Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ How to Participate in the MOOC

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Sept 13, 2011

This short post is intended to help you participate in the Massive Open Online Course, of MOOC. It won't cover everything, but it should be enough to get you started. Note that how don't have to participate this way; it's just recommended as a good place to start.

1. Read the Newsletters

Every weekday, another newsletter will arrive in your email inbox. The best way to start participating in the course is to read these newsletters. Each newsletter will have the following common sections:
- announcements from the course administrators - these will include links to resources, announcements of online events, and other important information
- highlighted posts - these will be posts selected by the administrators that we have either written ourselves or for some reason really want to highlight
- your contributions - these will include your comments, blog posts, Twitter tweets, and related content; there can be quite a lot of this content

NOTE: if you miss the daily newsletter or do not want to receive it by email, no problem. You can read today's newsletter on the website, and you can read previous newsletters in the newsletter archive.

2. Pick and Choose

You will notice quickly that there is far too much information being posted in the course for any one person to consume. We tried to start slowly with just a few resources, but it quickly turns into a deluge.

You will be provided with summaries and links to dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe even thousands of web posts, articles from journals and magazines, videos and lectures, audio recordings, live online sessions, discussion groups, and more. Very quickly, you may feel overwhelmed.

Don't let it intimidate you. Think of it as being like a grocery store or marketplace. Nobody is expected to sample and try everything. Rather, the purpose is to provide a wide selection to allow you to pick and choose what's of interest to you.

This is an important part of the connectivist model being used in this course. The idea is that there is no one central curriculum that every person follows. The learning takes place through the interaction with resources and course participants, not through memorizing content. By selecting your own materials, you create your own unique perspective on the subject matter.

It is the interaction between these unique perspectives that makes a connectivist course interesting. Each person brings something new to the conversation. So you learn by interacting rather than by mertely consuming.

3. Comment

If you want to review the contributions of course participants in a leisurely manner, you can view them in the course Viewer. Access the viewer here. This will be the same contents you find in the newsletter, but in a format much more accessible for browsing.

At the beginning of the course the Viewer will look pretty empty. This will change rapidly as new content starts to pour into the course.

The Viewer has very simple commands. You can move 'up' or 'down' through the list of posts - 'up' will take you to newer or more recent posts, while 'down' will take you to older posts. Use the 'up' and 'down' arrow controls at the top left and right corners of the Viewer.

If you see something that moves you to respond, you can add a comment by clicking on the 'comment' button at the top of the page. This will take you to a simple comment editing screen where you can submit and edit your comment.

The first person to comment on a post seen in the viewer (or seen in the Newsletter) creates a new Thread. The thread consists of the post, and all comments on the post. Note that commenting on a post is the only way to create a thread. This means that all threads are about some blog post or another that has been displayed in the newsletter or the Viewer. It's our way of linking things together.

You can view all of the discussion threads to see the comments make by other people (the comments will also appear in the viewer, below the original blog post). You can view the Thread list here.

4. Create Your Own Contributions

You will may find that commenting on posts isn't really the best way to participate. Sure, the comments will show up in the newsletter and in the Viewer, but they're not as visible as the posts. And you can't start a new topic by commenting, you can only react to comments other people have posted.

If you want to engage more actively in the course, the best way is to create your own contributions online. You are not required to do this, but you may well find yourself more engaged in the process if you do.

The simplest and easiest way to create your own content online is to create your own blog or use a blog you have already created. You can use Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr, or any other service you want. What you write about and how you phrase it are completely up to you! We recommend you link to other resources and other blogs, but again, that's up to you.

Another way to create your own online content is to have conversations on Twitter. You should feel free to comment about the course or its contents with anyone else online. Alternatively, you may use any online service, such as Delicious bookmarks, Flickr photos, or YouTube videos.Or you could create a Facebook, or join one - like this #change11 Facebook group - that someone else has created.

So how do we know one of your blog posts or videos is intended for this course? Easy. You should use the #change11 tag somewhere in the title or body of your content, or use it as a category. To use the tag, type the string #change11 somewhere in the content. We will look at all your content, and if we see anything tagged #change11, we will take that content and link to it in the newsletter and show it in the viewer. Then other people will be able to read and comment on your contribution.

In another post, we will cover how you can create a content site and tell us where to look for content. So don't worry about that just yet. For now, though, begin thinking about where you might want to create your contributions, and what sort of contributions they might be.

NOTE on contributing feeds: we will cover that in another post. If you have already submitted your feed and haven't seen it yet, don't worry. All feeds are reviewed before they are displayed in the course. This is to ensure we've got the right URLs and to keep out unwanted advertising. It also takes some time for posts to be aggregated. Aggregation does not start until feeds have been approved, and then are staggered, to reduce the load on the server.

5. Follow Course Content on the Internet

You may be used to other courses, where all the action happens inside the learning management system. While our course website may be an interesting place, we do not want it to be the only place this course happens.

Because participants are using a course tag, #change11, you do not need to depend on us to find content. You can do it yourself by searching for the tag. Here are some sample searches:
- #change11 Twitter search
- #change11 Google search
- #change11 search on Delicious

Notice that you can just bookmark these links and be able to search for new content whenever you want with the click of a button. You can also create alerts, such as a Google Alert, which will sent new content to you by email. Later, we will also show you how to subscribe to all the course blogs, you you can read them directly in a feed reader.

The idea of this course is that we are not creating one single point of contact on the web, but rather, are creating a cluster of related websites, joined together by common links facilitated by the use of a tag like #change11. It is not necessary to use the website at all!

Just remember - we don't control content on the internet. There are no 'official' #change11 Facebook groups, Google Groups, Second Life islands, or whatever - these are all created by course participants, who own them. We couldn't control it even if we wanted to - it always belongs to someone else, typically whomever authored the content. The good side of that is that you can write or say whatever you want about the course, or anything else. But you may have to accept the possibility of unwanted content on the open internet. That's why we provide the alternative of the website.

6. Join Us in the Online Sessions

Every week, we will have at least one online conference or course session. Very often, we will be talking with the featured author for the week. Sometimes, we will be talking among ourselves.

We will send out advance notice of these sessions in the Daily Newsletter. Be sure to check the posted time against your own time zone (we always include a link to a time zone calculator). You may need to support Flash to attend the session, and you will have to have speakers or audio enabled.

We will also broadcast these sessions on web radio (here) and save archives, so you can always play the online session back, just like any resource, should you happen to miss it. But it's usually more fun to join the live event, chat with other participants, and perhaps even join us in the live discussion yourself.

OK, that's all for today. Here's my tag: #change11

Enjoy. :)

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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