Learning from failure?

The Learning Creative Learning course offered as a MOOC by the Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT’s Media Lab has a theme of learning from failure.  In that spirit, let me review something I tried to create associated with the LCL course, namely, a weekly live session on google hangout at a regular time, in which “we can talk and listen (and use chat function) in real time about whatever the LCL course has got us thinking about.”  My goals were:

1. to see if participants who signed up for the live session at a pre-specified time would become a community (in contrast to the communities created by LCL based on shared time zone, which mostly had not prospered).

2. to see if the synchronous voice & video connection helped to sustain such a community (as against connections made via asynchronous posts and chats).

3. to see if having people join a community with the pre-specified time front and center in its very name would prevent the problem MOOCs have of people signing up for something that they don’t then participate in.

4. to learn how to host a google hangout and broadcast it live via youtube.

5. to introduce participants to a five-phase format for getting people present and forming topics for deeper discussion (see http://bit.ly/FivePhase).

What happened?  21 people signed up for the specified hour each week community.  At most 4 participated and only one person came more than once (besides me as host).  So count that as failure on #1, 2 & 3.  I succeeded on #4 until today, when I could not see the button to broadcast on air and could not find any help items on that problem.  For the small number of people who came, I got positive feedback on #5 and appreciated the depth of discussion myself.  (One person who watched the video of the session applauded what we’d done.)

Learn from the experience?

I would still recommend that connectivist MOOCs allow people to sign up for sub-communities based on a time that they are generally available for a live session.  But I would cap these communities at 50 with the expectation that less than 10 would participate.  At least, that would be a next step in experimenting along these lines.

Another step would be to convene a group around a specific case or content area and find a time that works for the largest number of those people.

I would explore how to create a backup (alas) when broadcasting and recording of the hangout didn’t work through youtube.

Read more about the theory of learning form failure and think about whether the above is what is recommended or envisaged.

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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, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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