learning in a MOOC

Like many educators I know, the start of 2013 has been about MOOCs. I’ve been participating in #etmooc — the Educational Technology & Media MOOC started by Alec Couros, Alison Seaman and a great team, and #edcmooc — E-learning & Digital Cultures, organised by another great team at the University of Edinburgh (and hosted by Coursera). Both have gotten off to lively starts, with thousands participating and activity spread across Google+ Communities, Twitter, Facebook, course blogs and thousands of participant blogs, among other places.

Before diving headlong into Digital Storytelling (Week 4 of #etmooc) and metaphors of the Future in Digital Culture (Week 2 of #edcmooc), I’m pausing to reflect on the learning process, or rather my personal learning process in these courses. I’d participated in other connectivist or cMOOCs previously but only intermittently; a few sessions each of Change11 and #CFHE12 last year. To be honest, I didn’t make a full commitment to either, but in each case I engaged with new ideas, new blogs and new people — all of which was valuable.

My intention this time was to bring something different to my MOOC participation: focus. Even without participating in every webinar, watching every video or reading every article or blog post, I intend to complete each course from start to finish. Like many other participants, my goals at the start were mixed. I want to learn more, through engaging with others, about the areas being explored in each MOOC (connected learning, the open education movement and digital literacies/citizenship in #etmooc, digital and learning cultures in #edcmooc); to contribute to conversations and sessions in areas where I have experience, both as a learner and a teacher (e.g. digital literacies, digital identity); to learn more, through both observation and participation, about organising and facilitating large, open groups of learners; and to challenge my thinking and reflect on my own learning processes. I may already consider myself an open learner and digital scholar, but the more I change my practices — the more I “unlearn” — the more I uncover assumptions and practices which can be (need to be) challenged even further.

Three weeks into #etmooc and one week into #edcmooc… and the water is fine. I started with #etmooc and the energy created there has been phenomenal. In some ways, this has detracted from my #edcmooc experience in that I have less time — but in other ways there is great synergy. This is partly because many people are participating in both MOOCs, but that’s not the only reason. Although I wouldn’t always choose to participate in two MOOCs at once (!) I’m finding that it is possible to be in two MOOC ecosystems at once and to participate and collaborate in and across both.

In Dave Cormier’s excellent #etmooc session on Rhizomatic Learning last week — the source for both the title of this blog postΒ  and the quote by Alec Couros in the image above — he reviewed his 5 steps to succeed in a MOOC: Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster and Focus. As I’m experiencing, first in #etmooc and now in #edcmooc, connected learning can be powerful when it progresses to networking, clustering and focus.

For me this has happened around digital identity — a focus of much of my own learning, teaching and research. Through both Twitter and the Google+ communities for each MOOC, I’ve found others thinking and engaging with the course ideas who are reflecting particularly around issues of identity and digital identity. I’ve engaged in some great discussions after reading thought-provoking blog posts by Angela Towndrow on understanding digital identity and connection,Β Carolyn Durley on developing a voice as a connected learner, Jen Ross (also a member of the #edcmooc team) on online teacher presence, and (via Jen) Amy Collier on the online teacher’s body. Blogs, and the ensuing conversations, have become my prime place for conversation and learning in both MOOCs.

This mightn’t be the same for everyone — but that is the power of open and connected learning. We define our own paths, we make our own connections, we chart our own learning journeys. At the risk of conflating these two MOOCs (there are, of course, differences), in both #etmooc and #edcmooc there is a strong sense of connection and community, despite the huge scale. Regular sessions — webinars, Twitter chats, Google+ hangouts — are like social glue, as Alec Couros describes, objects for sociality and study. The networking and clustering continue in smaller interest-driven groups. Of course not all participants will have the same experience and as the number and variety of MOOCs (both ‘x’ and ‘c’ varieties) expands there’s still much to learn about MOOCs and scale, accessibility and sustainability. However, in the face of the very public failure of another Coursera MOOC this week, #etmooc and #edcmooc are examples of how connectivist MOOCs can work well to facilitate powerful learning.

Quoting Dave Cormier: “If we make community the curriculum, membership becomes how we scale. It’s all about belonging.”

Image source: CC BY 2.0 Catherine Cronin

18 thoughts on “MOOCs: community as curriculum”

  1. First, I love the pic – in combo with Alec’s quote. Exactly how it feels.

    I’m another of the double MOOCers (edcmooc as well as etmooc) and am experiencing almost exactly the same as you, as I commit to working through both. Nodding my head a lot as I read your post.

    But in the past few days I’m becoming more and more interested in “clustering.” Was in fact just chatting about this with my colleagues here this morning. Has anyone else looked at this as a particular phenomenon of networked learning? It’s been a valuable part of the experience for me, connecting with a few people in some fluid conversations around a particular topic. I’m finding it’s what leads me to longer social connections that continue past the MOOC. But in and of themselves, these clusters of conversations hold value.

    Thanks for the post. Got me thinking…

    1. Hi Jeff — thanks for your feedback. It was a joy to match that image (one of my favourites!) with Alec’s quote, a great match. Like you, I think the move from networking to clustering is significant. For me it’s been what has differentiated this MOOC experience from previous ones, where I dipped in and out. I watched Dave Cormier’s “How to Succeed in a MOOC” video again last week, after the webinar. I’d seen it before but it resonated more deeply this time — now that I am engaged in the 5 steps he identifies. I’d like to see if Dave has any more about this in his work on rhizomatic learning. I’m also interested in seeing where this #etmooc/#edcmooc experience takes me — so far, so good!

      Glad to know my thoughts resonated with you, Jeff. As I tweeted in my thanks to @davecormier tonight, I am definitely #stillpondering πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks, Susan. It feels very much like a snapshot of my learning process at this moment — but still valuable to reflect and to write. Glad to connect with you in ETMOOC πŸ™‚

  2. Ditto!

    #etmooc and all involved are setting a wonderfully high bar for engaging learning that fosters the building of a sustainable community of learning. Glad I followed my instincts (and all the online buzz about this course) by diving in a few days ago. Deeply appreciative for what Alec, @cogdog, and others are doing to shape a response to those who question the value of MOOCs without exploring them.

    1. I agree, Paul. It’s a privilege to work with so many of the wonderful #etmooc team members, and to expland our Personal Learning Networks to include people who we might not have connected with otherwise. It’s an exciting time to be involved in open education — learning, teaching and researching. Glad you jumped on the bus in Week Four… still plenty to come in #etmooc πŸ™‚

  3. I loved this so much “that is the power of open and connected learning. We define our own paths, we make our own connections, we chart our own learning journies” that I just had to Tweet it! I so agree with this concept – I teach online and I work so hard to build from a point of creating a community and connected learning. This to me is the power of online education and it disappoints me so much to see it made something closed and disconnected – like so many traditional education paradigms.

    1. Thanks for your reply, Deanna — and for the tweets πŸ™‚ It is encouraging to see so many educators, from all levels, participating in #etmooc. Experiencing and experimenting with open, connected learning is a necessary step in creating those kinds of spaces for our students. Many young people are, of course, engaged in open learning outside of school. But to integrate these practices into formal education — indeed, to avoid schools feeling increasingly irrelevant to many of our students — we must be be willing to be agile, adaptable and embrace open practices. Engaging in communities and MOOCs like #etmooc is one way for us as educators to learn and practice this. I’m very happy to have learned about your work, found your blog and connected with you here.

      You may already have seen this — a great recent article from Education Week about school leaders who are leading by example: http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2013/02/06/02leaders.h06.html

  4. I think I am at the “dipping in and out” stage in Etmooc – sometimes it just has to do with your life in the physical space, which does not give you enough time to engage in the digital space. I like the definition of Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster and Focus, from my very small experience, it seems that these are indeed what makes the difference between engagement or “butterflying” through the Mooc. Yet I must say that learning happens in the margins too πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks, Cathy! I can sympathise with the “dipping in and out” model — it is usually what I do myself because of work and life pressures. As you have, I found that I’ve learned quite a bit by doing this (particularly in #Change11 last spring) as well as connected with others who have become part of my PLN. In a conversation on Twitter about what I called “lite participation” in MOOCs recently, @mseangallagher noted the value of this — what’s referred to as legitimate peripheral participation in Community of Practice theory. It certainly seems relevant for MOOCs. Thanks again πŸ™‚

  5. Hi Catherine,

    I have enjoyed reading your reflection. I’ve actually changed the name of my blog to “MultiMOOCing Tragic”, however, I think I might drop the tragic bit, because I am finding, like you, there is a lot of synergy in doing these MOOCs concurrently.

    I’ve been applying the concepts and activities from etMOOC to the content of edcMOOC and some extraordinary things are happening for me as a learner. I won’t go into it all here on your comment space, but I have added another MOOC to the equation, The Modern and the Postmodern, another coursera offering. What that has done is to pull out the zoom and add a big picture dimension to all that we are contemplating, through reading Kant and Rousseau, both great commentators of enlightenment thinking and consequences, kind of apt at this juncture of what many call the 21st century enlightenment.

    When one’s interests converge, as they tend to do, it is not too difficult to find a way to integrate the learnings, tools, activities and musings of more than one course. Although perhaps going the forum route might be a bit of a challenge. Way to much to read, digest and make sense of. Which is why we blog and tweet.

    I’m enjoying morphing into a visual presenter as we consider digital storytelling and the production of our artefact. It’s a great opportunity to indulge in things we would ordinarily consider ourselves too busy for.

    Thankyou for your mention, I have enjoyed our exchanges about online identity, I suspect it may come up again in the next two weeks of edcMOOC.

    1. Thanks very much, Angela. I’ve had a look at your evolving blog — really loved today’s post! It’s wonderful to see you creating and “narrating your learning” openly and honestly. I can’t wait to see your future digital artefacts — this is something I am enjoying as well. Thanks again and I look forward to continuing to discuss our evolving ideas about digital identity and connected learning.

  6. Hi! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing a few months of hard work due to no back up. Do you have any methods to prevent hackers?

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