This post is part of the MOOC MOOC course of work. It outlines my journey (now lasting over a year) towards adopting elements of a MOOC in the Inclusive Technologies for Reading (#ITR12) course pilot starting this September. This not a description of the process, more a reflection towards the end of it.
I was inspired by the comment by Vivian Halloran below sharing her ideas about how she’s MOOCifying her course to create a repository of MOOCified courses. This could help all MOOCifiers to see how others are making their courses MOOC-like. You can use this form to enter your info.
So you want to run a MOOC?
MOOCs are the thing. Just grab a forum and a Twitter account and do a MOOC. Be a MOOC, seize the MOOC by the horns. MOOC it all up!
But you’re not Stanford with infinite resources and high-profile professors, you’re not Stephen Downes with a reputation and an audience for everything you say. So how do you go about it?
Should you even start? Or is it all just so much hype?
Why MOOC in?
I think these are the reasons you might want to do a MOOC:
- You want to reach a wider audience with the subject you believe is important
- You want to deepen the learning of your students through engagement
- You want to encourage significant peer interaction beyond forum posts
- You want to make sure that your students draw upon the open content already present in your field and get both a realistic experience of the field and make first real connections with it
- You want all the hard work your students put in during the course to be a contribution to the field itself
These are valid reasons to do a MOOC but I don’t think they would be sufficient on their own (at least not for me) unless you also have one or two of the above:
- You want to reduce the cost of education
- You want to market your institution and increase its reputation
- You are an early adopter and experimenter at heart who cannot stay away from shiny new things (I’m looking in the mirror here)
- You want to be seen as being on the cutting edge (not as bad as it sounds)
Does it have to quack like a MOOC?
But MOOCs are huge and require giving up so much of what I do now, you may object. I have to follow all these steps to make a MOOC? Where do I find the time and resources?
All of the words comprising the acronym have multiple interpretations:
- Massive is a relative term. Let’s say you teach cuneiform to 3 students a year. Increasing it to 20 with MOOCification counts as ‘massive’ in my book. The original MOOCs had 2,500 enrollments, the famous Stanford AI MOOC had 100,000. If you run courses under 50, 200-500 would be pretty massive. But massive could also stand for massive engagement and interconnections.
- Open can also be many things to mean people. The radical way of being open is using an open platform, open content, have students do all the work in the open, or maybe the outcomes of the course are open themselves. But for others, open is just free. Open enrollment without the checking of prerequisites. And for some just using Twitter and blog posts instead of forums and a VLE might satisfy the definition of open. You could possibly even charge for parts of the course – like issuing certificates.
- Online is also a relative term. Online is what makes it all possible but it doesn’t have to be purely online. Your students can do face-to-face meetups. There could be summer schools, barcamps, unconferences that are a part of it.
- Course is perhaps the least variable part of the acronym. Most MOOCs have a beginning and an end, a topic to engage with every week, and some preset outcomes and a semblance of a syllabus. But these could be very traditional or very non-traditional. Students or “students” can be involved in their development in all sorts of ways.
The MOOC MOOC (a meta MOOC which was more like a workshop) Twitter stream produced the term MOOCify. And that should probably be the aim.
Despite the criticism they have been receiving lately, MOOCs offer undeniably powerful learning experiences accessible to many who previously would not have had the opportunity. They do not address all of the needs of a reformed educational system and they do not fit the needs of all the students or all the educators all of the time. But what’s that thing about the MOOC and the bath water?
Everybody who has experienced a MOOC has at least some positive experiences. Some even think it’s a panacea for higher education, though I am not one of them, I certainly understand how somebody can think that. Even the people who criticize MOOCs are reacting more to the hype than the experience itself.
But if you try a successful MOOC, chances are, you’ll want to replicate at least some of that experience in your learning, teaching and professional development. So what do you need.
Tools of mass MOOCification
The MOOC MOOC crowd produced a spreadsheet of MOOC sexy tools but I think the trick is to keep it simple. Give students and yourself easy and open tools for communication (as easy and as open, as you can).
I would start with the assumption that every participant in your MOOC-like creation will need a PLN (Personal Learning Network) and the intersection of all the PLNs with each other and the content of your course will result in the MOOCification.
Basic tools to MOOCify
Here are the tools I would start with:
- Course hub: You need somewhere to put stuff up about the course. This could be the traditional VLE / LMS that you’re already using, or WordPress Blog or Google Sites or some other CMS. Ultimately, you just need a webpage people can get to. Depending on access, you might also want to run a forum for Q&A as part of the hub and maybe some sort of a link/feed collector. If you have more technical resources, you may want to start some sort of a dashboard that would collate all the feeds.
- Blogs and other content creation tools: Keep it simple, you smart person. Use WordPress. It’s easy, free and has many hosting options. I’d advise the students to start a WordPress.com blog for the course (unless they want to use their own on another platform like Blogspot). Tumblr might also be an good alternative.
- Twitter and the hashtag Twitter can provide the glue to your MOOC. Or maybe the lifeblood. Or maybe the backchannel. Or maybe something else. But you should definitely use it. Google Plus and Facebook are ok, but none of them have the simplicity and openness of Twitter.
- Webinar platform (synchronous communications) A MOOC can be amplified if you can talk to each other in a synchronous manner. People gathering at the same time in the same virtual space can be very powerful. Your institution may already have some platform like BigBlueButton, GoToWebinar or Blackboard Collaborate but in some ways Google Hangouts on Air are the best. Free, easily accessible and an easy way to share recordings on YouTube.
The skills of the successful MOOCer
We should not overlook the skills, you or your students will need to develop to make all of the above work. You don’t need to start with anything more than being able to browse the web, send an email using a webform or maybe buy something on Amazon. But you’ll want more. Some of these are very small but they will make things a lot easier.
- Understanding URLs: This is probably the biggest obstacle I see most people fail at when they try to take the next step on the web. You need to know what a URL does, what are its components, how to copy, where to paste and how to change it to get a different result. Basically, all people on a MOOC should be able to get this Navigator badge.
- Twitter skills: Twitter is simple. But there’s good and bad ways of using it. You need to learn to follow the right people, @mentions, two kinds of retweets, short URLs, and above all HASHTAGs! Does take long to suss it all out but suss it out you must.
- Blogging skills: At the core, blogging is no differnt than submitting a form or sending an email via webmail. But how about inserting a link, a picture or attaching a file. All of these are easy but if you’re new, they’re something to learn (which means get wrong a few times and get frustrated by). Knowing how to use the Heading styles can also make the difference to a lot of people.
- Sharing and embedding: If you have a blog and get what a feed is, you should understand what it means to embed something and how to do it. This could be scary at first because you get to copy a blob of incomprehensible code and are asked to paste it somewhere else. But it’s within the reach of all with a bit of encouragement and instruction. It’s also worth exploring what some of the other options found under the Share button are all about.
- Collaborative creation skills: Depending on what the course does, being able to edit a wiki, can be a useful skill. It doesn’t require much but may be more natural to some than others. But there are other ways to collaborate, all of which can be useful to explore (see below for some tools).
- Understanding feeds: You don’t have to be able to roll your RSS feed by hand (or even know what on earth I’m talking about here). But your participants should know that all the services they use publish feeds that can be subscribed to in various ways (Google Reader should be on your list of tools).
- Signing up for an account: If you sign up for account on every new service that pops up (like I do), you don’t even think twice about it. But for people who may not do this sort of thing more than once or twice a year, it can be a frustrating experience. All services are a bit different but knowing how thing like usernames, passwords, recovery emails, settings, etc. work makes it all a lot smoother. Not sure what can be taught here but acknowledging that this is a skill to be refined and thought about is probably a useful first step. Also knowing about some of the tools for managing account information (see below) would be useful.
- Single sign on: What’s with all these “Login with Twitter” or “Facebook”? Once you have the accounts, it’s useful to be able to use that facility. Just knowing it’s there and what it does should be enough for a start. Your advanced users may want to learn about the idea of ‘oauth’.
- General computer productivity: This is not a MOOC skill but being able to use the computer productively and in a way that makes the most of its accessibility features can remove a lot of the frustration. The Computer Productivity and Accessibility Cue Cards are there to help.
MOOC+ the tools for your next MOOC
- Badges: I hope that one day all MOOCs will issue open badges (following the Mozzila Open Badge Infrastructure) to participants. And I hope traditional institutions will follow suit. New tools are coming out that will help with that. For now, http://openeducation.us provides a model.
- RSS integrator: There are different ways to collect all the RSS feeds that you and your participants are producing. gRSShopper will be for you, if you have a server and some basic sysadmin skills (or know somebody who does). But some people just use GoogleDocs and something like Storify, to put it all together. At the very least, you should learn how to use a private RSS reader like Google Reader. You may also want to geek out with something like Ifttt or even Yahoo Pipes.
- Collaborative content creation: Working togeter on a document can be a powerful (if confusing) experience. EtherPad is a fun little tool for workign on a document together. But GoogleDocs are just as good and offer some nice features like commenting. They are also a bit more stable (in my experience). The one advantage of EtherPad is that it will colorize all the contributions at once and has a nice timeline replay function so that you can see how the document was put together. But, of course, an old-style wiki or even Wikipedia itself, could be the tools that are right for you. I am also partial to BookType for producing books you’ll want in a distributable formats (like PDF of ePub). For the ultimate geek and open source advocate, there is GitHub.
- Multimedia tools: Let’s be honest. We’re talking YouTube here. Really the best place to share videos (although many alternatives exist). There are also tools that help produce fun animations to be shared like Xtranormal or Animoto. Some screencasting tools like Jing would also be helpful on some courses. And there are audio only services that may be important for some: SoundCloud, Audioboo, iPadio, TokTok, VoiceThread.
- Social bookmarking: The heyday of social bookmarking services like Delicious is gone. But they are still there and maybe the just the right tool for your course. Reddit is one but there are also things like Pinterest, Storify or Scoopit that add extra pizzas to the whole process.
- The cool tools: All of these tools are cool. But if you go to https://t.co/fpG4sE3r, you’ll find many more. New tools pop up and disappear every day. If you want to stay on top, follow the #edtech hashtag and read some tech blogs like Lifehacker, MakeUseOf or TechCrunch.
- Password management: If you’re serious about MOOCing away, you’ll accumulate so many accounts so quickly, you will have soon lose track. I use LastPass to help me keep track of all the accounts on all the machines. It’s a secure browser plugin that makes it all painless and effortless. KeePass is another free solution.
Is that it?This started life as a blogpost with three bullets:
- WordPress blog
And it really is that simple. But when you break down anything simple, you end up with many component parts you may not even have been aware of.
I’m sure I left out much that others will feel is important. But you know what? That’s what the comments are for. Have away!
The MOOC and I (some background by way of a postscript)
MOOC and I were a love at first sight. In fact, I’ve been proto-MOOCing it for over a decade when I started putting up all my teaching materials on http://Bohemica.com and had a platform developed that would allow teachers and students interact. I’ve since moved on but the experience made me want more. I got on the Creative Commons and Open Source bandwagon (using and releasing) and when MOOCs started popping up, I was there, too (not right at the beginning but before the explosion).
Ever since I saw a MOOC I wanted to do one. The problem with the connectivist MOOCs (see here for typology) is that they are all very self-referential, focusing on connectivism itself or some MOOC related aspect of education (digital storytelling, open education, etc.). So I didn’t really see myself fitting into that (interested, as I am, in educational theory). The Udacity/Coursera type MOOCs (or xMOOCs) that really made the name popular also showed me that you don’t have to run a MOOC about MOOC like things only. Thus this post and #ITR12. Hope to see some of you threre.