reviewing scale & strategy – or, how to remain sane while in a mooc

focus time folks – the sudden upsurge in numbers online in the course this week has been a bit… omg.. from a sort of manageable hundred or so using the social media, to…?? I know we have been expecting this all along, but it still feels like a tsunami when it hits!  I’m not even going to try keeping up with reading discussions now…. Dirk’s cartoon that I quoted yesterday said it all..

So, a different strategy seems called for… which is pretty good timing for me as it happens, because I’ve been feeling guilty spending so much time here the past couple of weeks anyway, and now I have a good reason to change my roaming ways…

speaking of net surfing I just went to find an image and saw that, today’s google image is in honour of snugglepot and cuddlepie (favourite storybook for little Australians, about gum nut fairies in the bush) – how cute is that?

google snugglepot and cuddlepie 2013-01-17

Anyway, I know I’ve been spending quite a bit of time each day browsing around, following links, reading blogs, reading articles, watching videos, because my connection has slowed right down, meaning I guess that I’ve used my download quota for the month –  and it’s only half way through the month!

It’s been great though – I’ve learned a lot from all the reading, and been stimulated to think about some new topics, and I’ve enjoyed it… and whenever I find something of relevance to the thesis I’m writing I can tell myself I’m doing research rather than wasting my time – yay…

As I’ve been thinking about the course objectives and expected outcomes more carefully, I’ve reorganised this blog (again) this morning …. now I think I’ve settled on a structure and a simple routine, that should see me through the five weeks of the course delivery and interaction, and the production of the assessment task. So I guess I’m ‘focused’ now…

I remind myself that the course leaders reckon we should only be spending 3-5 hours per week on this course! So my preparation for the course has far exceeded the time I’m going to spend on actually doing the course…. hmmm

So, no more browsing and contributing to such a range of discussions in Facebook and G+ for me, just a really quick browse of them every other day, grab anything that seems to fit into the story I’m constructing here in this blog, limit my browsing to half an hour max each day, and post a quick message or two to one of the social media to share only the most interesting stuff I’ve found – I don’t have time to check, but I’m going to assume that if I inter-link social media, my one message will appear in all of them automatically…

Anyway, what have I learned so far in these prep weeks? I think this blog represents it pretty much, in its page organisation and their contents, but in short…

toolbox tiny tools for online communication & multimedia text production

I thought I already was tech savvy and had a good collection bookmarked in my personal ‘toolbox’, but I’ve learned a heap from conversations in the social fora of this mooc… and I’m really developing greater proficiency in using media I had accounts with but wasn’t actually bothering to use well…. particularly the inter-linking of social media is becoming an eye opener, now I’m beginning to really see the point of it – it saves time and connects you with masses more people, fast. They may or may not want to connect with me of course, but at least I’m able to give them the choice, and I’ve started following heaps of people on twitter and have started using RSS feeds too – I never really understood what that was all about, but now I’ve started using Google Reader and I get it – it really does save time, and I need that right now.

And that’s the point – you learn at the point of need
(amazing how many educators don’t get that, and construe their students as deficient and unmotivated, when the problem is more likely a lack of discussion and good task design)

I’m becoming a better blogger thanks to this course – I’ve been using blogs for years, but not in a particularly sophisticated way, just as private journals for my teaching and research, or semi-privately to talk with a small number of colleagues.. going ‘public’ with a blog has been something else…

crowd tiny managing conversation in a crowd

trying to participate in conversation with a very large group, in the FaceBook group, has made me feel a bit like I’m back in high school really…. the sense of crowd and competition to have your voice heard… not what one has become used to in professionally organised life… both quite fun at times and quite devastating at others – as when noone listens or talks back to you, and you keep trying to say something that’s intensely meaningful and important to you and it’s either ignored or trodden on, like so many jack boots on a flower…. and then suddenly someone ‘likes’ something you put out there and it makes your day… and then you’re just ignored again…. and then someone disagrees with you in a way that makes you feel things you’re not used to feeling…. and then you have to reconsider how you have worded your own messages and worry about whether you’ve offended anyone and that’s why noone is talking to you… and then you start imagining that everyone else is more ‘liked’ than you are… this can be exhausting!… and then you think, what the hell am I thinking? I’m not a teenager, why am I having all these existential angst moments? and then you take an academic interest in the phenomenon as a coping strategy, and then you accept that this is just an upscaled and fast forwarded version of normal everyday conversational life, and  you empathise with your teenage child’s transition from primary to secondary school coz that’s exactly what it’s been like for them… and then you reflect on how they were friends with everyone in first year, and how second year brought tears and traumas and realignments as people simply had to focus on smaller groupings and make some tough stances to work out who the hell they were and what they really wanted to be talking about, because it’s in the stories we spend our lives constructing that we find the friends who help us ‘get it all together’…

So yeah, streamlined management of the tools of trade is one of the most valuable things I’m learning in this course, because I’m feeling the need to learn that right now…


but the big take home message is the fact that nobody had to ‘teach’ me any of it – just throw resources out there and let me find my own way to the stuff I need when I need it…. relevance of all this to my teaching and research seems clear to me, in that I’ve been thinking for years that design is everything, and this experience confirms it for me – I wanted to do this course in the first place in order to feel what it’s like to be a student again, to better understand my own students… now I’m convinced that this ‘go help yourselves and feed each other’ approach to teaching works well, when the task and conversation are designed and articulated well, which I think they are in this course.

Should I ‘do something’ to up my readership? I really am not good with that kind of thing. I find it excruciatingly  awkward and uncomfortable to be honest – the whole business of going public as a blogger has been a VERY big step and it verges on the traumatic sometimes – but this is very much one of the themes of the course, so I have simply taken an academic interest in the phenomenon and am considering the whole experience as a mini participant ethnography of my own – sort of doing an empire strikes back on the course organisers, and using their course as they are using us who would participate in it… I think their design is brilliant actually, and I am learning from it.. and have now started writing about it in chapter 6 of my emerging thesis…. I have been doing similar things with my students for some years, but not of course on this kind of scale.. but the experiment they’re engaging in, because it’s so open, is very instructive (well that’s what I would think isn’t it? It’s been designed that way…. perhaps I am in the Matrix after all)…

pop sci-fi

I’ve always been keen on science fact, but I’ve never been a fan of science fiction (notable exceptions being Dr Who, Life on Mars and the wonderfully fantastically bad and therefore brilliant Lost in Space) , and so I’ve missed most of the ‘classics’ that everyone else seems to know inside out… so I am now getting familiar with movies I’ve only known the names of in the past, and look forward to learning more

discourses from AI & ‘post-humanism’

I’ve been exposed to a fair bit of communications theory over the years in my work with electrical engineers, and of theories of ‘culture’ in my word with students of business, and always found it interesting how differently technicians and scientists and business folk often view key themes of interest to me (such as culture, communication and language)  which due to my main education I see from a humanities / linguistics perspective…. I grew up in a social-functional theory of language (radically different from the traditions in linguistics that have been dominant in the US), and always find it very easy, shall we say, to critique discussions of communication, ‘mind’ and learning that are based on other, (to me less sophisticated and robust) theories of language (or based on no theory of language or semiotics at all, which is more often the case it seems to me)…. so as I read much of the discourse in the fields of artificial intelligence, I do tend to find myself laughing out loud sometimes…. I really can’t take it seriously… but I read on, hoping to learn and find something that might challenge me and make me really think hard about my own assumptions and beliefs…. haven’t yet, but I am striving to be open minded!… meanwhile, I find that Kress’ writing resonates with me still very much, all these years later…

the mooc debate

I started reading about the mooc phenomenon in earnest about 6 months ago, and it’s from that  general interest that I found my way into this course… and I really like the way having an assignment to do is helping me shape (tame?) my thinking into an exchangeable form of some kind… some kind other than the standard academic paper that is… it’s really rather fun thinking about it I’m finding 🙂


17 comments on “reviewing scale & strategy – or, how to remain sane while in a mooc

  1. Hi Emily, what a fantastic post! I, too ,have spent way too much time reading many many blogs and posts. I’m hoping that I will have the discipline to focus and use only the tools that I absolutely need to accomplish desired goals. I don’t think I’m in the Matrix. I think I’m tumbling into Wonderland via a rabbit hole.

    • Hi Willa! lovely of you to drop in for a chat 🙂 Yes, Alice certainly comes to mind eh?! I tell myself it was a very good thing to do, all that browsing and reading, I just have to contain it now and focus on my actual job…. but I’ll still read blogs of those on my list! I figure, if I incorporate elements of this mooc experience into my thesis I can justify doing it.. but wow, I have to laugh at the teachers’ suggestion that we only spend 3-5 a week on this… I realise I do this to my own students too – when I set a good, creative, project based task, they get so into it they spend way too much time on it! karma 🙂

    • Hi Maddie – enjoy it while it lasts I say! Have safe and happy journey – hope we keep running into each other along the way 🙂

  2. Thanks for your comments, Emily. I think one of the reasons we received the initial email so early was to give us a chance to explore, organize and select the tools that best suit us personally so that when the course actually begins, we are ready to tackle the course content itself and start developing our artifact. Cheers!

    • thanks for dropping in Cathleen! yep, clearly, and they have succeeded with a good learning design I reckon – never seen such engagement in a course 🙂 I think I’ll try the same strategy with my students this coming session…

  3. Hi Emily, great post. I start back at uni tomorrow, and apart from being roped into ETMOOC today, I too will be reining in my somewhat out of control online participation and just engaging with content. I was telling my study buddy from my previous MOOC about our activities and she asked me if the course for real might be a bit of a let down after our high paced learning adventure thus far. Now that’s a thought! Anyhow, has been a wonderful way to learn and become proficient in some new skills. Onward and upward and a bit of discipline from now on! Angela

    • Hi Angela – yeah I feel like Ive actually done this course already, in terms of meeting my own learning objectives! just have to finish the assignment 🙂

      • Don’t forget the weekly forums!! Presumably we will have them. They are quite a headspace, and I find them tough going in terms of the sheer size. That is where I hope we can all find each other when we need to, because it helps to find a familiar voice in there when it gets impersonal and MASSIVE!

  4. I spend a considerable amount of time stuck in cerebral mode-way, way too much time thinking. I have wondered for a considerable amount of time why it was that so few individuals were members of the MOOC FB page. The geography teacher in me because to think back through all of the human geography factors that could cause there to be so few people participating and interacting two months in advance.
    Now that we have been inundated with new members, I wonder what it may feel like to be new and out of the loop. While you feel as though you’ve retreated back to high school, I am sympathizing with everyone that is new. I feel almost compelled to be welcoming, to look for new threads to the discussions of the old folks and to consider what it means to stand on the outside.
    Establishing limitations on the amount of time one spends on-line is really crucial. One Friday last fall, I found that I had spent four+hours hyperlinking! My travels were amazing. I was finding so many exciting and energizing ideas to consider. However, my house was dark, my family members, both 2 and 4 legged had gone to sleep, and I was becoming cross-eyed in front of the screen. Weeeeee….it was fun, but a little bit unbalanced, to say the least.
    Good luck in establishing perimeters that work for you.
    See you tomorrow at our Hang-out. Hopefully, I will have time to fully understand what you are doing for a living.

    • Think of me in etmooc Laurie, I am the new outsider and it is also not comfortable! A good side by side experience to have with edcmmoc. Another lesson to take to my own teaching world.

    • Hi Laurie! looking forward to talking ‘live’ tomorrow 🙂
      yeah, the surfing culture on the net is not quite as laid back as it is on the beach! kind of frantic and hectic…. but I don’t find I’m at all concerned about who is and isn’t participating on these social media, as I see it as an open free for all where it’s up to each of us to do what we need and want, in relation to why we entered the course, what we want to learn… – it’s surely very ‘different’ for those joining later, but whether harder or easier maybe depends on expectations as much as anything – and becoming self aware and in better control of those is, for me anyway, as much part of the learning curve here as anything else…

      I’ve been finding myself thinking a lot lately about what it is I’m here to learn and how I’m going to make that happen (rather than how someone else is or isn’t making it happen ‘for’ me).. I’ve also noticed that, in this kind of environment, in an adult space, I don’t want to live with any sense of responsibility for others’ learning experience, or for anyone else to imagine they owe me something… I’ve found myself thinking about this a lot in the past couple of weeks, and concluded, through various constraints of time as well as experience, that we’re all just getting our hands dirty with what we find when we find it, and learning as we go through what is a very dynamic environment that’s inevitably different for everyone – and that’s very much whatI like about this space…

      It seems to me that here, I don’t have to buy into any fictions of ‘sameness’, I can speak in a possibly much more ‘authentic’ voice than I usually feel I can at work, where I tend to feel much less free to say what I think… these are all rather unexpected and surprising findings to me, as initially I thought the ‘going public’ aspect of blogging here very strange and intimidating…. but just a few weeks later, I honestly care so much less! I am beginning to feel quite liberated….

      Not that I don’t know the feeling of being ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ in online conversations, but the more of it I see and do, I’m tending to think of the position I occupy more as a story in my head that’s interesting to notice and reflect on, rather than something that will ever be ‘the same’ for others, or predictable or ‘manageable’ by anyone other than me – I’m tending to think much more tangibly, in this online conversation, that it’s up to us to each manage our own experience, and it seems to be this environment that has me thinking so (more so than in synchronous classroom environments ever have)…

      It’s becoming somehow more obvious to me that one of the most important things we’re here to consider and articulate is what this learning experience is, and how to personally manage it… and I’m really rather enjoying doing that, and am assuming others will be too, in their own way and time.. I guess that, more than anything else, is my take home message from this experience… but that’s probably the socio-linguist in me, delighting in the visibility of discursive experiences that are usually not so easy to observe!

  5. Fabulous post. I have been managing the start of my term, so stopped trying to check everything out, then BOOM it all exploded. You are right on in your thinking–this post has really helped me focus, too–what can I really do as a writer, learner, reader in terms of my goals for this course. I mean, why did I sign up for this again? It’s been like watching the movie trailers before the feature film begins–I forget what movie I went to the theater to see! Such an excellent reminder to FOCUS! Thanks!

    • oh I love that metaphor – like watching the trailers before the movie and forgetting what movie it was we came to see! that’s gold 🙂

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