Despite the launch hiccup, OLDSMOOC  appears to be off to a flying start. There is a lot of activity in the Google group discussion forums and on Cloudworks.

These are the links I have so far gathered:

OLDSMOOC HOMEhttps://sites.google.com/a/olds.ac.uk/oldsmooc/home 

These are my observations so far.

This MOOC requires significant navigation skills, because discussion is widely distributed. There is plenty of help on how to navigate if you can find it.

The daily summaries are very helpful, but must require so much work. The team must already be exhausted – either that or they have a lot of people working on this MOOC to distribute the load, which of course raises the investment cost.

These summaries remind participants on a daily basis what they need to do, should be doing, and where they should be doing it and urges them to do it right, for example, to post in the right place etc.

A lot of participants are fully engaged and have completed the ‘dream bazaar’ activity – where participants are asked to

‘Describe a learning situation you are involved in, a change you would like to see in that situation, and how you think you can bring about that change.’

The next stage is for people to team up and work on design projects together, which might be difficult for those who have entered the MOOC as individuals rather than as a team, or alongside colleagues. As Helen Whitehead (@helenwhd) has tweeted:

No idea how to “form a team” in #oldsmooc. Feels like choosing sports teams at school! Be the one left over, lol

All this leaves me with a couple of questions

  1. Does this MOOC need the amount of prescription that is a significant part of its design?

Diana Laurillard has commented on my last blog post

‘….the basic MOOC is ok for CPD, but still needs some good learning design. It’s not really enough to say ‘here are the concepts, now go and discuss among yourselves’. I’ve just experienced a MOOC a bit like that, and it’s just not enough.’

And she distinguishes between ‘professional’ and ‘student’ MOOCs

‘an important distinction could be between the ‘professional’ MOOC and the ‘student’ MOOC. The former requires facilitation and can be lighter on design, but the latter definitely needs design as well as facilitation. The former is a good model for CPD, the latter would be more like an undergraduate course (which then needs an awful lot more learning design than the basic MOOC usually provides).

For me, it’s not a question of professional or student. My understanding of MOOCs (cMOOCs) is still that they are intended to exemplify the principles of autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness/interaction. Diversity means amongst other things, a mix of novices and experts (professionals and students) who learn from each other.

A cMOOC (or the original intention of cMOOCs) is about a personal learning journey – not about a required/intended/desired outcome – and in that sense I am interested to see the extent to which this highly structured MOOC, with a clear requirement for an intended outcome (a project design), supports personal learning journeys.

2. Which leads, community or curriculum – in this MOOC?

For me at the moment it feels like the curriculum is leading, in the sense that the ‘course’ is highly structured and this structure is very much in the control of the MOOC designers. It will be interesting to see how it develops as participants start working on their projects. If the MOOC is successful in facilitating the formation of teams, I suspect that that is where the negotiation of learning will happen and where the community will begin to lead.

These questions are of interest to me in relation to my work on emergent learning with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau. See Footprints of Emergence for a discussion of emergence and prescribed learning if you are interested – and anyone is welcome to join our wiki  for further information and sharing of thinking/ideas.

Finally, a question that I am mulling over at the moment, and I don’t think anyone has discussed so far in this MOOC, but I have certainly not read everything, is

What is the difference between learning design and planning for learning?

I have spent many hours in my teaching career planning for learning, at macro and micro levels, but I have never thought of myself as a learning designer.

The Selfish Blogger Syndrome

‘Selfish Blogger’ – This jumped out of the page of Tony Bates’ blog post .  He has been bemoaning the fact that there has been little discussion around his presentation to Change MOOC  – and that the discussion that there has been, has been distributed across people’s blogs and he has had to go out and find it to collate it on his blog. As an aside – I’m not sure that we could class people individually posting to their blogs as discussion. Tony asks:

  • Could I have done something that would have resulted in more comments, more discussion and more integration of the discussion in this MOOC?
  • Or is the topic itself the problem – just not of interest to most people in this MOOC?
  • Or are people just too busy to go beyond the webinar and a short response?

I think the answer to all three questions is ‘No’. I think it is a problem of the design of the MOOC, which actually promotes ‘the selfish blogger syndrome’.  I should say at this point that I am a self-confessed selfish blogger and likely to remain so. Roy Williams, John Sui Fai Mak and I explored people’s preferences for blogs and forums in our paper, which we presented at the Networked Learning Conference in 2010 –   – so I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on being a ‘selfish blogger’.  In my own defense (do I need to defend myself?), I like to think that I am making a contribution, albeit small, in other ways – but perhaps this is over-rationalization 🙂

I should also say that I recognize the effort required to synthesize and analyze ideas from distributed blogs – that is why I am staying here in my blog. If I make my own comments and observations here, then at least I know where they are. So despite Tony’s comments, I am still not inclined to go to his blog and post there. I would rather keep a record of what I think at this point in time here. Sorry Tony!

It does feel to me though that this MOOC is missing potential for some deeper discussion. In line with being a selfish blogger, I am not desperate to get involved in discussion forums, but I do like to be a ‘lurker’ in forums – and there are always plenty of people in a MOOC who like to engage in them – which makes it even easier to lurk and not feel guilty. I have recently been reminded of the benefits of engaging/lurking in discussion forums through the Networked learning Conference Hot Seat – where the depth of discussion was very rewarding.

The other thing that is constraining the potential for in depth-discussion in this MOOC, is the speed at which the topics are changing. We get a new speaker each week –  and they have all been great so far – but we scarcely have time to get our heads around one speaker’s issues – and they are big issues – when we move on to the next. This is a shame. Each of the speakers has clearly put such a lot of thought and work into their presentations and have provided us with carefully designed and interesting tasks. It’s just a pity that we haven’t had more time to engage with them.

Then there have been the consistent weekly technology problems. These haven’t bothered me particularly but I can see how they detract from getting into the nitty gritty of the subjects being discussed.

Frankly, it’s all I can do to keep up with being a selfish blogger. I had sort of promised myself that I would make one post each week related to the topic – but when the topic is new, there is little chance of posting anything significant within the week. All I can do is put down some sort of a marker and I am wondering this week whether I will be able to keep up with this minimal engagement.

I have participated in enough MOOCs to know that this is the way it is and also that there is no expectation that we engage with every week’s speaker, but I find myself thinking that the speakers deserve better. I am also even clearer in my own mind that I don’t see blogs as a discussion tool, for the average person like me. They might be a discussion tool for people like Tony Bates, Stephen Downes, George Siemens and others who have a well-recognized reputation and likely a lot of hits and comments on their blogs. But for people like me, my blog is not a discussion venue. It’s a place where I post my own reflections. If others are interested in them, then that is great – but I really am a ‘selfish blogger’ 🙂

I have read this through a few times. I don’t want it to sound like a moan about ChangeMOOC. I continue to be impressed by the work that Stephen, George, Dave and others are doing in trying to change the ways in which we think about teaching and learning. I have learned and continue to learn a lot – which is why I hang on in here despite not always being able to keep up 🙂

MOOC principles and course design

This post has been prompted by Robert Maxwell’s comment on my last blog post. Thanks to Robert 🙂

Your comment about the messy, chaotic nature of a MOOC is something I both love and fear as an educator. I would love to give my students a foundation of knowledge (the inclass portion) and then let them have freedom to explore the topics with the idea that they will take the foundations given and build a learning experience that satisfies the learning goals of the class.

I suspect that MOOC participants who are teachers interested in applying some of the ideas encountered in MOOCs all struggle with this. If they are like me they will be asking themselves questions like – What is my responsibility? Where does it begin and end? How do I resolve the tension between control and freedom to learn? Where do control and responsibility overlap? Does teaching intervention equate to control? At what point do my good intentions lead to poor learning experiences? And so on…

Most of us who run courses in traditional institutions still have to comply with the University/School regulations and associated constraints, particularly the constraints of assessment. This has been an ongoing issue for many who have participated in MOOCs.  There is also the problem of open. Many institutions simply will not ‘open up’ their courses or learning environments to ‘outsiders’ and this then means that the ‘massive’ element of MOOCs is immediately compromised. Only the ‘online’ and ‘course’ parts remain.

However, all is not lost. Recently, I have increasingly been thinking that it is not the MOOC itself that it is the important change; it is what MOOCs say about the associated learning principles, autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness. These principles can be applied in a greater or lesser degree to any course, however small or closed. Autonomy can be encouraged on a whole range of levels, diversity can apply to resources if not to people, openness can apply to open sharing if ‘open to the world’ is not possible and connectedness can apply even in small environments because everyone has access to the web.

Last year I had a go at writing an online course applying the principles as best I could within the constraints in which I was working. I took those four principles and worked out how far I could push the boundaries. I used many of the ideas that have been tried and tested by Stephen and George, but on a much smaller scale. It helped me to think of the principles as being on a continuum from a small traditional closed online course to a massive open online course. So for example at one end of the continuum there is no or very little autonomy and at the other end there is complete autonomy (if we know what that means, which is debatable). If we place our courses on this continuum for each of the principles of learning in MOOCs, and also possibly for how ‘massive’ the course is, we can then see how close or far our course is from the MOOC ideals.

So the course I designed would look something like this:

(Click on the image to see it more clearly – although even then its not brilliantly clear :-))

This diagram is not intended to be precise – just an indication of how the principles are likely to be experienced in the course.

Maybe fearing and loving MOOCs is also on a continuum.  At what point on a continuum would we place ourselves and why?

PS – Sorry about the image. If anyone can tell me how to post a PPT slide into WordPress so that it comes out clear, I would be very grateful. 🙂

CCK11 Characteristics of an autonomous learner

The principles of connectivism are autonomy, diversity, connectedness and openness. Stephen has written and presented about this on a number of occasions. My experience of connectivism in MOOCs or even OOCs is that these principles are not straightforward to apply to course design or learning.

My current interest is in autonomy, as I believe that when thinking about the principles of connectivism – autonomy rules, i.e. it is not possible to experience diversity, connectedness or openness without autonomy, i.e. being an autonomous learner.

Being an autonomous learner seems to be a pre-requisite for successful participation in a MOOC/OOC – but what is an autonomous learner? Are you an autonomous learner? Am I an autonomous learner? Are our students/colleagues/children/friends autonomous learners? How do we know? What are the characteristics of an autonomous learner?

I have spent a bit of time trawling the web and journals with this question in mind and there has been loads written about autonomous learning, much of it in relation to language teaching (haven’t quite got to the bottom of why language teaching yet).  I have been wondering whether learners who participate in MOOCs/OOCs have unique characterstics in relation to autonomous learning – and I invite anyone who ventures here to read this blog post to join me in thinking about this – if you are interested. For me the design of a course based on connectivism principles will have to take account of the characteristics of autonomous learning – hence my desire to get my head round this.

So far I have come up with the following characteristics – the problem is that few of them could be said to be specific to MOOCs/OOCs.

Autonomous learners….

  • show responsibility for their own learning
  • show initiative
  • are able to monitor and evaluate their own learning
  • are reflective and show ‘high’ (in inverted comments because I’m not sure how high is high) levels of metacognition
  • are self-aware in relation to their own learning (need unpicking)
  • are intrinsically motivated
  • are life-long learners (not sure about this one)
  • can manage and regulate their own learning (OK but what does this involve?)
  • are adept at taking/making decisions (how adept is adept?)
  • are meaning makers
  • are risk takers (not sure about this one)
  • have specific skills and strategies for managing their learning online (OK but what skills and strategies?)
  • are adaptable and flexible in their approach to learning (how adaptable is adaptable and how flexible is flexible? How would these characteristics manifest themselves?)
  • are pro-active (i.e. they don’t wait for things/people to come to them)
  • are critical and analytical thinkers (this might be too much of a supposition)
  • know how to ask questions (and ideally good questions – but what is a good question?)
  • are good at filtering and selecting the information they need
  • can take constructive criticism
  • can navigate the web
  • are technically adept (not sure about this)

I am aware that each one of these characteristics could be questioned. After all how autonomous is autonomous?

If you think autonomy is important to learning in MOOCs/OOCs, then I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Learner Autonomy – First thoughts about Stephen Downes’ model

(Stephen Downes’ model in black font) Overall question which I shall come back to later is: How do the recent MOOC/open course designs foster learner autonomy and from the learner perspective, are they successful in this?

A – Factors affecting epistemic states

– empirical factors

– external

– past experience and memory

– current experience

– internal

– emotional state

– pain and suffering, etc

– fear

– psychological

– traumas

– phobias

– philias or needs

I interpret this to mean that any consideration of autonomy must recognise that learners bring with them prior experience on at least three levels. This has a ‘constructivist’ learning theory feel to it. The ways in which learners recognise, interpret and experience autonomy will be influenced by their prior experience. Learners can probably be helped with these by their ‘teachers’ because they are externally recognisable and ‘measurable’.

– cognitive factors

– world view or belief set

– frames or traces – recognition of ranges of alternatives

– metaphors or underlying models

– causation, spirit, or other mechanisms

– morality, sense of agency, responsibility

– reasoning mechanism (if any), including:

– logical capacities (including modal, probabilistic)

– mathematical capacities

– degree of certainty attained, required

– language – languages learned, vocabulary

I interpret this to mean that a learner’s experience of autonomy, or ability to act autonomously (bearing in mind that this is not a constant state) is influenced by their ‘internal’ mental state, frames of reference. This may not be visible to the teacher and therefore may be harder to influence, from a teacher’s perspective.

– external factors

– rewards and incentives

– financial

– intrinsic or non-financial

– punishments, sanctions and threats

– expectations

– professional standards

– organizational vision or strategy

From my initial and brief reading of related research, this is related to motivation. My personal perspective is that truly autonomous learning relies heavily on intrinsic motivation, in the absence of punishments, sanctions, threats and expectations. That’s not to say that these external factors do not exist, but that learners must be in a position to choose to reject the extrinsic in favour of the intrinsic or vice vers

B – Capacity to act on epistemic states

– physical factors

– mobility and location

– perceptual (can you see, is there light?)

– effective (can you project into the environment – do the buttons respond, do the pages turn, etc)

– physical support – housing, health, nutrition, etc

– time

This seems to relate to ‘independent’ learning – which has been raised in past research. Autonomy is interpreted in a variety of ways and independence is one of those. My husband is disabled and I know the importance of independence as a pre-requisite to autonomy. They are not the same thing. The conditions have to be right in order to be able to make decisions/choices. This is interesting and I am still thinking about it.

– social factors

– laws, rules and regulations, including flexibility of these

– peer pressure, mores, threat of sanctions

– mode of collaboration – authoritarian, democratic, consensus,         deliberative, etc

– leadership – capacities, temperament, inclinations, etc

– responsibility or authority

This relates to the social constraints of our personal circumstances – so for example my mother married an extremely Victorian man who believed that women should not go out to work – her role was to support her husband (which she did extremely effectively) – but her autonomy in terms of her choice over how she could express her talents was controlled by someone else. Whilst this particular example might not be so common today – autonomy can be restricted in these circumstances.

– structural factors

– predictability of the environment

– complexity of the environment

– barriers, locks, detours, traps, loops – eg. http://tihane.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/motivationalbarriers_seci.jpg

I interpret this as relating to organisational constraints. The organisation in which a learner works may not be able/capable of coping with autonomous learners. An example of this is when University staff are not permitted to use certain softwares within their courses. There might be good institutional reasons for this but it stifles innovation and learner autonomy.

– resources

– range and depth of resources available

– medium of resources – staff, money, equipment

– language and complexity of resources

– quantity of resources (eg., finances)

– mode of presentation of those resources

– sequence of presentation

– duration of presentation

This is similar to the above point in relation to organisations. My son who is doing music technology and cannot do the modules he wants to because of lack of University resources (staffing) is an example of constraints on learner autonomy. But there will also be other constraints on a personal level. In CCK08 and other open courses we have seen how participants whose first language is not English experience constraints on their autonomy. I’m assuming that mode of presentation might be related to ‘learning styles’ although I know that some people don’t believe that there are such things as learning styles. Shall we call them learning preferences instead?

C – Scope and Range of Autonomous Behaviour

– expression

– medium of expression

– language of expression, word use

– association and assembly

– definition of size, scope of social network

– directionality of communications

– selection

– of associates – can you choose your friends? Family?

– communication options – do channels exist? Can they be open?

– of tools, eg., of software, hardware

– resource allocation – spending, delegating, assigning, etc

– method

– operating principle, methodology, pedagogy

– background – influence over environmental factors generally, including:

– noise or music

– colour scheme or visual appearance

– lighting, air supply, mobility

– range

– tolerance – allowed range of results or effects

– quantity of choices available

– quality of choices available (cf. Hobson’s choice)

This section seems to me about the choices that learners can make and the extent of those choices. CCK11 has probably offered more choice than any prior open course. My brief reading of research however indicates that designing for autonomy does not mean that teachers abdicate responsibility for their learners and I will be interested to see how the CCK11 course design balances learner autonomy with ‘teacher’ facilitation and whether even minimum teacher facilitation will be perceived as a constraint.

D – Effects of Autonomous Behaviour

– impact (ie., the degree or scope of the effect)

– audience – range of persons affected by behavior

– efficacy – amount of change potentially caused by behaviour

– improvement (ie., the nature of the effect)

– internal

– psychological – satisfaction, lessening of pain,lessening of fear, etc

– cognitive – beliefs formed, knowledge acquired

– external

– material condition, employment, etc

– capacities, rights, autonomy, etc

– associative – improvements ascribed to others

– social – improvements to society generally

This section feels to me a bit of a departure – it is not about what autonomy might mean to the learner or how autonomy is experienced, but how we might ‘measure’ its effects. How will we know when we are autonomous learners? How will teachers know that their course designs which attempt to promote autonomous learning are successful?

This is my first response to Stephen’s model. I am aware that I have probably not done it justice.  I now want to see how CCK11 and other open courses have been designed with these ideas in mind and also how this model compares with the other models that Stephen posted on his blog.


This is the subject of Week 1 (which has already whizzed by) of the Critical Literacies online open course. In the course materials on Moodle, cognition is described as:

The capacity to infer, or detect faulty inferences, to use communicative elements in order to describe, argue, explain or define. Including the power of reflection, authority of knowledge, stability of knowledge, communication as conversation or as dialogue.
I am attending the course not only for the content on Critical Literacies, but also because I am interested in how open courses are designed and run. What is so intriguing is that the design of an open course cannot predict what participants will run with, what will grab their interest, what discussions will ensue, who will participate etc. So the quote above outlines what it was expected that we might discuss/engage with, but did we?

The discussion in Moodle about the evolving definition of  ‘expert’ generated quite a bit of interest.  Rita asked some great questions:
  • Who decides what information we can access, and how is it ordered.
  • Whose interests are served by providing particular information?
  • Does the (sub-)structure of the Web give us access to the ‘experts’, the most knowledgeable others, or to the people who are best at self-publicising?
  • Does it really matter? Or is it most important that people gain an awareness and understanding of these structures and the ability to assess sources of information?
  • Do people take for granted each word that is written down, or do they analyse what claims and conclusions people draw and if they are based on any substance or on thin air?
This aligns with ‘authority of knowledge’ from the quote above. The power of reflection and the stability of knowledge topics have only been touched on – unless it’s in someone’s blog post somewhere and I’ve missed it – but having this in the quote suggests that Critical Literacies include the ability to judge whether the author has the authority to talk/write about the subject, which is what Howard Rheingold highlights in his video. I haven’t quite got my head round why ‘stability of knowledge’ is linked to Critical Literacies. Are we supposed to be able to judge whether knowledge is stable or not?

So coming back to the ‘open course’ and participants ‘following their own lines of inquiry’ model, how am I to know whether the power of reflection and/or not knowing where ‘stability of knowledge’ fits with Critical Literacies is important or not.

We are already moving on to Week 2 Change – which is described as:
The capacity to reason dynamically, to detect and comprehend processes and flows, to understand the impact of progressions and differences, to reason employing dynamic events such as games and simulations.
As someone who does design online courses from time to time, it’s always very difficult to know how long to spend on each topic and to get the balance between breadth and depth – and of course, as always, you can’t suit all the people all the time!

So far, the course is well worth the time I am spending on it.

Teachers talk too much

The CCK08 round up was an interesting meeting. It seems like it was held at a difficult time for some and clashed with their teaching commitments, so a few familiar faces were not present.

There was quite a lot of talk about assessment. I think it will be worth listening to the recording again to capture this conversation. 

Most intriguing was George’s apparent frustrations with lurkers. He thought that in the next run of the course they would have to do more to encourage participation – in his view people need to participate more to make the course work. ‘Lurking is not appropriate.’ George expects everyone to be transparent in their learning and by default become a teacher in the course.

There seemed to me to be loads of participation – both in the blogs and in the discussion forums.  I personally would not have coped with any more. I’m not sure what percentage of people were participating in blogs and forums – probably not the 10% that Nancy White recommends should be active in an online course – but then this wasn’t a course in the true sense of the word – or was it? This question of whether the word course should be used to decribe the CCK08 experience was also discussed.

Perhaps Stephen and George need to be really clear about whether they are running a course or not ; they do appear to have different views on it. If they are just establishing and managing a learning community or network, then I think participants would view their responsibilities differently. In a community or network, peripheral participation is legitimate (Wenger) as George acknowledged. Lurking (I prefer to think of it as reading or observing) is legitimate. People get drawn into conversations as and when they need them. Stephen seems happier with this than George.

However, in both a community and on a course, (but maybe not a network), there are leaders who try to draw in participants and increase levels of interactivity. This requires skills and ‘teacher-type’ interventions, whereas I think Stephen and George’s model was more – let them (the participants) get themselves organised into groups, decide for themselves where they want to communicate and get on with it.

So it seems to me that you can’t really have it both ways. Either you let participants just get on with it, in which case you leave them to lurk if they want to, don’t worry about it and are happy with whoever, however small the number, actively participates. Or you go for skilled teacher intervention. George stated that he wanted a less didactic style for the CCK08 ‘course’ where he and Stephen would become less prominent as the course progressed – but this ‘hands off’ approach isn’t something that just happens. It has to be cultivated by skilled facilitators/online teachers. In my experience as an online tutor, I have to work very hard at the beginning of a course, helping participants to make appropriate relationships, establishing an ethos of security, trust and mutual respect, and that once this is set up I can withdraw. But it doesn’t just happen. It depends on my initial interventions (and I don’t necessarily equate interventions with ‘talking’).

I agree that very few participants took the mic. in the synchronous Elluminate sessions, but I don’t think that is necessarily down to a lack of willingness to speak;  maybe more to the teaching style adopted for these sessions. It occurred to me yesterday that maybe it was a case of  ‘the teacher talks too much’. It was very noticeable in yesterday’s session that at the beginning of the session when there was only one tutor (George) participants took the mic. a lot more than they did at the end of the session when there were both George and Stephen, who then tend to talk to each other. 

There’s plenty of research around about teachers talking too much and there has been for many years. The original research showed that teachers are really surprised when they are observed and are given the evidence of exactly how much they do talk. Student teachers also always struggle to see that their job is not so much about their teaching, but about their learners’ learning and that if the focus is on learners’ learning, then the learners need more time to talk, even if this means tolerating silence while learners gather their thoughts.

So what I am saying is that if George and Stephen want more people to speak in Elluminate sessions, then perhaps the way in which the sessions are organised needs a rethink. Again, if they want more participation in the various communication groups, Ning, Facebook, Second Life, blogs, wikis, Moodle, then there might need to be more teacher intervention at the beginning of the course to establish this – but it seems to me that more teacher intervention is the antithesis to what the CCK08 experience (or whatever you want to call it) is all about.

So we are back to the tension between CCK08 being a course and the type of open learning experience it is trying to achieve. Not an easy one, for which there are no easy answers. Would a discussion about these very issues right at the beginning of the CCK08 course help?

I’ll be very interested to see how the course is run next time round at the end of this year.