New Special Issue on MOOCs published today (JOLT)

Today has seen the publication in JOLT  of a paper I worked on with Marion Waite, George Roberts and Elizabeth Lovegrove from Oxford Brookes University, in which we examined learning in the First Steps in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education MOOC (FSLT12).

Waite, M., Mackness, J., Roberts, G., & Lovegrove, E. (2013). Liminal participants & skilled orienteers: A case study of learner participation in a MOOC for new lecturers. JOLT

In a brief overview of ocTEL which Martin Hawksey gives in the video below, he mentions that one thing they would like to address in the next run of ocTEL is learner support.

In FSLT12 we were also concerned about this. We noted in our research into participation in FSLT12, that whilst many of the participants found themselves in that liminal zone of uncertainty about who they are, what they should be doing, how to navigate the environment, how open to be and so on, there were also many experienced MOOCers, who we called ‘skilled orienteers’. These participants voluntarily took on the role of supporting participants new to MOOCs and this way of working in the open. In the following run of the course, FSLT13, alumni from the previous course were invited to act as ‘expert’ participants, with the expectation that they would support those new to MOOCs and also provide feedback on the outcomes of the course activities.

Martin Hawksey is running a session today at ALT-C on Tues 10th Sept, 1.55 -2.55 pm, Horses for Open Courses: Making the Backend of a MOOC with WordPress – experiences from ocTEL .

The main thrust of this session will be, as the title suggests, the design of the course using WordPress. The design of the ALT-C website, which Stephen Downes has decribed as ‘masterwork’  is a development of the design for the ocTEL MOOC.

I’m looking forward to Martin’s session and hearing not only what he has to say about the ocTEL WordPress platform, but also his plans for future developments in relation to participant support.

I’m also looking forward to hearing what Stephen Downes might have to say about learner support in MOOCs. I remember, as a participant of CCK08, being aware that I was very much in a ‘sink or swim’ environment. My perception at the time was that this was an intentional part of the course design, and since I ended up ‘swimming’, but not without difficulty, I didn’t see this as a bad thing. But I do still wonder how much learners should be expected to sink or swim. Is there a conflict between the principles for learning in cMOOCs – autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity/connectedness – and learner support, i.e. can the principles be constrained by support and if so to what extent?

OER13 Conference, Tues 26 March

Tomorrow my colleague from Oxford Brookes University, George Roberts, will be presenting a workshop at the OER13 conference – in Nottingham, UK. He will be joined on Skype, by Marion Waite.


This paper/workshop is one of the outcomes of the FSLT12 MOOC , which we worked on last year and will run again this year from 8th May to the 14th June. We have also worked on three further papers as an outcome of FSLT12.

  • Waite, M., Mackness, J., Roberts, G., & Lovegrove, E. (under review 2013). Liminal participants & skilled orienteers: A case study of learner participation in a MOOC for new lecturers. JOLT
  • Mackness, J., Waite, M., Roberts, G. & Lovegrove, E. (to be submitted 2013). Learning in a Small, Task-Oriented, Connectivist MOOC: Implications for Higher Education.  eLearning Papers
  • Lovegrove et al. (in progress) Moving online, becoming ‘massive’: turning the face-to-face ‘First Steps in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education’ into a MOOC. BeJLT

The OER13 workshop will follow a similar format to the presentation that George made to the ELESIG community  earlier this month, but will explore MOOC meanings more deeply from, threshold concept, community of practice and third space theory perspectives.

Having looked through the OER13 website, I can’t see that any presentations are being live streamed, but hopefully recordings will be uploaded, and there is a Twitter channel – #oer13

JOLT Special Issue on MOOCs

The MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT at has released a Call for Papers for a special issue on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), to be published in Summer (June) 2013.

The Guest Editors of the special issue are George Siemens (Athabasca University), Valerie Irvine (University of Victoria), and Jillianne Code (University of Victoria).

Proposals in the form of extended abstracts (500 words) are due on November 15, 2012, with full manuscripts due on January 31, 2013.

The full Call for Papers is available at the following URL:

The Oxford Brookes FSLT12 MOOC team is thinking about this. For me it raises again the question of what makes a good Abstract. In this case the extended Abstract is going to be the deciding factor in getting a paper accepted, so it is important to get it right.

I’m looking for some good advice on this. Any suggestions?

Is structure counter to cMOOC philosophy?

This was a question that came out of our FSLT12 Research Review meeting today. We were discussing what we have found out about the ways in which people participated and learned in the FSLT12 MOOC  –  and the extent to which this was constrained by the structure and curriculum we designed into the MOOC.

These questions have been timely for me. I have been pondering for quite a few days now about the approach taken by George Siemens and Rory MGreal to their Openness in Education MOOC, which I signed up for.

I was completely baffled at the start of the MOOC on September 10th when there was nothing on the site. Apparently this was down to technical failure, but I’m wondering how many other people were contacting ‘friends’ to find out what was going on. To what extent is communication a part of structure and curriculum? But even now that the MOOC has got going and has been explained as follows …..

This course is based on a connectivist model of learning that Stephen Downes and I have been developing since 2008. We will provide some readings each week, but the course is really driven by learner contributions and resources. Which means that if no one blogs, the course gets pretty boring :). Once you’ve submitted your blog, please include the course tag (oped12) in your posts and they will be aggregated into a daily newsletter. Please be patient as it typically takes a day or two to get ramped up with the course.

We don’t have a central discussion forum set up…learning happens in many places, sites, and tools. More on that here: If you feel a place of interaction needs to be created, please create it and share with others using the course tag.

…. it’s quite difficult to find the content and it seems that there are not going to be any synchronous sessions, where people could gather/connect if they so wished.

David Wiley has made similar comments in a blog post, but brainysmurf  has responded in the comments on his blog

It’s really up to us as participants to decide what to do with the facilitators’ content (if anything), to develop our own live sessions if we want to and to share our resources as we see fit. That shift in power/control/effort is going to rattle more than a few people, I bet!

Am I rattled? Well, not rattled, but certainly questioning whether this extremely ‘hands off’ approach is in the best interest of learners.

Which comes back to the question of just how much structure and support should MOOC conveners provide. I know there are no right or wrong answers; and to come back to the initial question, I’m not sure how much or in what ways a structure/curriculum constrains learning, but then I’m also not sure how much a lack of structure/curriculum constrains learning.

Is structure counter to cMOOC philosophy? I don’t think so. I don’t see that the principles of connectivism – autonomy, diversity, openness and interaction across distributed platforms, or the key activities of cMOOCs – aggregate, remix, repurpose, feedforward, necessarily militate against structure or a curriculum.

FSLT12 PechaKucha Presentation

People who participated in the FSLT12 MOOC this summer and who continue to very generously give their time to support the research the FSLT12 team are currently working on,  might be interested in our contribution to this year’s ALT-C conference in Manchester, UK.

Submission of a research paper for the conference came too early for us – we had not run the MOOC – but we were invited to do a short PechaKucha presentation.

If you have not heard of these presentations before, then this site answers 20 frequently asked questions

For ALT-C  the format was slightly altered in that only 9 slides were allowed in 7 minutes, with 3 minutes for questions, as follows:

Short Presentations (PechaKuchas) (10 mins – 7 for presentation and 3 for discussion)

This format was successful at our 2011 conference. A presentation consists of up to nine images in a “PechaKucha” (PK) style format. Each presenter will have a 7 minute slot with images automatically moving on at the end of a fixed 45 second time. Three questions only will then be allowed. Discussions can of course carry on after the presentation and there will be opportunities to have further dialogue both online and face to face at the conference.

Ultimately it fell to George to deliver the presentation – none of the rest of us could attend the conference. I wish I could have been there to see this. I have never seen a PechaKucha presentation. I can’t imagine it’s easy to deliver and I wonder how much the audience gets out of it, apart from entertainment.

Here is the presentation made by George.

Conference delegates were asked to vote for the best PechaKucha presentation. Lindsay Jordan was one of the winners


Lindsay was an FSLT12 participant and has contributed to our research, so it was great news to hear she was a PechaKucha presentation winner. Congratulations Lindsay 🙂

Why we blog

MiraCosta Online Teaching Programme

A month or two ago I was approached by Pilar Hernandez of the POT Cert team, asking me if I would be willing to make a contribution to the course in Week 21, which after some hesitation I agreed to do.

This invitation has spurred me on to get involved with the POTCert class which starts next Monday 1st September and finishes at the end of April 2013.  Last night I attended a pre-course meeting in Collaborate in which the course convenors and a few course participants discussed why we blog.

Recording of the Collaborate meetup

The reason for this discussion was that a requirement for the certificate is

  • Weekly blogging on assigned topics, including viewing workshop videos and reading online articles about online teaching as a discipline — posts should include reflections, links, embedded elements.
  • Commenting on other participants’ posts as part of the online teaching community.

Participants are also asked to tag blog posts with ‘potcert’

It could be that some of the 22+ participants already signed up for the course have never blogged before, so how will they feel. This prompted me to look back at my first few posts on this blog (‘Jenny Connected’) to try and remember what I felt like and how I approached this new experience. I am surprised at how short some of those posts are and I can sense from the tone of them that I was writing for me, i.e. I was initially unaware that there is an audience out there. At that time I couldn’t imagine that anyone would be interested in anything I wrote. ‘Openness’ didn’t have any meaning for me, since it was outside my online experience. In fact it was a shock when I received a challenging comment on an early post –  quite a wake up call. After that, I persisted with blogging but became more careful about what I posted. I think that early experience, as well as my own personality and educational philosophy, determined the way I blog and my reasons for blogging, which are principally to keep a record of my reflections on my own learning, and more  latterly to try and share the interesting connections I make through making use of hyperlinks in my posts.

This is a video that I made for the FSLT12 open online course that I worked on in June of this year, which explains a little about why I blog – but there are many different reasons for blogging and different ways of blogging and it was interesting at the ‘meetup’ last night to hear other people’s reasons for blogging and how they go about it.

Here is a summary of some the ideas:

  • to serve as a substitute for a poor memory, by aggregating interesting ideas and links into one location thus creating a personal searchable digital library, e.g. Lisa Lane’s blog
  • to comment on and discuss other people’s ideas
  • to play with tools and ideas
  • for thinking out loud and working with others on half-baked ideas – see Alan Levine’s blog (this is how he described his blog – I am not being critical :-))
  • to share academic writing – I have used my blog in this way
  • for role-playing
  • for personal and/or professional purposes, e.g. a cookery blog, a research blog
  • for developing a personal brand
  • for messaging and publication
  • for networking
  • as a place to openly make and share mistakes and collaboratively learn through this

Blog posts can be as short or as long as we like. They can include images, videos, sound or not, as we prefer. They can minimize the use of text or be an ‘orgy’ of writing, or somewhere in between, as suits our personal learning styles. They can include details about our personal lives or focus only on professional topics, as we wish.

There is no one right way to blog.

For me, I look for sincerity, honesty, fairness and critical thinking around a topic that interests me in other people’s blog posts and that is also how I try to blog myself. I don’t let myself be intimidated by other people’s blogs – but I do explore them and try and learn from how others have done it. Everyone finds their voice and expresses it in a way that is unique to them – thank goodness. It’s the diversity in the blogosphere that makes it such a rich and rewarding learning environment.

Academic BEtreat – the technical challenges

Academic BEtreat has got off to a shaky start, with lots of technology difficulties. There are sixteen people in this BEtreat (18 if you include Etienne and Bev) and 8 of those are online. This is a great mix of people, all working on very interesting aspects of communities of practice in their very differing contexts. It is this diverse mix of people that will enrich the experience.

One of the principles of these BEtreats is that online and face-to-face participants should be fully integrated, so for the most part the online people are projected into the face-to-face room through video on Adobe Connect – where presentations can also be shared. However, bandwidth issues make it difficult to use the audio connection in Adobe Connect, so we also connect via Skype – but this also keeps breaking up. This makes full participation and engagement almost impossible and detracts from the content. Ironically one of the sessions on the programme today was to discuss the Chapter on ‘Meaning’ in Etienne’s book, which I was looking forward to, having read the chapter and having some questions I would have liked to have discussed (which I blogged about here), but difficulties with the technology meant that the time for discussion was severely cut short and in particular that it failed just as Etienne was speaking – so I have no idea what he said. There is no recording.

We have been told that this BEtreat is trying to ‘push the boat out’ to explore the challenges of integrating online and face-to-face participation in a course and I think we all recognise how ambitious this programme is. We have been asked to be patient (not my strong point :-)) and reflect on whether it is worth it. This is the start of my reflecting and I hope to continue to blog during the week.

So what have I learned from this first day of the Academic BEtreat?

  • In general motivated learners are incredibly tolerant of technical failure. I have seen this a lot in MOOCs and online courses – but I’m not sure that tolerance is always an appropriate response. As adult learners, and particularly as academics, we need to be critically reflective. This does not necessarily mean criticizing, but it does mean not glossing over the issues that need to be addressed. It’s good to see that this year the comments and feedback on the BEtreat wiki are more critically evaluative than they were last year.
  • Much of my past thinking about the place of technology in learning has been confirmed, i.e. technology should be a tool in the service of learning – it should never dominate – unless it is the focus of the learning – and I wonder if that is the issue here in terms of my expectations, i.e. is technology supposed to dominate in this BEtreat? If so then my personal aspirations for and expectations of this BEtreat are not aligned with the design of the BEtreat.
  • It’s early days, but as yet there is no real integration of the online and face-to-face groups. I suspect that some in each group secretly wish that the other group were not there. I remember last year when I was in California attending the BEtreat face-to-face, being so relieved when in one group activity there was no online person present. Last year I felt that in trying to integrate face-to-face and online participants in this way, the discussion for each group was compromised by the presence of the other, and individual voices were hard to hear (in all senses of the word ‘hear’). So far I have not changed my mind, but I am trying to keep an ‘open’ mind.
  • Finally I have realised that I feel like a guinea-pig in an experiment over which I have very little sense of ownership.

So following this first half day, what would I change in the future. Here are some initial tentative thoughts, but I am aware that I could change my mind by the end of the week.

  • For me the programme is over-complex. I was really hoping for depth of discussion on this BEtreat. Difficulties with the technology takes time out of the programme. Recognising that this is likely to be the case, the programme should aim to maximise how the remainder of the time could focus on learning and discussion of Etienne’s book.
  • Perhaps the BEtreat could learn from the connectivist MOOC models, which range from a very ‘hands-off’ approach by convenors (as in ChangeMOOC) to a much more ‘hands-on’ approach (as in FSLT12 ). MOOCs allow for asynchronous distributed learning, interspersed with synchronous online presentations and discussion. Perhaps the balance between synchronous and asynchronous, integrated and non-integrated face-to-face and online participation in this BEtreat needs to be reconsidered.
  • If the intention is to use the BEtreat as a ‘testing’ ground for pushing the boundaries of distributed participation and interaction, i.e. if it is intended as an experiment, then participants need to be negotiating partners in that experiment. One of the differences between the MOOCs I have attended and this BEtreat is that the MOOCs were ‘free’ – I participated in the MOOC experiment knowing that I had nothing to lose. Is there more to lose in the BEtreat experiment? As a paying participant I am not only hoping for increased insights and learning, but also for ‘value for money’. How that is realised I am not absolutely sure, but I think it does affect my perspective of the BEtreat.

These are my personal perspectives, as is this whole blog post. The thoughts here are my own and are not intended to represent the wider BEtreat group.

So it’s on to Day 2. On the programme today we are due to discuss ‘Communities and Learning’, ‘Boundaries and Scale’, ‘Identity’ and “Identification and power’ – pretty much the whole book! Hope the sound works 🙂