Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Meta-MOOC Project Proposal for #ccourses


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If you’re interested in cMOOCs, connectivism, connected learning, from a pedagogical or research perspective, read on 🙂

If you care about trying to explain the learning in these situations to others, because you believe there is so much potential, really read on 🙂

You know, people talk about xMOOC vs cMOOC as if each were monolithic. I’ve been through something like, what, 10 or more cMOOCs now, and they’re actually quite different from each other in many ways. I am also a different person as I participate in them, not always engaging in the same way.

I thought the Connected Courses MOOC #ccourses would be the perfect opportunity to start this discussion, a project I am proposing. It would make use of the experience of veteran cMOOCers, and benefit new and old cMOOCers who want to teach or do research… and it would also (hopefully as a side benefit) help published cMOOC research reach a wider audience

I’ve been running this idea through some people (ideas originated via #rhizo14 but in my mind has gone beyond it now), developing it a bit via twitter DM, google docs, google hangouts (thank you Alan and Pete)  and inspired by something Rebecca  is doing – and the idea is this: how do we make the “connected”/”connectivist” learning experience more comprehensible to someone who has never tried it or tried but could not manage or enjoy it?

Let me start with the “Why”.

In private conversations with Pete & Alan, we talked about two key things:

  1. If connected learning experiences have so much potential, why are there so few people benefit from them? What can be done to help them try it, and then help them stay and enjoy and learn? I was very connected before I took my first cMOOC and tried #tvsz – they made absolutely no sense to me until I tried them. I’m so lucky I was curious enough to try them – but what about the rest of the world?
  2. Not everyone has the same experience in a connected learning environment – how do we capture the diversity of these experiences and their richness?

Bonnie Stewart said in a recent presentation:

Networks are not just for consuming, but connecting”

(and she also said)

“Networked citizens need to be able to filter AND contribute within the constant intermeshed streams of abundance without drowning”

I know many people today who still prefer to keep consuming and never contribute. It’s not a selfishness, it’s a lot of other things, but they stand in the way of their maximizing their potential online.

Howard Rheingold says in Net Smart (3 quotes from my kindle highlights, with my emphasis in bold):

“I see a bigger social issue at work with digital literacy, in addition to personal empowerment: if we combine our individual efforts wisely, enough of the right know-how could add up to a more thoughtful society as well as enhance those individuals who master digital network skills.”

“Digital literacies can leverage the Web’s architecture of participation, just as the spread of reading skills amplified collective intelligence five centuries ago. Today’s digital literacies can make the difference between being empowered or manipulated, serene or frenetic

“People who think of themselves as capable of creating as well as consuming are different kinds of citizens, and our collective actions add up to a different kind of society

So that’s all why I think it’s important to understand connected learning experiences, and to make it more legible to those outside of it, particularly people whose literacies are not too far off from benefiting from them. I want to be realistic and focus on people who are “almost there” in terms of being tech savvy, online, etc., but still have not caught on 🙂

The Proposal

Basically: a large, open, data collection project that is searchable by MOOC.

More details: capture facilitator and participant perspectives on cMOOCs, in ways that a researcher or reader or pedagogue would be able to look at all the available data on a particular MOOC, or look across facilitator experiences.

There is a straight-forward part to this: collaboratively (crowd-source?) create an annotated bibliography of all peer-reviewed & grey literature and blog posts that have been written from the facilitator or participant perspective. Tag them with the MOOC hashtag, and clarify what their focus is. Put all this stuff somewhere where anyone who wants to research cMOOCs can find them Diigo? a Wiki? Some other way? Suggestions please.

Coming out of that can be a variety of different things, and my idea is for anyone out there to do whatever the want with it. Someone could create something like we’ve been hoping to do for #rhizo14 – a way to trace the paths and reach different things that have been written on the same MOOC in a way that represents the connected experience, its non-linearity. Or someone could do a meta-analysis (not quantitative, I’d think) of certain MOOCs, or whatever.

There is an additional possibility: which is to actually survey people (and I am assuming the #ccourses participants and facilitators are a fertile ground for this) on particular research questions. I’m also happy to keep that data open (not sure what IRB will say, though, if the data is not anonymous). One idea is to for example ask MOOC facilitators how they intended for the course to create connections, what they did, how they reflect on it ex-post-facto; then also see what participants in that MOOC say. The problem is, as Alan pointed out, what about participants who did not engage fully? They might feel they have nothing to say and so never even respond to the survey. They’re possibly not even in #ccourses. And my idea was for us who know others who disengaged from MOOCs (e.g. some ppl in my f2f life) to try to reach them on that personal level. The data is likely to be skewed towards enthusiasts, and that’s fine as long as we recognize it. Even amongst enthusiasts, there are times we engage more or less with a MOOC or another. Sometimes it’s just personal issues or time, but sometimes it’s something about the way the MOOC was run, and that’s valuable information for people who are researching MOOCs or want to facilitate a cMOOC in future.


I’ll stop here because the intention of this post was to open the floor for input on what to do, how to do it, whether this will interest people. I’ll write other posts soon with examples of what I had in mind. But here is a quick one.

The eLearning and Digital Cultures MOOC #edcmooc. Here is a peer-reviewed article on JOLT by the facilitators, and articles by participants here and here. One could also ask participants to share their blogposts about the MOOC if they wish. I see blogs as open publications that I think anyone should be able to quote, but some others feel permission is needed to quote by name, so… I’m happy to ask permission. Now an important note in annotating is that, for example, I co-authored an article based on research done in #edcmooc (2nd run, not 1st run) but the article was not ABOUT the MOOC. However, there is more DATA where that article came from, that is now not being used. That’s where the crowd-sourcing makes even more sense: pointing to things like that.

What do others think? Anyone interested in helping design this, run this, promote this, write about it later?


  1. Maha, I’m interested in joining this conversation. I think I can contribute, particularly from a rhizo-rhetorical perspective. I hope we can copy the Rhizo14 material into this database for wider analysis.

    • Well, the autoethnog particularly, some ppl were not comfortable with other ppl analyzing it, but maybe once we do sthg (public, published?) with it, we can share. Maybe for now we can put “placeholders” that there are two kinds of research being done rhizo14, the autoethnog & Frances/Marian/Jenny’s work (plus a paper some of us submitted to a journal; plus if we submit to ELI) – things like that. The actual autoethnog data, some ppl didn’t want to share 🙁

      • Maha, sharing people’s names is a problem but if we used the auto ethnography as an anchor we could possibly sample a few habits of rhizomatic thinkers and let people who want to publish on particular subjects go at it. I think all of us in the group and the cMOOC community have multiple skills and attitudes–we aren’t of a singular mind and should show that.

        Also, multiple projects makes sense. I’m not interested in repeating or countering what, say, Jenny’s group is working on. Their perspective is unique and valuable in itself as a contribution to the whole conversation. A conversation that SHOULD be wide-ranging at this point.

  2. While I agree with Keith on the value of having more eyes on the Rhizo material I’m also at the point where it doesn’t matter what people think or interpret what I’ve experienced. Can we change someone’s mind about the value of networking? Or being a self-aware life-long-learner? I doubt it–this is a costly and unsettled lifestyle and most people want comfort.

    That said, an exposition of how things are made to work in ways that are seen to be odd or questionable brings things forward and might begin to seem “normal.” Having been called an “elitist” for participating in cMOOCs (by a college president no less) I feel freed of apology but I need to account for normally deliberate people letting go to see what happens. What is accountable person doing acting outside the norms of professional responsibility for insights into things they struggle to explain? What are they confident in? What abilities do they exhibit that weren’t taught but might be teachable?

    Given my current health status (and the accompanying mood swings) a topic that suggests itself to me is the value of uncertainty. The kind that won’t resolve, or be intellectually processed, but ridden to exhaustion. Is this too far to go?

  3. “How do we make the “connected”/”connectivist” learning experience more comprehensible…” – good question. Not all types of chaos and confusion are helpful in a cMOOC and during CCK11 I began to experiment with a ‘Comment Scraper’ that aggregates brief summaries of participant posts along with their comments. I published the output during several MOOCs including Rhizo14 (you were kind enough to comment) and now further development has led to a ‘Comment Collector’ ( ) that I’m setting up to track #ccourses. Of course this addresses only a very small part of a big question but it may be of interest and have further potential for research.

    • Hi Gordon yes i remember it! Thanks for sharing about the new one! Will def help! Does it work only for wordpress or does it work for others too?

      • It works with ‘normal’ WordPress or Blogger RSS feeds and together these account for a good majority of education blogs. I might look at some others at a later stage if I can. If there’s enough interest I’ll probably publish #ccourses output from about the 3rd week in Sept (when I get back from a holiday in Scotland) I see that #ccourses already have a blog aggregator.

  4. I have also been thinking about doing something like this, possibly for a dissertation. The details seem very tricky to work out though. I came across this post in my feed reader recently:
    I wonder if that will help to shed some light on it. I don’t think that those of us who responded to this post are the only ones thinking about this type of research by any means. It would be valuable to hear the broader conversations about open research.

    • Right, Jennifer, agreed. I was planning to do that MOOC as well. It’ll overlap with #ccourses but u never know what might turn out useful 🙂 Thanks for reminding me of it. And let’s stay in touch about this if it’s sthg u plan to work on. No need to have a totally lonesome PhD experience 🙂

      • Thanks, Maha! Will do. I am starting to map things out even though the PhD process is a bit down the road yet (so it’s still at the fun, idea-generating stage).

        So many excellent courses at the same time!

        • Ur doing the mapping alone? It’s possible but lots of work, i guess! Thought crowdsourcing might get richer info faster. What are you using to map? What are you mapping? 😉

          • oh yikes, completely missed your follow-up reply – sorry about that! I have a giant bulletin board and notecards. I throw each idea on a notecard and see if it fits into a category (methodology, etc) So far there’s lots of loose cards floating around.

            Other than mind-mapping, I haven’t found a good/easy way to display it and allowing comments/input. Sometimes the high-tech versions take a lot of fiddling, and can be hard to update which frustrates me. I will keep searching though. I’m sure there’s a good solution out there somewhere 🙂

  5. Thanks Jennifer and Maha for reminding me of this course. I’ve started “studying” for by observing the the way the medical system is “handling” me and my illness. How DO they research me as a patient, collect information from me and mold me into an easy-to-process-object?

    While it’s hard to be dispassionate about my own health, it is important to be removed a bit from the system’s needs in order to both remain coherent and keep my balance.

    For instance: an attribute of the closed medical system is the need for filtering and I guess it would be rationalizing. Sick people are to various and wobbly and need the discipline of needs that suit the system. Of the two times I’ve called the Triage Nurse Hot Line so far the first time I was lectured correct questions to ask and today was told the message I wanted to pass onto the oncologist “wasn’t clear enough” and would not be passed on. As these nurses are the system’s front line there’s a need for me to get past their aggressive behavior. Or is there?

    This has me thinking that openness might be up against a history of institutions that have crafted themselves into an image of responsiveness when in fact they respond only to inner needs. That they are falsehoods and fear openness as did the Wizard of Oz fear the drawn back curtain?

  6. I don’t know whether I’ll have anything to contribute to your research project, but I will be lurking 🙂 and let you know if I have any ideas.

    As far as getting more people involved, there’s at least one very simple answer. Disguise your cMOOC as an interesting, preferably easy, xMOOC. Up front, you have a sequence of short videos and quizzes, for which you award a certificate of completion. Put all the cMOOC activities way off to the side, maybe even on a separate site, as strictly optional.

    scottx5 is right. Most people are on a different wavelength. Some of them will never get the message. But many of them can. We just need to keep repeating it, one idea at a time.

    • Hey Dave, thanks for commenting here. I guess that disguising a cMOOC as an xMOOC means some ppl will “only” see the videos/quizzes and never get around to the social stuff happening outside, since they have no idea what it’s about anyway. #edcmooc was a bit like that. Had an xMOOC component (but still not traditional; not lecture videos, no quizzes) but lots of the fun stuff happened outside Coursera

      • The people who never look at the optional material would never stick with a cMOOC anyway. A standard xMOOC forum would include discussion of the cMOOC material, even without the facilitators sneaking it in. (And that reminds me that a lot of xMOOC students don’t use the forums at all, either.) The course material should be about communication, digital literacy, and other topics that would nudge every student closer to being a full fledged connected learner.

        My first cMOOC was I saw the names Vannevar Bush, Engelbart, Nelson, and Kay, and got excited. But when I first realized it was a cMOOC, I was a little disappointed. But I stuck around. Now look at how messed up I am.

  7. Maha — I’m sorry that we weren’t connected during the initial work on the peeragogy project. Since the handbook is mostly finished — people do add to it from time to time — the community that coalesced around that project has been looking for something to do. Let me know if you want to connect with them.

    • hi Howard, I remember reading on DML about peeragogy (as your pedagogy in your classes) but for some reason didn’t notice the book. Looking at it now and would love to connect with them… twitter or email are good, or point them to this blogpost and gauge interest? Whatever you think would work best 🙂

  8. Maha, are people disconnected from responsiveness through exposure to the “all – audiences” neutrality of mass learning? We talk about self-actualization as a necessary and heroic skill but we lose the our ability to initiate or manage human contact. Sherry Turkle talks about this in “Alone Together” but my question is more something Bonnie Stewart might be able to answer: We need to be independent and in a sense unaffiliated with particular loyalties in a time of change. To be nimble and adaptive requires a certain self-confidence that isn’t easily collapsed by disagreement and disapproval.

    Yet still, we need to be connected, networked and woven into the human, Together – Together I guess. And it needs to be more that just “knowing” a lot of people. Maybe it’s knowing about people? But how do we know about people when we exist as solitary beings at the end of an internet connection where so many subtle cues are not present?

    A paradox to add my confusion here from “Building Out Into the Dark: theory and observation in science and Psychoanalysis” by Robert Caper: “Psychoanalysis does not aim to change, modify or improve who patients are, nor even tell them who they are; it only gets them into a position to find out for themselves.” I we are the source of knowledge of our true selves why do we need other people? Why do we connect to attain completeness, or do we?

    ALONE TOGETHER By Sherry Turkle
    Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other

    • hi Scott, as always, sooo much to unpack in what you’ve written. Can’t do it all now, but a semblance of a response…
      Love the understanding of psychoanalysis – but is that what we do in connecting? Is it about introspection and knowing more about ourselves? The question you wrote earlier, if it’s about not just knowing people but knowing ABOUT people… it made me realize something. The reason the rhizo14 facebook group worked for building community vs in other MOOCs was that there was a relatively small group of us in there, so we started to “know” one another not just as names, but we started to form larger pictures of the “other” person, knowing more about them than the mere comment on the blogpost or the short tweet or the fun zeega. You know? And that’s “knowing about” someone in order to “know” them, sort of?
      Do we need it to attain completeness? That sounds like an existential question.
      Will check out the Turkle link. She’s one critic of online learning who drives me nuts with her criticism (Howard Rheingold, incidentally, critiques her critiques in his book Net Smart, which I’m dipping in and out of these days)

      • Right, so I went and read the article you pointed towards. Yup, found myself cringing at Turkle’s part in it. Like the author of the article’s critique, though 😉 I’m sticking with it 😉 That social media may have changed a lot of stuff but there might actually be ways in which it has marginally improved our social lives (and I don’t have the research to prove it across the board, but the author of that article does; I only have my personal experience to share)

      • Now I’m in trouble. Stepped right into the Turkle / Rheingold discontinuity entirely by mistake:-) Your mention of course participant size Maha brings scale into the understanding of relationships that we can’t avoid in online learning. We need an expanded definition of how we “know” people and I wonder if there’s a scale that’s fixed by size so a relationship perceptions between 10 people is different in some way than between 3,000?

        Or maybe more productive would be to say that I NEED people and how do I attract their authentic self into a useful exchange? When I’ve done research online a method that works is to declare the first vulnerability, the initial “I’m here the hear from you because I don’t know myself.” So may answer to your question of needing completeness is I guess not–that completeness may actually block us from learning and taking in something new.

        I respect Sherry Turkle for at least starting the conversation on this. Being wrong is better than not being there at all.

        Another quote: “Omniscience produces convictions that are insecure because they must constantly fend off evidence.” Robert Caper

  9. My spirits do not leave me … they are discuss about all comments …please, I need to sleep 🙂
    Maha I post some answers and questions about this post reflections:

  10. Pingback: Paulo Batista

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