CFHE 2012 Impressions: My Bumpy Start to a MOOC on Future Trends in Higher Ed – ’505 Unread Discussion Messages’

Stefanie Panke, Educational Technology, Change, Oct 18, 2012
Commentary by Stephen Downes

So we're just finishing week two of the EdFutures MOOC, and many people (including me) are experiencing the bumps and tensions inherent in this sort of enterprise. Keep in mind, we're not just broadcasting some learning materials out to a mass audience. We're trying to generate conversations and dialogue across a distributed system. That's going to result in some creaks and groans. Count on it.  This post sums up one student's experiences pretty well. Let me add some remarks from a facilitator view:

  • I thought we had all learned the lesson that centralized discussion boards don't work for massive courses, but for some reason we had to go round this loop one more time. Does the world need a board with 441 introductions? I say no.
  • Once again, we replicated the grand MOOC tradition of trying a new synchronous conferencing tool - this time GoToWebinar - the registration and changing URLs were a problem, and it didn't work with many systems
  • I learned a lot about REST and authentication - I've talked about it for many years but rolling up up your sleeves and coding it is something else - we had a few registration glitches, but the numbers were like 20 out of 4000 (still too many! can you imagine if we'd had a million subscriptions?)
  • Never assume the obvious. I was planning to put D2L discussion board postings into the newsletter (not the into messages though) but the RSS feeds created and tested sent out the same link (to a basic contents-frame) for every item. I hadn't even considered that they would do this
  • I cannot emphasize the importance of scheduling speakers well ahead of time and making the schedule online for everyone to see and put in their calendars. Seriously, I cannot emphasize it enough - and so, once again, we didn't have that. Nor a single place for recordings and slide uploads.
  • I've been building a vote-up vote-down system this week (good practice with jQuery) which should be fun to try next week

OK, those were the problems. A lot of stuff has gone right in this course, far more than a course with seven or so partners, three major platforms (plus all the blogs and Twitter and such) and thousands of students has a right to. And yeah - we're seeing the discussion and the learning happen.

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