Expert participants in the fslt13 syllabus

When I explored the history of the department of Psychology (University of Jyväskylä, Finland) I noticed that the first professors had some voluntary assistants around them. They helped in many ways and were postgraduate students at the same time. Now we have this situation in MOOCs. In this post I take this expert participant question very practically: what was asked and what I did. I cannot describe the process from others’ point of view, only mine.

Marion’s blog says that in fslt13 the facilitators have taken an approach to maximise the role of the expert participant. They sent emails to people like me.  I felt myself flattered (to be an expert at Oxford u know 🙂 ) and so I answered yes. Expert participants were invited to help

  1. facilitate and moderate discussion forums,
  2. support other participants in learning activities and assessments and facilitate peer marking.

I had to leave the second task because I could not participate in British markings. Actually I commented some assignments which were published in blogs. By commenting outside the Moodle I could be myself 🙂 . I had problems with the first task as well. I have told in the former posts how I felt to be in a wrong place and did not want to offer direct support all the time. I would like to wait more and let the students find their ways. I could say for instance about the profile photo that they use Gravatar, and I could send a message to tutor’s forum and ask them to notice a comment in my blog. I did not facilitate the discussion on the forums or I did it only very little.

But I did something else. I have this blog and I gathered the students’ blogs in my blogroll. So it was easier to check if there was any new posts. The same could be done in the fslt13 sites > community but to use my blog was comfortable. I liked others’ posts and wrote comments. I followed Twitter #fslt13 and greeted there some students, favorited and retweeted. I joined to Diigo group which Cris Crissman built for us. I noticed how Cris tried to flip her session and I retweeted about it.

I began to model open online participation and wrote many posts about it: power law or free will or what is this diminishing of participants. I published these questions on Expert participant forum and got feedback. I scanned the numbers of Moodle participation and shared that information. I wondered why last two weeks student assignments were presented in closed small groups. Those sessions were said to be open but it was double-bind-speak. I noticed this, if I took the freedom to go in.

I suppose that this part of my blogging, modelling open participation, will be the most meaningful afterwards. Those posts will get readers from outside the course, because the questions are general.

Marion’s blog ended in these words: “There are many unanswered questions about MOOCs especially in relation to the experience of participation. We hope our expert participants will gain a better insight into running a MOOC, build new networks an opportunity to reflect on their experiences. We will be giving them support in their roles with some online orientation sessions in Blackboard Collaborate.”

I have gained a better insight into running a MOOC. I am sure about this. Thanks to Marion about following me all the time and Jenny about your interest and help, and all others who participated in this journey.

The concept expert participant is very problematic and assisting teacher is not better. How about voluntary assistant? It could begin with voluntary because it tells about the nature of our work, we were not paid for participation. Assistant has a hierarchy which I don’t like but what concept could be a proper one? Tutor and mentor have certain definitions already. Resources? How does voluntary resource sound in British ears? Ridiculous or funny or?

Are there any laws for open participation?

Now I am writing about a topic which I hardly understand myself. Let’s begin with a story. When the course CCK08 was ending and I told in Finland that 20 students were commenting at the end of the course, I got a quick comment from a network expert: it is the 1-9-90 principle. I did not believe any principles, I thought it was a coincidence (2000 registered, 200 active, 2o at the end commenting and 2 stars). After that I have found that principle many times. What should I understand about it?

I have tried to understand the different ways, which participants use in their web life. Digital natives are born to it, immigrants have to learn (Prensky/never liked this ). Digital residents live and have social connections in the web, visitors use the web for certain purposes (David White/liked very much). There are more definitions and I have a blog post about lurkers, networkers, active participants etc. here

All those concepts tell something about living and participation in the web. But is it really so, that the Pareto law (1-9-90) , Power law knows the distribution about free and open web life, for instance MOOCs? I have an image which demonstrates my ideas.


My experiences have proved that the number of active people is always very small and the participation curve goes down very fast.

It is said to be ‘not scalable’ and it is the opposite of random, which gives us the Gauss bell form. ‘Not scalable’ is more random than random?

Today I met this phenomenon in fslt13, when I tried to analyze the actions of students and facilitators in the Moodle.

When I discussed with a Finnish expert Erkka Peitso (the image is based on his presentation), he explained that it is the resources which are limited. People do not have time and other resources for all the interests, which they dream of. This seems to be true in MOOCs. It can be described as a tunnel which becomes narrower all the time. Doug Clow has a blog post about this funnel. It is a presentation from LAK13 – I have to take time to read them all.

Another image which can help to understand is taken in Change11, Howard Rheingold speaking in a collaborate session.

rheingoldHe knows what he is speaking about. The concepts of collaborative or collective intelligence are challenging, but the participation curve takes the form of the power law. High engagement with a community is rare. There is Core and Periphery, I can’t help 🙂

When we have a course with participants who aim to the university credits and only a small number of free moocers, the core group consists of teachers and these ‘real’  students. Time will tell. We have some weeks left in fslt13. Actually Doug Clow claims that “it is not power law”. We should explore the process and don’t believe in simple laws. As I said, I don’t know what to think about this post.

We have an interesting experiment about using expert participants, exploring what we can do… are we helpful or more harmful?


Nomad, migrant, lurker, blogger or networker?

This time I’ll put myself on a web participation map by using some blog posts that have touched me. First I take a post of Wolfgang Greller. He considers himself as a veteran moocer, a migrant that comes again and again, and seems to enjoy the way he participates. He sees happy participants around him, a respectful community. Wolfgang’s blog got me to think that why I am not as happy as he. What is wrong in my attitudes or are my experiences (I am a veteran, too) so different that I have not-so-positive feelings.

The blog post that got me to write was Alan Cooper’s answer to Jenny Mackness’s blog post about a selfish blogger (a concept coming from Tony Bates week in Change11 course). Alan told that he follows moocs through others’ blogs for instance Jenny, and this touched me because I behave in the same way. I have no need to subscribe to courses, I want to be free and follow everything I want. So the concept Selfish Blogger interested me, it is just what I am (and Alan and Jenny). Perhaps “selfish” is not a good concept, independent could be better?

A blog is an own place to gather everything needed, wanted, for reflection and evaluation. Discussion around blog posts was considered by Tony, Alan and Jenny. Tony saw that discussions of Change11 happened in blogs (he was a facilitator during one week). Is this a problem, was Tony’s question. Or is it a normal way of participation in moocs. Alan thought that” postings in small isolated blogs can be integrated into larger discussions. And he wanted to go further to add that if we believe in open, networked learning then we should strive to make that integration as effective as possible. One step in the right direction is to integrate trackbacks into the comment stream.” That is something I can agree with.

Still one touching blog post: Dan Pontefract describes variability of possibilities to participate digitally. His diagram gives interesting concepts: Access to digital world is not clear in all countries, it is good to keep in mind. Collaborative Learner got me to remember “visitors and residents“, that description of David White (Oxford University) which I appreciate greatly.It helped me to understand my living in web, sometimes as a resident and sometimes as a visitor.

It is time ” to re-categorize the foolish Prensky and Tapscott terms of Net Generation, Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants into a classification that encompasses all ages and takes into account the realities of access and participation level” – thanks to Dan Ponterfract for this sentence.

Willing Participant sounds suitable for mooc participation, not because of technical problems but lack of time. Almost everyone tells that I should read more and think more and participate, but I have my work and family and other interests.

What have I learned by writing this post? I need new concepts for understanding behavior in digital worlds. Autonomy is not a peace of cake, it’s hard work in which you have to find yourself again and again. Thanks to the bloggers I mentioned – I used you all as my critical, narrative friends in my learning journey. See you again!