Apostolos K. February 22, 2012 / 3:03 pm

    I suspect it’s a six-of-one, half-a-dozen-of-the-other type of situation as far as synchronous conferencing goes. I tend to not like to do sync-conf. In courses that I have paid for (or my employer has paid) and sync-conf is part of the “grade” I make time to attend. In MOOCs, despite the fact that I have been in more than 6 MOOCs since last year, I have only been to 1 sync-conf session. I may have seen 1-2 recordings of sync-conf sessions but that’s about it. I am a text person because it allows me to do my work whenever and where-ever. I don’t like the tether of the sync-conf.

    That being said, I am looking forward to the MOOC! I started teaching this semester and I would love to interact with other teaching n00bs 🙂

  9. jennymackness February 22, 2012 / 4:49 pm

    @brainysmurf – thanks again for your very interesting comments

    > There is an image to develop and maintain in that asynch space. One finds out who is ‘truly’ funny or clever in the rapid-fire live chat.

    Is there a hint here that people who prefer asynch space are not as ‘honest’ as those who prefer ‘synch’ conversations? An interesting idea that I hadn’t thought of before.

    An interesting list of characteristics and skills of live session participants too. I’m not sure that your last three points necessarily follow though. I’ll have to think about them in my asynch space 🙂


  10. jennymackness February 22, 2012 / 4:54 pm

    Hi Apostolos K. I am fascinated that you manage to follow MOOCs without attending sychronous sessions or listening to the recordings. I wonder how many MOOC participants are the same.

    As I have mentioned before, in planning this MOOC we have been having discussions about the extent to which synch. sessions dominate a MOOC and discourage participants from engaging in the other activities on offer. It seems in your case that this isn’t so – which is good to hear.

    I will be blogging fairly regularly about our planning progress and look forward to seeing you in the MOOC in May/June 🙂


  11. Apostolos K February 23, 2012 / 3:25 pm

    I was pondering about the whole listening to sync sessions after the fact after I read your comment. In the few occasions where I’ve gone back to listen to sync sessions after the fact, I needed to budget some computer time to do it, either at work or at home – in either case this was not always possible. IF sync sessions were available as an MP3 podcast after the fact (through RSS I could subscribe to iTunes on my iPhone) – then I could download them and listen to them during my commute (I spend 2hrs on the train commuting each day).

    I think that in sessions where there are no readings given out by facilitators I do miss things that were only said in sync-conf, but I pick up some from people’s blogs; but when there is material that can stand on its own in text format, and the sync-conf is icing on the top, then I feel like I can safely leave it be (given that the “startup” costs for listening/viewing sync-conf stuff don’t fit with my life at the moment)

  12. jennymackness February 24, 2012 / 8:27 am

    Hi Apostolos K. That’s a really helpful comment which I will pass on to George and Marion. Thanks. We’ll have to look into how difficult or easy this is to do. We will be using Blackboard Collaborate for the synch sessions. Presumably it’s possible to take a simple audio recording too?

  13. Mark McGuire February 24, 2012 / 9:40 am

    Hi Apostolos K and Jenny
    I, too, prefer to listen to MP3 audio recordings of live sessions rather than sit in front of a computer listening while watching slides and recorded chat text. I’m a big fan of public radio and I listen to a lot of radio programs and other audio podcasts while doing household chores and other mindless activities. I appreciate the fact that Stephen Downes usually makes a simple MP3 audio recording of the live Blackboard Collaborate change11 MOOC sessions (I think he does this using means other than Collaborate – I know he’s also had trouble streaming the Collaborate audio live over edRadio). The collaborate sessions are recorded, too, complete with slides, audio and the recorded chat, but I’ve never watched one of these. However, I’ve listened to several audio recordings of sessions I’ve missed – the lack of visuals and chat text is a price I’m prepared to pay for the convenience. I also listen to audio recordings of sessions that I “attended”, because I have a hard time paying attention to what the presenter is saying while keeping up with the live chat (I’m one of those who probably contributes too much chat, occasionally going off topic, which, I admit, isn’t fair on others). I like the live chat, and many of the change11 presenters follow it for good questions and comments.
    As more open courses move onto mobile devices, we will need to choose the most appropriate medium(s) for the learner’s particular context (knowing that one size will not fit all). In traditional teaching situations, students are forced to adjust themselves to a format that is fixed in space, time, and medium (usually a live presenter supported by linear slides). We now have the means to address the social, contextual, and technological needs of the individual learner. This is human-centered, rather than technology-centered or institutional-centered design.

  14. Lisa M Lane February 24, 2012 / 9:35 pm

    Hi Jenny,

    This is hard to decide in advance. We experienced the numbers problem for sure.

    I run a SMOOC (it’s just not that big — only 90 to start, and now we’re at less than half that) with a similar idea, helping faculty learn to teach online. I wanted synchronous sessions a la CCK, and envisioned 70-90 students in a room. It never happened.

    The first semester of this year we offered synchronous sessions in Collaborate. Those people who were online anyway (educational technologists in their office at work) tended to show up regularly, but not the people we were hoping to reach, those who were new at teaching online. In our second semester, we continue to experience low turnout at these sessions, and usually the folks who come are people who could lead one! We now only offer one formal synchronous session per month.

    If the “regulars” are people who could have a lot of valuable information and experiences to share, Collaborate becomes a difficult meeting place, since it’s designed for only one presenter, and the “audience” behaves accordingly (so our best sessions have several presenters in a row). As brainysmurf notes, there’s a certain type of personality willing to fully and actively engage in a synchronous session, and those people will get the most out of it. The question is whether it’s worth it to set up a whole session for just these people, and when the answer is yes, is a presentation system like Collaborate the best way to go? If you have set “material” to “cover”, then likely it is. If not, then it isn’t so clear.

    What has evolved with us is Google Plus Hangouts for occasional meetups with loose topics and (mostly) experienced people, and Collaborate for monthly presentations. We record the Collaborate sessions and use Publish to offer it in various formats afterward.

  15. jennymackness February 25, 2012 / 8:29 am

    Hi Mark – thanks for adding your thoughts to the mix. If I had a commute to work, I would probably appreciate an audio recording of the sych. sessions. I remember when I was commuting a lot that I used to learn the alto part for the pieces my choir was rehearsing by listening to a CD on the way to work.

    These days I mostly work from home, so I do quite often listen to the recordings of the MOOC synch sessions. Although it is quite time consuming it is no more so than it would have been if I hadn’t been doing something else at the time of the original session and attended it. I also sometimes listen to the recording even if I have attended the session – particularly if, as you say, it has been difficult to decide whether to follow the presenter or the chat. I usually follow the presenter. I definitely can’t do both and am impressed by how many presenter now seem able to manage the chat and their presentation.

    It has been very interesting having different people’s perspectives – so thank you!


  16. jennymackness February 25, 2012 / 8:39 am

    Hi Lisa – many thanks for sharing your experience. Needless to say we have had a good look at your site 🙂 As you say, you are doing something very similar to what we intend – although am I right in thinking that you focus (or have a heavy emphasis) on using technology in teaching and learning? I don’t think we will have quite as much – I don’t think we will have time.

    We are just beginning to think about the content for our MOOC. Do you have ‘visiting’ speakers in your MOOC. This is what we are hoping to be able to arrange – and maybe this will pull more people into synchronous sessions – that and the fact that there just won’t be very many of them, in such a short MOOC.

    I suppose everyone who plans to run a MOOC wonders whether anyone will turn up – or if there will be enough people to make it a MOOC.

    SMOOC sounds fine though – and maybe the smaller number of people who turn up get more out of it because it is smaller.

    Thanks Lisa for sharing your experience.

  17. Lisa M Lane February 25, 2012 / 10:34 pm

    Our focus is supposed to be 50/50, but with a greater emphasis on pedagogy in the first semester, then more on technologies. We will be doing even more pedagogy in our next iteration as we realize there was a greater need to prepare faculty to articulate their pedagogy without dealing with the technology.

    Our “guest speakers” have been our own faculty and participants within the class – our presenters are thus all internal, but we have plenty of talent so that hasn’t been a worry in terms of quality, though it doesn’t pull in as many outsiders. While I would have liked to have outside speakers, we don’t have enough people to do enough work for that – we are all volunteer faculty, and running the SMOOC (an onsite workshops) takes up all our time, especially since we have moderators for every week. But I know it would be a cool thing to do!

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