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There’s nothing new in MOOCs

10/01/2013 in About this course, Evaluation

Towards the end of last year I started working with the ocTEL team on how to evaluate the Massive Open Online Course or MOOC they’ll be running in 2013. There is a *huge* amount of discussion on MOOCs at the moment from tips for those taking a MOOC to the future of MOOCs and HE. This article from the Chronicle provides a rather US centric timeline of developments and responses to MOOCs. There is also the recent launch of the slightly mysterious Futurelearn in the UK. There has been some very interesting discussion on this on the ALT mailing list. The list is members only, but quoting from a recent list posting by Diana Laurillard “Everyone in the field knows there’s nothing new in MOOCs” but we do need to meet the “massive demand for education, across all sectors from primary to lifelong, all over the world… It can’t be done without technology… It’s time to start looking seriously at what those models could be.

For me at the moment, the focus is on evaluating just one MOOC, which is still under construction. Nonetheless, when I started asking the ocTEL team what they hope the MOOC will provide, one of the themes that emerged quite strongly is the desire for a sustainable community to come out of the MOOC. This has led me back to work I undertook over ten years ago on the theory and practice of online learning communities. At that time, I was influenced by Etienne Wenger’s insights into Communities of Practice and Jenny Preece’s perspective of designing usability and supporting sociability in online communities. Figure 1 summarises the dimensions of practice Wenger attributes to ‘community’, and Figure 2 shows the relative similarities in Preece’s online community key features.

Dimensions of practice as identified by Etienne Wenger

Figure 1 – Dimensions of practice as the property of a community
(Wenger, 1998, p73).

Online Community Features as identified by Jenny Preece
Figure 2 – Key features of an online community, with associated characteristics
(Adapted from Preece, 2000)

These models will be reviewed and elements drawn into the ocTEL evaluation framework. I’ll also be looking at the concept of sustainability in relation to community. This has been addressed before by Bell et al in their 2007 book chapter entitled Evaluation: a link in the chain of sustainability. They highlight how the lack of persistence could come down to coordination failure or when the “costs of participation exceed the perceived benefits“.

So perhaps there is nothing new in MOOCs, or maybe it’s just a reminder to put old lessons into practice.

Bell, F et al (2007) Evaluation: a link in the chain of sustainability. In Lambropoulos, N & Zaphiris, P (Eds.) User-Centered Design of Online Learning Communities. Idea Group Inc.
Harris, RA & Niven, J (2002) Retrofitting theory to practice – a reflection on the development of an e-learning community. In Banks et al (Eds). Proceedings of Third International Conference on Networked Learning. Sheffield University.
Preece, J (2000) Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability. Chichester, John Wiley and Sons.
Wenger, E (1998) Communities of Practice. Learning, meaning and identity.Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

** Adapted from a post on the Inspire Research blog. **

Introducing OLDS MOOC and mixing courses

17/12/2012 in related courses and developments

ocTEL shares some of its DNA with another free online course, “Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum”  a.k.a. OLDS MOOC (more on those acronyms in a second),  which starts early in January. By DNA, I mean that our principles are very similar; it’s likely that one or two people will be involved in both courses; and it’s possible that ocTEL may use some of the materials developed for OLDS MOOC, or even by participants in that course as part of their learning activities.

OLDS is the  Open Learning Design Studio within the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University. MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. It’s fair to say that there’s a lot of noise about MOOCs at the moment (here’s one account [pdf] that has reasonable signal/noise ratio) and this isn’t the place to unpick that, but ocTEL defines itself as a MOOC too. As such, we break with some of the assumptions of traditional courses, including the teacher-knows-best ethos that suggests that all learners should make a similar journey starting from point A and finishing at point B, irrespective of their context and personal aims. As the OLDS MOOC home page puts it,

We expect that many participants will commit for the 9-week ‘journey’, following the MOOC through from start to end and dedicating 3-10 hours a week. We expect others to join us for specific weeks or even a single activity. Participants will find answers to specific questions that interest them…

You can take the same approach to ocTEL. Both courses are free, so why not dip into both of them and see which bits are most relevant to you? We credit our potential participants with the intelligence to work this out for themselves, and encourage them to take responsibility for mixing different learning experiences to meet their needs. So, if you’re interested in ocTEL, have a look too at OLDS MOOC and particularly their launch event on 7 January:

The structure of the MOOC reflects a proposed process for a design inquiry project. In such a process, designers identify a (learning/curriculum) design challenge, explore it to gain an understanding of its context and driving forces, generate possible solutions, implement a solution and reflect on the process as a whole and its outputs.

We are delighted to announce that a live launch event of the OLDS MOOC will be held on Monday 7th January 2013 at 4:00 pm GMT online via a live webcast stream and will last approximately 90 minutes.

It will be broadcast live via Cloudworks at and online viewers will be able to post comments and ask questions (if they have registered for Cloudworks).

The launch is open to all, and we especially look forward to welcoming course participants.

The event will include a presentation of the MOOC themes, its pedagogical approach and modes of participation, and a brief overview of the weekly activities. This will be followed by an open discussion.  The event will be recorded and available afterwards for replay during week 1 of the course.

OLDS MOOC is a project-based MOOC, encouraging participants to do practical work of direct relevance to them as part of the course, and reflect on this. The focus of the course, and therefore of the work, is on developing open education resources. Hence it’s just possible that some of the work done by OLDS MOOC participants (I have registered to be one of them) could find its way into the ocTEL materials, as our course will be starting a few weeks after OLDS MOOC finishes.

Rough cut analysis of market research survey

08/11/2012 in About this course, course design, progress report

We closed the OCTEL market research survey a couple of days ago — many thanks to all the 140 people who completed it.

Tomorrow members of the project team are meeting in London to review the results of this, as well as considering other sources of intelligence that should guide the development of the OCTEL course. To inform that discussion, I’ve done a summary of the key results in the slideshow below.

This includes a rough analysis of the free text responses people made concerning the objectives they’d like the course to deliver, and the topics they’d like it to cover.

This is a preliminary account, subject to revision and development from further discussion. So comments are welcome. I’m also going to see if I can make the data (stripped of all personal information) available under an open licence [Update, 19 November 2012: here is the dataset on the ALT repository].

We are trying to run this project in as open and transparent way as possible. Suggestions for other ways of doing this are also welcome. And, on the off-chance that you are free and in London tomorrow between 11am and 3pm, you can join the project team meeting at Stewart House, University of London, Room STB2, Stewart House Basement (map, please report to reception on arrival). Please email to let us know we should expect you (and best to bring a sandwich in case we don’t have enough lunch to go round).

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