Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Connectivist courses - MOOCs

MOOC? What's that? It's a Massive Open Online Course - and it's different from conventional eLearning in a number of ways. Course materials may be provided by facilitators, but the onus rapidly moves to the participants for content development. The use of web technologies to create, share, aggregate, curate, comment and interact is absolutely central. Essentially, the MOOC is an educational tool which exploits the theory of connectivism and uses an open pedagogy based on networked learning. MOOCs are founded on principle characteristics of autonomy, diversity, openness and interaction.

But what does that mean in practice? Take a look, for example, at the Change MOOC, currently running from Sept 2011 to May 2012 which is a very comprehensive MOOC. In fact, it's got so much going on that it can be pretty daunting, probably particularly for those new to web 2.0 technologies. You need to keep up with the weekly email, read some recommended texts, document your responses, share and discuss these with others, perhaps engage in other activities. And you want to keep up with the blogs of your colleagues - they have a lot to say which is very interesting, and you wouldn't want to miss it, or their Twitter comments... and very quickly it's become unmanageable! Well, it doesn't have to be overwhelming, and perhaps part of the secret in this is knowing from the start that the course is Massive. You won't be able to keep up with all that's interesting that happens. That might be disappointing, but you can bet that as long as you are engaging somewhere and somehow with other participants you will be right there at the heart of the juicy stuff.

To get a better idea of how it works, the Change MOOC's facilitators, George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier describe it as follows...
"This is an unusual course. It does not consist of a body of content you are supposed to remember. Rather, the learning in the course results from the activities you undertake, and will be different for each person.
In addition, this course is not conducted in a single place or environment. It is distributed across the web. We will provide some facilities. But we expect your activities to take place all over the internet. We will ask you to visit other people's web pages, and even to create some of your own."
There's also a good video introduction to what a MOOC is here:

So, a MOOC is a 'connectivist' course, which involves learners in four major types of activity:

1. Aggregation
You read, watch or play with content, selecting what is interesting and appropriate to you individually. It's fine (and expected) that you you won't read it all. You can ignore things if they are too hard or don't interest you. Some courses might provide more tasks or instructions, others might point to existing web content, yet others may produce content specially for the purpose, for example the daily email delivered to participants of the Change MOC.

2. Remixing
You need to keep track of the content you've seen or used. Participants are encouraged to record this online in a way which can be shared, for example by blogging, using, joining in discussion groups, commenting on Twitter, or indeed any other Internet tool of choice, from photo and video sharing, to virual worlds or social network sites.

3. Repurposing
This is where participants create something of their own, based on the materials they've engaged with. This can be daunting, but the Change MOOC facilitators remind us that you are repurposing - not starting from scratch. Participating in a MOOC is very much not just about absorbing the content you're presented with. It's about engaging with the content and with others, and your learning emerges from this. The course is more like a toolbox, giving you the context in which to develop your skills. It's acknowledged that producing content for themselves, and more importantly sharing it, can be nervewracking for learners. In my own experiences of the OU's MAODE programme, many people, including myself, were initially nervous about blogging, but as the course developed it soon became clear what a valuable tool it was - a journal, a record of your research, your personalised revision notes, your conduit to contacts, a place to receive feedback, and jumping off point for discussion... more than any of us would have imagined before getting involved. I'm sure MOOCs feel like this tool - frightening and exciting to start, but rapidly proving themselves transformative, and continuing to do so time and time again.

4. Feed Forward
Participants are encouraged, though never compelled, to share what they produce with other course participants. Sharing is scary, but that means you think hard about what you produce, and with that comes greater satisfaction. Sharing might be through using Twitter or hashtags, sharing RSS feeds to your blog.

If you're still with me(!), George Siemens has drawn together an interesting view of the conversations surrounding MOOCs and how they differ from more conventional online courses, in a blog post.

I'll give (almost) the final word to the Change MOOC's facilitators again:
"When a connectivist course is working really well, we see this great cycle of content and creativity begin to feed on itself, people in the course reading, collecting, creating and sharing. It's a wonderful experience you won't want to stop when the course is done.
And – because you can share anywhere – you won't have to. This course can last as long as you want it to."
Now, doesn't that just sound like something you really have to get involved in? I know I'm excited!

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