The stories we want to tell ourselves

I want to be a part of an awesome story – is this a proper way to describe human life? I’ll tell of a serendipitous moment of learning.  I listened to a Finnish radio programme in which a young woman told about her new book. The book (available only in Finnish, Ilmiön kaava) deals with social phenomena which come and go in public: political phenomena, eating behaviours, brands, idols, what ever. Social media helps in aggregation of these phenomena. The pattern of these phenomena is the book’s theme. The book is very practical and its intention is far from mine, it helps to sell something to anyone, it gives lists to check if you have tried properly. My intention is to understand online learning and my interest is in authentic events. In spite of that great difference, the radio programme helped me a lot. It made me change my frame from individuals to phenomena. My former attempt to understand self-organisation was in February 2011 in this blog. I was interested in crowd behavior and the answer was that leaders or organisers were always needed. I told about some cases, which aimed to ‘do something good’.

In the radio programme the premise was that nowadays everyone wants to be a part of a good story. We leave in crowds and want to share things. That is why we need phenomena to connect us with certain people. Simple positive emotions and communication between the participants are crucial. Light satisfaction is the glue of a crowd for enjoying. What is needed for an successful phenomenon (event, case) to occur?

There must be some authentic shared interest and a group of people who feel in a similar way. People want to act jointly and so that everyone still can choose his/her own way. There must be members who want to spread the message/the thing not only buy or participate once. People don’t walk in and join, they throw themselves into the process. The illusion of one’s own choice is very important. The identity is mirrored in the crowd and there must be some freedom.

The phenomenon may raise unintentionally or it may be designed and supported. First innovative people begin the process but then we need the strengtheners. They may be older idols or known things appreciated which can be connected to the process wisely (in the way which people accept).
The innovators must be sensitive to the needs and hopes of the potential crowd: what it wants to be a part of, and what it wants to be against, not belong to. There must be something old and something new, a frame is a combination. Fans and likes are an essential part of the phenomenon. The roots are growing  when the members want to tell others and spread the ideas. The ideas worth spreading must be sensitively understood. Not every phenomenon is commercial but some requisite is needed. (T-shirts and so on). Passion for spreading the idea leads to emergent creative ideas.

Also the negative events may reinforce the phenomenon. How dare you to resist this lovely event is common attitude. Enemies are needed – this helped me to interpret how the rhizo14 FB group refused to accept some negative results – those must be a mistake of the researchers. I wrote about this in March in this blog.

New tribes celebrate around their totem poles and the  irrational elements are connecting people, not only rational actions and discussions. Rapid heavy streams in the internet require intuitive participation. The basic need is to be charmed by something with other people and take part in something jointly, yet feeling like an independent individual. Research is not the right way to do. This is apparent in the new discussion about the rhizo14 research between Francess Bell and Simon Ensor.

How to win the obstacles when an idea is rising? If the idea is fresh and authentic, the phenomenon may rise with little work, if not, nothing happens no matter how hard one tries. How to find the people who want to spread the message and are happy doing that and those who recommend the new idea. What are the common mistakes? One of the blunders is to fall in love with one idea and forget other people’s needs. Another is to tell confused stories so that the big picture disappears (please come here everyone this is awesome). The third obstacle is to be afraid of negative comments and stop doing what is needed (save one’s jewels).

We could explore a mooc as a social cultural phenomenon. Some phenomena may become a part of identity (for instance Apple) and keep up continuous emotional binds. We =people who have been studying connectivism from the beginning can be described as a tribe which has a new branch around Dave and rhizomatic learning. We have to choose Engagement or alienation (I remember the name of Tanya’s article about rhizo14).  I think that the model pattern of phenomenon describes well the rhizo-like courses without content, where community is the curriculum. The internet is full of this kind of phenomena, events, happenings, cases based on light emotions and intuitive approval. People are doing what they want in their self-developed silos. So what?

Many times I’ve been thinking that perhaps we live again the Middle Ages. What I experience is true as such and no evidence is needed. Sciences are a hobby of some old-fashioned  people at mentally dead universities and our new practical journals (as Hybrid Pedagogy) tell the up-dated truth.

Where is research on MOOCs headed?

The aim of this blog is to help me understand online learning. There is a new book “Preparing for the Digital University: a review of the history and current state of distance, blended and online learning.” G. Siemens, D. Gasevic and S. Dawson are working on a project of the MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) funded by the Gates Foundation. The goal of MRI was to mobilize researchers to engage into critical interrogation of MOOCs. The writers have gathered a big amount of research and built a frame for describing the situation until now. Siemens is a Canadian in Texas (MRI), Gasevic in Edinburgh and Dawson in Australia and the project seems to be global. The material they have used in the analysis comes mainly from North America, perhaps because of the language. They began from the autumn 2011, when Stanford University began its global MOOCs.

The paper is an exploration of MOOCs; what they are, how they are reflected in literature, who is doing research, the types of research undertaken and why the hype of MOOCs has not yet been reflected in a meaningful way on campuses around the world. Much of the early research into MOOCs has been in the form of institutional reports by projects, which offered many useful insights but did not have the rigor, methodological or theoretical,  expected for peer-reviewed publication in online learning and education. I was, as a learner, disappointed with this condition. Now the writers explored a range of articles and sources, and settled on using the MOOC Research Initiative as the dataset. I follow the part “Where is research on massive open online courses headed?” They report the ways which were used in collecting the materials. I am not very interested in assessing how well it includes everything – it never does- but I am interested in the content and the themes.

The results revealed the main research themes that could form a framework of the future MOOC research:

  • student engagement and learning success
  • MOOC design and curriculum
  • self-regulated learning and social learning
  • social network analysis and networked learning
  • motivation, attitude and success criteria.

The submissions were dominated by the researchers from the field of education (75% of the accepted proposals). There is need to increased efforts towards enhancing interdisciplinarity. Keywords was the concept most often used when they describe their categories. Computers can find words, it is true. Quantitative and mixed methods were used more than qualitative methods. Both Gasevic and Dawson have developed methods for social network analysis and learning analytics. I list for myself some topics which may be worth following and further exploration.

Engagement and learning success: the main topics in this cluster are related to learners’ participation, engagement, and behavioral patterns in MOOCs . Peer learning and peer assessment. Self-regulated and social learning and social identity were topics which analysed cognitive learning strategies and motivational factors and wanted to reveal students at risk. Social network analysis  and networked learning: identifying central hubs in a course or improving possibilities for students to gain employment skills. Learners’ interactions profiles may be analysed in order to reveal different patterns of interaction between learners and instructors. Motivation attitude and success criteria: diverse motivational aspects and course completion. I have done my own observations about these themes while participating on many MOOCs. I have to check the material in order to find the most interesting results.

Putting it shortly: the book seems to lack theoretical underpinnings and it is very North American, they know MRI and Gates. But I am glad that research is supported and I’ll follow next projects as well as LAK conferences. Here you can read what the Chronicle of Higher Education said about the report. They call George Mr not a Dr and I suppose they do it on purpose. It is not easy to change one’s role 🙂


Research about cMOOCs

It is my lifelong interest to follow research about learning events during cMOOCs. This time I’ll tell about an article Participants’ Perceptions of Learning and Networking in Connectivist MOOCs, written by Mohsen Saadatmand and Kristiina Kumpulainen. It was published in Merlot Journal of Open Learning and Teaching in March 2014 and you can read the whole text here.

I remember this research because I have answered all the questions and had discussions with Mohsen during  the PLENK2010 and CCK11 courses. I liked the way Mohsen planned the research. Now I can learn more using his article. I have to copy pieces of the article in order to use the right concepts, please read the whole article if you are interested. This is only a short copy of it.

The research questions were as follows:
1) How do participants in cMOOCs use tools and resources for their learning?
2) What networking activities take place in cMOOCs?
3) What is the nature of participation and learning in MOOCs, and how is it perceived by Mooc learners?

I am interested in the question 2 and 3, not so much in changing tools and resources. Twitter had become well-known in those days, perhaps for the first time in cMOOCs.

I liked some concepts Mohsen used to describe the research:  the study employed an online ethnography design to gain deeper understanding of participation and learning in cMOOCs. Online ethnography or virtual ethnography is a method designed to study cultures and communities online, and the complexities of technologically mediated social worlds.  Because of the researcher’s crucial role in ethnography, Mohsen participated in and observed different MOOCs since autumn 2010, which enabled a better understanding of the nature of learning in the MOOCs. I remember him. The methods consisted of an online questionnaire, online semi-structured interviews and autoethnographic insight. The numbers of complete answers were low but it is not necessary to get all the answers to understand a phenomenon.

This paragraph reminds me that research is hard work, the raw data is not the result as such:

The data were interpreted using an ethnographic research design based on a framework of analytic induction and comparative analysis. In this framework, the broad and existing categories and the initial definition of the phenomenon of study were examined through preliminary observations and a small case data collection process (questionnaire). They then underwent continuous refinement throughout further data collection and analysis. The process continued by redefining the phenomenon, developing and reformulating research questions over the course of research, and modifying and refining them based on subsequent cases and more data collection phases (e.g., interviews, participants’ artifacts). Different sources of data were scanned for categories of the phenomenon and relationships among them.

Ethical issues pertaining to online data retrieval were addressed well and the list of references was long and includes all needed sources. I trust it, no need to check them.

Some results: A great majority (87.5%) believed the cMOOC environment helped enhance student autonomy and improve self-directed learning by defining their learning goals and organizing learning activities and interactions. This is perhaps due to the less structured nature of cMOOCs, which creates more room for learners to shape their learning. The role of the instructor is also as important in MOOCs as in a traditional learning setting. MOOC learners had a positive attitude toward the support and feedback received from the course instructor or other course facilitators.

The results show that participation in MOOCs challenges learners to develop self-organization, self-motivation, and a reasonable amount of technological proficiency to manage the abundance of resources and the more open format. Participants in cMOOCs use an array of technologies and various networking skills. The nature of cMOOCs requires students to assume active roles, in a spirit of openness, to shape activities and collaborate in goal achievement. In the dynamic learning environment of cMOOCs, learners become more autonomous in selecting tools and resources, making sense of information and finding their appropriate learning pathways.

Although the descriptive results of this study were based on rather a small number of responses, the data triangulation of online interviews, participants’ online content and interactions, and autoethnographic insight provided a rich account of the nature of learning and participation in cMOOCs. The findings of this study can be further explored in different MOOC contexts.

My copy ends. These results are well-known, but how  to go deeper into participatory learning ? The voluntary answers as in this research tell about the most active students who ‘know the rules of the game’ and want to learn more. I don’t know how to continue but I’ll seek for other interesting studies.

Expert participants in fslt13?

Open online courses are full of possibilities to learn from each other and to network. Some of us participants in fslt were invited to participate as experts, because we had a some studies and MOOC experiences already. Marion raised a hypothesis in her blog using Dave Gormier’s words:

Expertise in an open online course can mean something different than in a traditional classroom. It need not be someone who has studied in that discipline but might be highly motivated within the social network of a course.

I try to handle that question using my own experiences. What concepts may I need for my pondering? Figure 1.

Dia3Marion gave the concepts craft knowledge and MOOC experience. I added networking skills from the hypothesis. Online technology is always near. Craft knowledge are connected with professional experiences. My first insight was that I don’t know the British Higher Education an its assessment so well that I could participate in student grading. Jenny commented that I could share my experiences as a teacher educator in Finland instead.

Jenny helped me with another interpretation: there is a great amount of philosophical grounds which are totally shared. Figure2.

Dia4I had read the books of Dewey, Schön, Brookfield and many others in Finnish universities and used them in teacher education. I knew them and now I found them online.

But where was the difference between practices? I had feelings about that but could not interpret what I felt. We studied openness in academic world, open communities and open hybrid pedagogy. I follow same happening in my country and reflect them against the global development.

I felt homely when I looked and listened to this presentation of Ilene Dawn. It is published in her blog here.

Dia5Teacher and learner share knowledge, but the important concept here is atmosphere. Transformation of consciousness takes place in the intersection of these agencies. The atmosphere means to sit near, sit beside, watch over, be present as a supporter. I love the slide 13, which is a photo of the students working together. The teacher has to trust in the students, groups and teams. The students have to recognize the learning happening in themselves. It is learning to learn.

This was a moment of learning to myself. I did not feel myself comfort as a direct supporter, I have never been such. My pedagogy is to wait until the students find their own truths. I did not feel that I should help everyone who said to be on his/her first MOOC. I trusted that they will find the way. My concept of online facilitating was more passive that which was in air. It is not easy to know when help is needed, but giving too much or too fast is a wrong solution. I had felt guilty because I didn’t participate in the discussion forums, only followed them.

I began to analyse students’ motivations by reading the Arrivals lounge discussions again. I found a group of students which wanted the grades and I thought that they wanted feedback only from the teachers. I noticed that only part of the students were interested in moocing and open online sharing. I tried to find those people, but many of them had already stopped to participate in the Moodle. Later I had to check my findings: some of the graded students were very open and I learned a lot in the interaction with them. Special thanks to Ilene, Steffi, Zoe and Charlotte. You were my teachers.

My answer to the given question about the role of expert participants leaves open in this post. This is a description of my way, main findings and problems which I met in fslt13. Scott, another expert, showed me that the ways to participate may vary a lot. Scott said that he was a helper. He was very active in all forums, he commented and supported. Perhaps he was “highly motivated within the social network of fslt13? “

Trying to define my expertise in fslt13

I was very eager to begin my participation in fslt13 week 0. I wrote two blog posts and commented on some forums. I enjoyed the first sessions. Then came a pause: I began to think about my expertise. What could I give in order to help or support my co-learners?

It was easier to recognize what I cannot offer: I do not know the British universities and their assessments or grades. Most of our expert participants live in UK, Oxford, London etc. They know these practices, so I may leave this side to them. I also recognized the difference between fslt13 and my way to act as an online teacher. I did not use any strict schedules or small groups. I gave the freedom to participate when the students wanted, when the time was suitable for them. I even gave the freedom to select their topics. Some people did their assignments at the beginning of their studies, some at the end. Every assignment was very personal and I did not care about the style or correctness of their texts. The diversity was great and I used to be a flexible 24/7 teacher. I cannot wait that this is the case in fslt13, this course is more normal or usual: topic of the week is clear and there are deadlines.

I have to find my expertise on a general level. I have participated so many different MOOCs that I know the process. My former blog posts based on my former experiences. I know that some chaos, uncertainty and disorientation belong to the orientation phase of MOOCs. But I began to ask myself on week 1 that who wants this knowledge of mine? I read again the arrival lounge discussions and found many different expectations.

One group of students aimed to learn to teach better, new skills and techniques. Some wanted to learn more from higher education and enhance their competitiveness. – I used to work in teacher education but teaching is contextualized and depends on the culture. So I am not sure how I could help these people in their career building.

Another group of students wants to learn more about online learning or about MOOCs and the technologies used in them. Here I recognized many questions which I was interested in myself: the engagement, cultural effects, teaching philosophy and style. Some students told that this is their first MOOC and they want to live it through . That got me to think that what makes a MOOC? Is it the openness and the freedom to choose the tools? This fslt can be performed by following guides and deadlines and working alone just like whatever university course, is this?

The diversity of expectations and very heterogeneous students are considered as a richness in open online courses. I have a hunch that this is true in fslt13 and our students will learn quite different skills and knowledge depending on their different orientations.

We have many experienced moocers which already know online learning very well. Our list of expert participants could be much longer than it is (about 22 of 133 = registered in Moodle today). But it is not important how our roles are defined. I believe that this experimentation to use expert participants, as described in this blog of MazWaite, this will produce us some new knowledge. This is a post about my process of losing my expertise and redefining it in this context. I had to define what I am not to understand what I am. Sometimes I wish I were more simple (simpler does not sound right, I am not sure..)

Now I am going to follow Icehockey, Finland against Sweden, our favorite enemy.

Fantasy and science fiction: Eric Rabkin

I want to continue my blogging on the course ‘Fantasy and science fiction. The human mind. Our modern world’ by telling about our professor Eric Rabkin. His videos created the atmosphere needed to maintain motivation and hard work. He spoke to me and to everyone, from heart to heart. I learned a lot about literature as a science (this was my first course) but it was not the only point. Professor  Rabkin has the ability to empower students, he helps to find the best inside us (how to say that better in English?)

In the discussion forums there are many threads owned to Eric Rabin. We want to thank him and should like to continue studies with him. The best.thread.ever. is “Professor Rabkin’s closet” in general discussions, began by William Richards. In one of his video lectures, Rabkin promised to tell us what is in the closet behind him. This  inspired many students to use their imagination and photo manipulation skills to present optional answers. This is my favorite, made by William Richards 2.9.2012. I only changed the color to moonlight, I think it works.

Where o where does my raven repose?
That is the question that Poe does propose.
Where has he lost it
God only knows
Ask the professor
In poem not prose
Look there it is right in front of his nose

The online community of students is as important as it is in f2f studies. The teacher influences the atmosphere very much. Eric shared his love to languages and literature and motivated us by sharing this passion. He shared his confidence toward us by appreciating our essays. He told that he learned much from us, in such a way, that it did not sound to be a phrase.  He was really interested in this open course where people learn from people around the globe. His attitude  is the opposite of cynicism. I thank him from the bottom of my heart just as he said to us in his last video with feelings in his voice.

His videos were easy to follow for us non native English speakers. He spoke slowly enough and used gestures, spoke with his hands – and through his whole personality. He seemed to love his work and us, every student on the course. More this kind of teaching and learning makes the world better. The aim of the course was to help everyone think more imaginatively, read more deeply and write more powerfully – and this became true in my mind.

I give the last words to Eric Rabkin, his farewell e-mail to us ended “Thank you for your participation, your kindness, and all you’ve taught each other and me. Ours is truly a new world of learning.”

Fantasy and science fiction: peer feedback

My course of Fantasy and science fiction is ending this weekend and it is time to analyze my experiences. I had to work very hard during these eight weeks. All the novels were new to me (never read those books in English) and I work slowly when I use English. Now I am tired and happy. The course worked well: our teacher Eric Rabkin is brilliant and the student community learned to support each others. This time I will handle the feedback I got from my peers. How did it function as a source of learning?

The feedback was organized so that everybody got feedback from four randomized, anonymous peers every week (after sending the feedback to four others). Peer feedback was guided to handle two aspects in the following way:

FORM here refers to matters of grammar, usage, and structure. Are the sentences grammatically correct? Are the words properly used? Is the exposition and argument laid out clearly? An ideal response would note one aspect of Form that the writer does well and would profit by continuing and one aspect of Form that the writer would profit by improving in ways you make clear.

CONTENT here refers to matters of insight, argument, and example. Does the essay show a deep understanding of some aspect of the work or of a pattern that one can see in the work? Does the argument make sense, feel persuasive, and reveal the significance of the insight or insights? Are there concrete details from the text that support the argument and that we come to understand more powerfully because of the argument? An ideal response would note one aspect of Content that the writer does well and would profit by continuing and one aspect of Content that the writer would profit by improving in ways you make clear.

I was used to use peer feedback in my work as a teacher educator. Peer learning was a normal part of our work and useful practice to our students, who were becoming teachers. It was not a big step to me to use peer feedback and I did not miss direct assessment from the professor.  His feedback was in the videos. My problem was to believe too much on my ability to write and think in these literature studies. I had to use my knowledge of the human mind (psychology and education). I had used English language in my own studies, reading books, writing some articles, but during last years only blogging and twittering.  I was not sure if it is wise to study literature in English, but I decided to try what happens.

In the first diagram you can see our program and my grades (form, content +the sum) and the number of peers, from which I got feedback. Minimum is two and maximum could have been 6. My best is 4 and I agree with that.

It was very important to receive straight and honest feedback at the beginning of the course. The grade (number) is only a short way to describe the level; the qualitative feedback showed me my typical mistakes and weakness. All the four peers told that in my first essay:

“The title was not explored by the writer. The essay is basically a summary of the novel and In my opinion, the ideas are not linked. This theme is very interesting and could be better explored.”

” the exposition and argument are not clear. The writer didn’t explore the subject proposed. There is no thesis or development of ideas. There is no progression, only the gathering of information and facts presented in a descriptive manner.”

I had to agree with their assessment after re-reading my essay in a critical mind. This was perhaps the most important moment of my studies. I am grateful for the long feedback and good advices about what I should do better.

I concentrated better on my second week and begin to receive more acceptable notes. Nobody suspected me about plagiarism (the discussion in the forums was plenty). I had mistakes enough and I original themes almost every time. I was proud to hear that

“Your thesis was different, and new, so you get points for originality.”

“Gosh, now I’ll always think of Poe’s characters while reading yet another rant on the forum. Possibly imagining fellow students chasing each other with an ax. An improvement!”

“The essay is interesting and ‘thought-provoking’.”

My ‘favorite weakness’, lack of clarity and logic, was not easy to take away and leave. Sometimes I succeeded in the form and forgot the content, and sometimes on the contrary. Comments like these followed me up to the end:

“The first paragraph and the final sentence of the essay are completely unnecessary; the rest of it is well expressed.”

“Your two questions in the intro are excellent questions, either one of which would have resulted in a full essay. Your essay, though, did not fully examine either of these questions”

“The argument is not very clear Please stick to one argument and explore it completely.”

I did not know how difficult it is to write a coherent essay with 320 words. Now I am more aware of my weaknesses in thinking and writing. These peer assessments were given anonymously and it made possible the honest speech. My learning curve is smooth as the following diagram proves.

I received 30 assessments and everyone was written seriously and honestly. It was easy to agree with the feedback. My language was assessed bipolar from poor to good without any mistakes. The students came from different cultures and many had English as Second Language (ESL), so the ability to assess grammar must differ. It was fine to receive advices from experts, an example here.

“Overall a good effort. ‘An utopia’ should be ‘a utopia’. The rule is that if a noun begins with a consonant sound you precede it with ‘a’. Utopia begins with the consonant sound ‘Y’ (as in youth’) and not the vowel sound of ‘Y’ as in ‘any’; so the phrase should be ‘a utopia’.  Also, watch your lack of the word ‘the’. For example ‘women in Herland’ should be ‘the women’, ‘comprehend all issues’ should be ‘comprehend all the issues’, ‘overcome obstacles’ should be ‘overcome the obstacles’ and ‘at least two of three’ should be ‘at least two of the three’. Comma placement in this sentence, ‘the male visitors had an opportunity to learn, too, and their minds etc…’ should be ‘the male visitors had an opportunity to learn too, and their minds etc…’ In general, these were minor issues.” Thanks for teaching me.

I got a positive  experience about peer learning during this course; it really worked to me. Perhaps I did easy mistakes to correct in my language and my writing as well. Perhaps the best literature students did not receive relevant comments, I don’t know. Some were disappointed which can be seen in the discussion forums.  My background as a teacher,  a feedback expert, surely helped me. I considered peer feedback as a normal behavior and an excellent source of learning. I am happy about participating this course and I’ll blog more about other aspects of my learning. Thanks to you all!


Fantasy and Science Fiction

A new episode in my life in the internet is going on; I study literature on the course ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction. The Human Mind. Our Modern World’. This is my third week on the course and I am writing my essay about Edgar Allan Poe today. I took a break in writing and came here to tell why I am committed to these studies. All important things are excellent:

  • the course is well organized and it  helps to proceed in learning and monitoring with other participants
  • the expert Eric Rabkin loves literature and languages and us, his students. I can feel it when watching his videos.
  • the learning environment / platform is clear and everything works there, no problems at all
  • the best parts for learning are 1. writing an essay after reading the material and choosing the theme and 2. giving feedback to the fellow students about their essays anonymously (randomly selected four students)
  • receiving the feedback, which the students write to me, listening it and pondering on it

It is obvious that learning needs structures, rules and guidance. Following the pedagogical structure I can find my strength and creativity. I am guided to “write to enrich my intelligent, active, attentive fellow students”, so I have to do my best. I have to focus and find the perspective which I can offer as enrichment to them. The essay must be short, only 300 words, so I have to select the content carefully.  I have to respect others as our teacher respects us – the atmosphere is one of the most important things in open online studies.

I was astonished that I learned so much about the peer assessments, which I got from the four fellow students. The assessments differ greatly but I can learn from everyone. Someone corrects my English, someone the  structure of my essay. It is useful to know what leaves unclear to readers. I have already learned a lot, for instance to focus my sayings  better, to say more clearly what I mean, and do not trust that the reader can guess my meanings.

This course reminds me about my experiences as an online teacher. I have found the same principles while teaching online myself and now I can see their effectiveness on a global online course. The studies are well organized. Human development needs guidance to emerge, it needs supporting structures and challenging assignments. Lisa Lane shared in her blog a definition of three kinds of MOOCs: networked-based, task-based and content-based. This ‘fantasy and science fiction’ course is both task-based and content-based, but it is still more: it is based on emerging learning process. It supports the students’ learning process from simple to higher, more complex levels. This improvement is the aim of all online teaching and learning. Have we lost this simple truth and have to find it again and again?

Did I change in fslt12?

Eleni Boursinou and Jenny Mackness are researchers and they want to understand learning in the course fslt12 (May-June 2012, Oxford Brookes University). I have blogged eight posts about my thoughts and this will be the last one. I want to help the researchers but I am not sure if I have anything new to say. I was an outsider, with assignments and assessment the experience had been different. I am an old, individual moocer and do what I want and when I can take the time.

Jenny is interested in this question:  What evidence is there for the ways people learn in MOOCs. ( Jenny’s blog post). After my comment she asked: How finding evidence differs from measuring learning?

Eleni Boursini wants to explore how people participate in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) (i.e. behavioural, interaction and engagement patterns). By observing learning behaviours she aims to develop an understanding of how learning occurs through networks. She is interested in collecting examples of changes occurred through participation in a MOOC, by asking participants of the fslt12 MOOC to write short narrative descriptions of their experiences on the course: what changed, and how? Is this story about:

  • A change in your conceptual understanding (connecting the dots: changes in concepts and relationships between them)
  •  A change in your behaviour (changes in ways of doing)
  • A change in your professional identity (changes in ways of being and becoming
  • Other:

I love these challenging questions and try to answer now, a month after the course has ended. I have pondered how the learning process is a part of my life and cannot be explained without contextualizing it my work life history and my retirement in 2010. I made some simple diagrams to describe the situation how I feel it.

My motivation based on learning more about learning and to compare the Oxford Brookes University course to the teacher education where I had been working. The British education is very appreciated in Finland (students go to England and pay a lot of money to get it). I felt that I have to leave this comparison because it was not the topic. It was only a frame in my mind.

I had an idea of sharing my experiences and knowledge. The main perception was that the content, the theorists were just the same. Now I got them in digital format, earlier via books.

Did I learn, did I change? No, but I was happy. All the discussions convinced me that we had been on the right way in our teacher education.

The next step is to connect my online experiences to my participation in fslt12. I know how to give attention to others and try to find mutual interests. I mentioned people and their blogs and topics. A simple diagram about this all:

Almost all my online networking has dealt with my professional areas: learning and teaching, facilitating. This fslt12 course focused same themes and I enjoyed the sessions with guest speakers. I got some new ideas and perspectives, critical views and broad thinking.Most visitors to my blog came from other sources, not fslt sites or participants – but if I want to be positive, I got new knowledge in the sessions and I had the opportunity to observe experienced chatters at work.

“Some efforts to analyse” MOOC behavior means that I considered the third week loneliness in one of my posts. Jenny came to discuss about unrealistic expectations in open courses an told that she does not enter MOOCs with the expectation of making strong connections. If they come, it is a bonus, she said. Vanessa told that she is more engaged and less lonely when participating open courses. She has left behind wrong expectations. This was a moment of learning to me. I also loved Eleni Zazani’s concept “small pockets of deep learning” in blog comments.

I am living through a slow process of retirement and so my greatest insight in fslt12 dealt with my problems to retire, leave something behind me. I learned that I don’t want to take responsibility of Finnish (or global) education any more. I cannot tell all the time how we did that in 1980’s – I do not find the way to meet novices in a constructive manner. I am not convinced that it is fine or reasonable to use open courses for random people. Still one diagram about my situation:

I feel that I should take a big step to something new way to participate in online courses. I have to use my autonomy and do what I want. I had decided not to participate any courses anymore but I tried fslt12 in spite of my decision.

I have practiced to live in the middle of many tensions and uncertainty many decades and supported my students and colleagues in this all .. but there are always challenges.. many insights must be found again and again.

You are never ready to life. There were some excellent microteaching cases at the end of the fslt course, which can help me in my challenges. I remember Eleni Zazani’s digital identity – how to take care of it. I need those devices and have used them.

What I have to answer to the researcher Eleni B. still? What are my patterns? Do I ever check them? I had a blog post about this – I have my habits from year to year. How about my changes in fslt12: a few conceptual, no behavioral changes, no professional identity changes anymore – but a deeper understanding of my retirement process. My networking has developed during many open courses and now I feel myself  confident. The internet is my open course in future and I’ll survive …





Communities, networks and moocs

I listened again the session with Beverly and Etienne Wenger (in First Steps of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education) and this time I was thinking about communities of practice and other concepts near it. I try to connect it in the situation in the fslt12 course that is going on. I found some touching discussion in Course question (Moodle, welcome week, the longest thread) and want to comment it here. I also remembered a blog post of Sia Vogel from October 2008: Being there and suddenly very lonely. Sia’s post was easy to find, she has still the same blog (like me). Sia got 19 comments to her post about loneliness. There was some discussion about third weeks of moocs, when participation numbers are going down. The enthusiasm is high at the beginning, but what happens on the third week? We live it in fslt12, which is called a domesticated mooc 🙂 and feels more like a course, but do we have that normal mooc syndrome ?

I copied some comments from our Moodle Course questions written during this week. I leave the names away because I am not sure if people want to be named here. You can see the names in Moodle.

Apologies for this, but I wanted to say that I’m really struggling to continue with this course. I confess that a lot of the discussions have washed over me in a confusing wave: there are just too many unfamiliar concepts and too many words applied in unfamiliar contexts. Perhaps it’s just me, but it feels like ….

I suspect that you are not alone. For myself, I too struggle with some of the concepts and discussions, often not really sure where they fit in. etc

Vanessa: I’m struggling too but that’s more about time and connectivity. It’s good point. I’m a bit fuzzy on outcomes myself but since I am just following (or whatever the appropriate term would be) I can just go with the flow to see where it takes me.

There are discussions about the amount of information, overload and the theoretical level and new concepts. Jenny comes to meet the students and they calm down (don’t worry Jenny, I am not leaving anywhere). Jenny’s and other students’ message is the same that was told at the beginning of the course (with Dave Cormier’s videos): do not try to follow everything, choose what you need and want. It is a simple advice that is always true, but does it help? How could we describe the situation? Here is one summary:

A MOOC is education that comes to me to be processed as I choose. Were it strictly defined as a “course” this approach would likely lead me well away from the understanding the outcomes promised me in the catalogue. And this is a frustrating process.

This is a learning process which begins with disorientation and frustration and you have to find the way yourself, with help of co-learners. Metaphors can help: Cris told about smorgasboard used during some MOOC and she gets an answer:

How about a carnival metaphor? School you buy a batch of tickets for selected rides. MOOC you get a site pass to try everything and find out there are more rides here than you thought.

Students may be disorientated with the directionality of the curriculum as I am with the apparent chaos of a MOOC. A MOOC allows me to play with uncertainty and depending on how my day is going, that can be scary or liberating.

Now I have used many quotes and forgotten my own experiences. I had the same feelings of loneliness and lacking meanings. I was eager some posts ago and I had feeling of belonging to this course, but it has disappeared. Perhaps my problem is, just now, that I have no teaching practice any more – I can see excellent mutual reflection about these themes. I thought discussions are practical and someone said they are theoretical. This is the world in moocs.I do not find my place or role in discussion forums.

I had already ended to participate any moocs but tried this anyway. The internet is my mooc. But I enjoy the sessions on Wednesdays, it is great to participate. Waiting for David White, he is my favorite tweeter and researcher.

My heading is ‘communities, networks and moocs’. I have not built many connections during these mooc years. No communities or networks but some names and habits for aggregating information and knowledge. Community of practice is suitable for work life projects but I am living a free after work life now. So my what-to-do list is open. It is not easy to be free..