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A review, or two, giving the heads up for social learning designs #oldsmooc

Well, #OLDSMOOC draws to a close this week with time being given over to look back and learn something of participants’ learning narratives or design narratives and to review the course itself. Over all, for me, the course has been a great success, but that’s not to say it’s not been without its trials and tribulations, most of which seem to stem from the constraints of the Cloudworks platform, used by the course as a central hub and repository for content, and the challenge of designing for collaboration and the successful establishment of social contacts on which this collaboration might be built. So, in order to throw some light on these aspects, I’m going to use this plenary session to look back and review the “social” design of the course and take a closer look at Sheila MacNeill’s prototype, which addresses the problem of visualizing networks and content within Cloudworks.

In week 5, the concept of prototyping for teaching and learning was explained as being part of the iterative process within “design science”, that is “the need to build on what others have done and learned, to experiment and test, and then use this to improve the design” (Laurillard, 2012). Well, that’s certainly what Sheila did.

Seeking a better way “to make Cloudworks more friendly and show how some of the social data there could be used to give users a different view of what they’re doing, and maybe help them to make more connections and maybe use Cloudworks a bit more”, Sheila used Balsamiq to prototype her envisaged Cloudworks make over.

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I think Sheila has done a terrific job here. The prototype, and her demonstration, clearly shows the advantages of making these modifications. It shows how the platform might be used to provide alternative views highlighting the relationships amongst networks and amongst content. Used in this way, like Sheila, I can really see how Cloudworks has the potential to be used more widely, not just as a content repository, but as an individual’s portfolio/personal working space across a range of learning events, and so support their lifelong learning. Clearly, like Richard Site says in his article, “working with prototypes can point out deficiencies and reveal unseen opportunities”. Sheila’s design modification, and rationale for doing so, has been warmly received. Indeed, one of the original Cloudworks developers has responded positively in the discussion forum, adding “what would be most useful for me is to know the exact navigation issues that folk are having difficulty with: what exactly are you having problems finding and how are you trying to look for it at the moment?”

It’s here that comments from learners, or end users, can be illuminating. Kelly Edmonds says, “I don’t find Cloudworks intuitive and it has hindered my ability to jump into the social aspect of this MOOC”, and Paige Cuffe‘s response also seems particularly illuminating when she says, “I really like your idea of organising around people to whom you are connected through interaction – it would greatly facilitate conversation within this environment rather than driving discussions out of Cloudworks into a plethora of spaces (twitter, FB, google closed groups…)”.

So what participants are having problems with, apart from visualisation of the platform, is finding how to develop conversations within Cloudworks and nurture relationships in order to help facilitate meaningful collaboration.

By switching perspective, it appears much as Diana Laurillard says, “the closer teachers learners are to the specification of digital learning designs, the more these programs are likely to achieve useful learning goals. The detail of the design must not be left to programmers!”

It seems to me that the same sentiment might well be applied to course designers as well. I wonder whose opinions the OLDSMOOC designers solicited. Who did they envisage would be their MOOC participants and what learning proclivities did they envisage them having? I wonder if they used the Ecology of Resources (EoR) Design Framework in the inquiry stage because, if I understand this correctly, the EoR framework seeks to include the views of course participants into the process.

I know the course designers did survey participants upon registration, but I wonder if instead of just paying attention to the course materials, individual learning goals and to the course website and tools, if sufficient acknowledgement was given to the “social” dimension pertinent to MOOCs and to the extent to which participants were willing and able to engage in social and networked participation in order to support their learning. I’ve looked over some templates provided within the course, but I can’t detect anything noteworthy that relates to this aspect.

To be fair, attempts were made within the course design to encourage collaboration, but this proved to be too much of a challenge in the short space of time available. Particularly as the course bizarrely advocated that participants assemble themselves not just into a collaborative project group but also into a study group as well. This is puzzling, indeed possibly plain wrong, and I can’t figure out the reason behind it. It seems to me that one encourages learning by doing whilst the other encourages learning about, and adds up to a lot of effort. Mysterious.

Despite all that, it seems that the design challenge for such courses in the future is how to “jump start” conversations so that people can make connections, build trust and go on to develop working relationships. My own learning narrative demonstrates that finding commonalities with other participants is vitally important. Additionally, Penny Bentley showed how by disclosing small snippets of personal information you can reach out and invite contact. During the first OLDSMOOC convergence session she provided a link on Twitter to pictures of her recent camping trip, such a simple act that helped spawn the development of a supportive learning network. What’s more, looking to strengthen the “social glue” within the MOOC, Penny went on to initiate the OLDSMOOC Facebook group. To me, the social underpinning of a course such as this appears to be just as important as its content, structure and facilitation.

Talking of which brings me back to the course itself. Over all, the course was very good. The content provided was both expansive and of a very high standard, and facilitation of the course was excellent too. It’s amazing that a “rookie” like me was provided with access to so many experts in the field of learning design. The course was highly structured, possibly over structured, but I’m not sure if that was a bad thing for me. I didn’t know anything about learning design before I started the course, so I probably benefited from being “micro-managed” within such a tight structure, even if the timings for some activities seemed highly fanciful at the beginning. However, I definitely found the project based premise of the course to be very useful, and I’m coming to think that with all this talk of MOOCs and their ideological prefixes – whether it’s a cMOOC or an xMOOC – that the real gem might just be the pMOOC. After all, if done well, participants have the opportunity to come away with not only tangible skills and competencies but also an enhanced personal learning network too.

Finally, I’d like to add that incorporating a badge strategy into the MOOC has proved interesting. Some participants have reported that they’ve found it strangely motivating, whilst others have found it a source of irritation as it seems to introduce an element of competition. I don’t know what to make of the effect it’s had on my participation. I know that in week 7 I was tired, and because I didn’t need to participate for it to count towards a badge, I largely ducked out, and I know, like you might already have suspected, that this “review” is a blatant attempt to bag another badge.

Anyway, to end, I’d like to thank not only the OLDSMOOC design team but also all the facilitators on the course as well. It can’t have been easy designing for what’s pretty much unknown territory, but your efforts are sincerely appreciated. I’ve lots to take away with me, not just in terms of learning design but also in terms of new buddies for future laughs and learning.

Thanks OLDSMOOC 🙂

References:

Laurillard, D. (2012) Teaching as a Design Science. Routledge. New York

Site, R. (2013) Prototypes Are Essential to e-Learning Design. Available at: http://info.alleninteractions.com/bid/94339/Prototypes-Are-Essential-to-e-Learning-Design

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Sites 2013 http://info.alleninteractions.com/bid/94339/Prototypes-Are-Essential-to-e-Learning-Design

Published inLearning Design

3 Comments

  1. This looks like the first stage in our evaluation process, Helen, and gives the OLDSMOOC team some good starting points for our own reflection.
    The positive points you mention in relation to Sheila’s prototyping and the link you built up with Penny were among the highlights of the MOOC for me. That kind of organising principle being introduced into a potentially chaotic discussion is very important for this kind of course. And I very much enjoyed your and Penny’s independent narrative reflections.

    You also rightly ask the pertinent question of the extent to which the course designers practice what they preach – and on that issue I’ve been wondering if we really do have something to learn from your review – as Yishay has suggested to the team. In fact, I think some of the negative points you mention confirm the principles we preached, even though our practice of them fell short of ideal – at least for me that was true.

    Two of the issues you raise will stay with me – (1) how structured should it be (an issue raised by other participants as well), and (2) how best to assist participants in organising groups.

    (1) For the first, I think I’m quite happy to offer structure in case it’s of use, including estimating the minimum time a participant might spend on it. We know very well that students do not always do what is suggested, and that is their prerogative to decide. But they cannot decide if we have not suggested and designed it. So I would argue that it is the learning designer’s responsibility to design what they think is the optimal sequence of activities to support the achievement of the intended learning outcome. And that means structure. The timings I agree were minimalist, and to do the tasks properly would require more time. Perhaps it would be better to suggest the minimalist time (enough time to get a sense of what the task is, what use it might be, and cursory understanding of it), and the optimal time (the time needed to achieve the learning outcome in full)?

    (2) We did try various ways of organising groups – with Sheila’s upgrading of Cloudworks maybe that would work better. We do have to think about promoting the forming of groups – crucial for the overall success of MOOCs. I’m not sure what you learn from the experience you and Penny had – that seemed extremely fortuitous!

    So thank you very much for the review, which will serve our iterative learning design process very well!

  2. Hi Helen,
    Thank you for such a rich overview of the course. Your narrative provides a good framework of thinking about the MOOC and not only the ways of thinking about what we have been doing but taking it forward.
    Jane Nkosi

  3. Hi Helen, OLDS MOOC buddy. Without the “social glue” of twitter I would have found it difficult to make it through the OLDS MOOC. Sharing tips, jokes, weather forecasts, fine dining ideas, badge applications, verification requests, links and images was so much part of my learning experience. Once people get the hang of twitter (it took me some time), this form of microblogging isn’t time consuming yet is such a powerful way of keeping the conversation going in a MOOC.
    Thanks for being part of my learning journey, I look forward to continuing our connection into the future.
    Penny

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