Innovations in online education that expand access

This post summarizes a set of my innovations in online education that may be grouped under the umbrella of expanding access—expanding the range of influences on the students’ learning and expanding access to the learning materials from courses. Read more of this post

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

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  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.

Collaborative Explorations

Collaborative Explorations (CEs) are an extension of Project-Based Learning (PBL) and related approaches to education that begin from a real-world scenario or case in which the problems are not well defined, which invites participants to shape their own directions of inquiry and develop their skills as investigators and teachers (in the broadest sense of the word). The basic mode of a CE centers on interactions over a delimited period of time in small groups—online or face-to-face—in ways that create an experience of re-engagement with oneself as an avid learner and inquirer. Read more of this post

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.)

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