Towards moderately open online collaborative learning

After listening to a voicethread conversation that a colleague initiated as a participant in a Coursera MOOC on “E-learning and Digital Cultures,” I made a few observations to her:
1. I like the continuous (and thus real-time) aspect of the dialogue hours we have been hosting.
2. But I experience how difficult it is to get people to clear a regular time slot and come regularly.
3. But joining a regular paid-for class provides a motivation for people to attend.
4. Yet being part of a Massive MOOC reduces that incentive.
5. Thus, with the stimulus of your participation in the EDCMOOC, I’m thinking about a moderately open online collaborative learning (moocl, pronounced mookal).
6. And that would work best (i.e., keep moderately motivated people motivated to do the moocl work) if small groups of people met in the same group for, say, 4 sessions, in which case one could set up synchronous sessions (for which google hangout would seem to be fine).
7.  But #5 & 6 opens into addressing the problems of keeping people doing the quite-limited amount of inquiry and reporting back that a 4-session Collaborative Exploration asks for.

8. Your voicethread dialogue might have developed differently if the visual everyone had in front of them were a defined question.
9. Instead, most (but not all) of the comments were about the tool, voicethread, and the varieties of ways designers of online courses try to recreate what is lost when there is no synchronous classroom.
10. Indeed, the group reminded me of what was the case for another colleague in his first few years of twittering etc. in the e-health area, where the adopters of social media etc. were those who liked to learn about new social media.  Their discussions were not so much about providing or receiving health care.
11.  But those discussions led to new connections that wouldn’t have arisen through face-to-face modes and this edcmooc seems to have that effect of bringing potential colleagues into a forum where they can meet each other.
12. Which leads me to think about how to shape a MOOC that gets people interested in moocls (especially moocls about science in a changing world).
13.  Finally, my thinking about moocls reflects my gut feeling that the importance of education, including online education, including MOOCs is how much people become self-directed learners, which includes creating collaborations in which they learn.
(13a. Without that emphasis, MOOCs for “education” [as against finding one’s community] are like a textbook (see OpEd) — and what a MOOC gains by linking to resources on the web, a textbook gains by leading students systematically through steps in development of understanding with accompanying homework exercises.)


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012,

4 Responses to Towards moderately open online collaborative learning

  1. So Peter, part of what I’ve been thinking through as part of the MOOC experience is how do you take this very disperse and massive group of learners, many of whom are motivated and find spaces to create the kind of constructivist environments make possible through small, collaborative learning environments — be they classes or creative explorations.

    When proposing a synchronous dialogue hour like the ones you have initiated there was a good amount of push back about struggling with 1) time zones, 2) busy schedules and 3) confinement of a schedule. The test with VoiceThread was an attempt to experiment with asynchronous mode. I like the idea of having a focused questions as the visual. Because despite my prompt to discuss the experience of the MOOC many were excited by the tool.

    I am amazed at how much this MOOC experience for me is very much like the PBL and CE’s you’ve been offering. Which makes me contemplate even more the ways in which to build experiences for learners those very things you are constantly trying to build — mechanisms for activating and individual’s own sense and motivation to learn and inquirer. I think the tools and processes you and Jeremy have published in TYS could find a nice home for applying within these sorts of environments. Even in the reimagined version your are calling a moocl.

  2. Pingback: Expanding Our Mental Models of MOOCs – #edcmooc | Felicia M. Sullivan

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