Emergent co-exploration in c-MOOCs: A proposal

This post presents a proposal [updated 15&16Feb14] for how to establish a balance between the wealth of potential input that is made available during a connectivist MOOC (c-MOOC) and the need to digest any input.  Some background to why this is an issue is provided below through quotes from or links to previous posts.  Then I include a draft invitation.  But first the proposal:

When you start participating in a new c-MOOC, you look for people whose posts interest you.  You then create a personal google+ “MOOC-feed” circle for that MOOC and recruit five of those people-of-interest to do the same, that is, include you in their personal MOOC-feed circle and recruit four other people whose posts interest them.   (Note: This does NOT imply that you and the other five people all have each other in the one common MOOC-feed circle—see figure below.)  When any of you post to the c-MOOC or want to share someone else’s post, you also share that with your personal MOOC-feed circle.  It’s important to include text to explain the post or the sharing, so that the receivers can see whether it’s a post or link they want to open and read more of.  You need to check periodically for posts shared with you from the others (which you can do by clicking on that circle at the top of your google+ Home page or in the “More” drop down menu at the top of that page).

This structure allows you to spend less time surfing the c-MOOC posts, but without worrying that you are missing out on good stuff.  You probably are, but less than you would have without your MOOC-feed circle (informed by their MOOC-feed circles, etc.) to provide you with a selective subset of what is being posted.  The time you free up is time that you can use to a) digest some of the input and integrate it into your thinking and practice; and b) dig deeper into specific connections.

p.s. Small complication: If you have established your MOOC-feed circle and someone else invites you to join theirs, then, if you accept, you’ll have to add a 6th, 7th, etc. person to your MOOC-feed circle.

Variant: The people you recruit into your personal MOOC-feed circle do not create their own MOOC-feed circles, but they still share with you anything they post to the c-MOOC.


On balance: Envisage the [c-MOOC as] a space that you enter and leave mindfully.  That is, set limits and give yourself a structure so involvement in the community does not lead you to feel swamped or fragmented or unsure that you can synthesize or keep in mind all the interesting items you are coming across.  To this end, you might allow yourself a delimited amount of time per day, say 30 minutes, to explore online offerings or sharings but you would also preserve an equal amount of time (preferably when you are fresh at the start of the day) to gather your thoughts based on whatever is currently in view or in mind, which may be quite different from what you have to do for your work or project or studies.  Such “refractive practice,” in which you give yourself space to  “connect, probe, and reflect,” makes it less likely that you feel left behind when you don’t follow or respond to every thread that is offered, however worthwhile they seem at first sight (adapted from http://wp.me/1gwfa).

On abundance of input:  The most active people on c-MOOCs seem content (perhaps “addicted”) to a twitterish-scale brevity, frequency, and off-the-cuff-ness.  These people are often involved in educational technology not simply in the topic of the MOOC.  They and other not-so-active participants appreciate the shared links and sometimes create blog posts that show how they are digesting what is discussed and shared.  Some of the not-so-active c-MOOC participants indicate that they are not getting that much from the twitterish-scale exchanges or shared links… (from previous post).

Two weeks ago, I expressed my feelings on this last point by sharing a passage I had just read from a novel, Luminaries (set in goldrush New Zealand in 1860s), p. 262:
He began speaking… by observing that upon a tree there are always dead branches; that the best soldiers are never war-like; and that even good firewood can ruin a stove–sentiments which, because they came in very quick succession, and lacked any stabilizing context, rather bewildered [him]…Impelled to exercise his wit, [he] retaliated with the rather acidic observation that a steelyard always goes with the weights–implying… that his guest had not yet begun speaking with consistency.
Draft Invitation
I’d like to invite you to into an experiment with the aim of a) spending less time surfing the posts for the XYZ MOOC, thus freeing up time to b) digest some of the abundant input mad available and integrate it into our thinking and practice and c) dig deeper into specific connections, yet d) doing a,b,c without anxiety that we are missing out on important exchanges.
What would we do? I include you as one of five people in my personal google+ “MOOC-feed” circle for the XYZ MOOC.  Optional but encouraged: You recruit into your personal MOOC-feed circle and four other people whose posts interest you.   (Note: This does NOT imply that we all end up in the one common MOOC-feed circle—see figure on http://wp.me/p1gwfa-As.)  When any of us post to the MOOC or want to share someone else’s post, we also share that with our personal MOOC-feed circle (or, if you don’t create your own circle, share with me).  (It’s important to include text to explain the post or the sharing, so that the receivers can see whether it’s a post or link they want to open and read more of.)  If you create a MOOC-feed circle, you need to check periodically for posts shared with you from the others (which you can do by clicking on your personal MOOC-feed circle at the top of your google+ Home page or in the “More” drop down menu at the top of that page).
Let me know if you are interested to participate so I can get this going or look for others to join the experiment.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see bit.ly/pjtaylor). He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (bit.ly/tbhblog)

11 Responses to Emergent co-exploration in c-MOOCs: A proposal

  1. Glen says:

    Nice thoughts on how learners can strategically interact in a MOOC at their own pace. If instead of 30 minutes a day, I’d rather interact for 30 minutes a week (or some other less frequent time) would you say that MOOCs probably aren’t a good choice? Or…does all of this imply that MOOC scheduling needs to be set at weekly chunks (which seems to be the standard)?

  2. Teryl says:

    One of the things I keep thinking about is that I might not find 5 like minded or not be accepted if I ask. Sort of like the last kid picked for the sports team or being too shy to ask others (revisiting high school socially). It means for me probably asking a lot or spending a lot of time initially trying to figure out whom to ask. What are the best “like minded” criteria in a MOOC that already has attracted those of similar interest in a topic/time? Is it likely to be occupation, geography or other factors?

    • Maybe the first time most of the connections could be within a circle that already know each other. That would provide a model that others could look at when you, the relative stranger, invite them the next time.

  3. balimaha says:

    The problem, I think, is that you can’t necessarily know from the first week or two, which small group of people you want to include in your circle. You could try it based on the quality of their blogposts or comments, or based on similarity to your context/geography or difference, but you may end up on the periprhery of what is important and “really going on” (of course, a cMOOC is more like an evolving crystal – you look at it from different angles at different points in time and find something new each time. I think some people who write posts connecitng different things are helpful to others unable to commit all that time (and when I can commit the time, I try to be one of those connecters, but the pro is Jenny Mackness, I think). I guess most of us do what you are saying less formally (e.g. On facebook, there are some people’s posts that i almost alwys click because i know i like their writing).

    • The proposal is designed to address the anxiety that “you may end up on the periphery of what is important” by being able to rely on 5 others to connect you to things you might miss.
      (Notice — see the diagram — that the five you get to join your MOOC-out circle are not all in each others MOOC-out circles.)
      Of course, 5 is an arbitrary number — If you wanted to invite someone extra later, that’d be ok. The main thing, from my point of view, is that people approach a c-MOOC with a commitment to balancing input and digestion, and thereby are more likely to stay active in the c-MOOC.

  4. The way google+ works may make this even simpler:
    1. I create a personal MOOC-feed circle, share what I choose with that circle (even though they may have seen it already through my posts to the wider community), and check what the members of the circle are sharing (even though that will include stuff not specifically addressed to me).
    2. People in my MOOC-feed circle don’t have to do anything special. But they can choose to create their own personal MOOC-feed circle (including me) and do the same as I describe above.
    This makes the feeds less filtered, but it’s still better than trying to follow everyone’s posts, no?

    • Refinement of the above: I add tags to what I share with the circle, one for each member, consisting of #mx followed by person’s initials, and ask each member to add #mxpt to anything they share with me. Then I can search for that tag to get a customized subset of what is being shared by members of my circle. The limit to the circle size is how many hashtags I want to have to add to each sharing.

  5. Pingback: A Slow MOOC Movement | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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