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A MOOC in progress

In my last post I mentioned several things I need to blog about. Participation in a MOOC was one of them. In fact, it was the first item I listed in that post – What I could blog about (but haven’t).

Well, the MOOC I enrolled in, along with a group of faculty at SSU, was the FOE MOOC. Yeah, *that* MOOC, the one that tanked and got everyone all riled up.


Let’s keep this in perspective; this isn’t a commentary about why the MOOC failed or what it means for the grand scheme of edu-things. It was my first MOOC, after all, so I haven’t much to compare it to. There about 15-20 of us who accepted the invitation to the faculty circle and we all enrolled in the Coursera course Fundamentals of Online Education (FOE). The MOOC was to serve as a basis for the faculty conversation. We planned to meet face to face during the course and the group facilitator Marc Boots-Ebenfield made sure to provide meeting times for everyone and did everything one would expect for this type of activity. What Marc could not plan for was that the course selected would fail. In summary: the FOE MOOC opened, we had our first face to face meeting, the FOE MOOC closed, we have to figure out what to do next.

How to make rainbow jelloAct I The FOE MOOC Begins

I went into the course curious more than anything. I had never seen a Coursera course, had never participated in a MOOC. I was interested to see the technology that has had the industry buzzing for the last 9 months. I was curious to see the content presented and discussion prompts. I was eager to read what others were sharing and then meet with my SSU colleagues to discuss all of it.

The course site did not open until the actual start date. I felt empathy for all the students over the years who have asked for early access to preview the course schedule and materials. I get it. It does matter. We live in a world where we are juggling many things all the time; we need a few seconds to add something new to our routine because we do not want to drop any of the balls in the air.

LESSON : Give the audience/participants/students time to preview the course. It helps them mentally prepare and brace themselves for the onslaught of work.

Getting settled in

The instructions (in part, below) on day 1, Jan 28 2013, were not informative or helpful when referring to them after entering the course site:

This course will be collaborative in nature. So the first thing I would like you to do is to join a group. You will be able to do this when you access the course site. You will be able to click on the Join A Group link in the left navigation bar . This will take you to a Google Spreadsheet. More information on this is provided in Week 1 Lecture Video 1.2.

The first thing we were supposed to do is explained in video 1.2. So isn’t the first thing we are to do is watch video 1.1? and then watch 1.2? And then sign up for the group? Plus there were multiple tabs in the course menu for discussions – it was tough to figure out where to go. The links to the forums opened up long lists of topics, some general discussions and some labeled as ‘Discussion Forum 1.1, Discussion Forum 2.2’ and since it was day 1, it was unclear what the 1.1 and 1.2 related to exactly.

The teacher quickly acknowledged problems with the way things were organized, and the lousy instructions and weird ‘group-iness’ have been widely documented by participants (see #foemooc on Twitter, see articles listed below). In short, from the instructor (Jan 29, 2013)

I was hoping that the Google Spreadsheet would work after a day but it looks like it will not work at all for our purposes. So I have gone to Plan B. I have created a new Group Sign Up forum. To differentiate this from the groups on the Google Spreadsheet, the group names start with Group A and continues. You can join any group. It does not have to be in order. In order to sign up, look at the Posts. If there are 21 posts, join the next group that does not have 21 posts. If all groups are filled up, start a new Thread with a Group number or name.

Those who are already in groups, stay in your groups. If you want you can start a thread with your Group number here so that you and your group members can stay connected. Once you are in your groups, you can start Assignment 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3.

Plan B wasn’t much better than Plan A, considering there were 41,000 participants trying to organize themselves into groups. For many of us, we had never taken a Coursera course and were unfamiliar with the platform. For others, self-designated trolls, they were unsure what signing up for a group would do – would it limit access to content? what type of collaboration will happen? what if I don’t sign up for a group? The discussion forums exploded with those types of questions. And when 41,000 people are confused and posting questions every second, the forums that were accessible on the course site spun out to thousands of posts and comments within a few hours.

I could not find my fellow SSU people because the forum search function was turning up dozens of pages each with dozens of threads. I stumbled upon Group New England so ‘joined’ that group. The joining of groups here was theoretical. There was no persistent connectivity – each time I wanted to check up on my group, I would have to search the forums to find them, and that took a few minutes and many clicks through pages of threads. I started tagging them but the search still yielded way too much. I subscribed to them, too, but the subscription service linked back to topics not threads. It was a mess (as reported by many, see articles listed below). I started grabbing the URL of each discussion and saving it so I could get back to it easily.

LESSON : Know your platform. Design your course activities knowing the opportunities and limitations of the  platform. If the platform does not give you what you need to conduct your class – find another platform!

Content and Participation

jello shotsAs far as the content goes, I did find my way to Week 1 Module after the instructor fixed the broken link in the course menu. There, I found that the content was disconnected and not well selected nor well presented for a 1st week of class. Module 1.1 was ‘introduce yourself’ discussion with a welcome to the class video. Fairly harmless. Module 1.2 was Learning Theory, with video and selected readings on Gagne, Vygotsky, Bruner. Pretty deep stuff for week 1.  And then Module 1.3 was Copyright and Fair use, with video and selected readings. Assignments, discussions, and a quiz were included.

What? Yeah – All three parts of the 1st week’s content were disconnected, going from hi-how-are-you, to this-is-how-children-learn, to copyright and FERPA. It was quick and dirty. Week 1. Yup.

LESSON : Give your students/participants/audience time to adjust to the course site. Give them simple tasks with clear expectations to practice functioning in the online learning space before hitting them with required or graded online activities.

Participants were to complete the video and readings then respond to the discussion prompts for 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3. The Assignment was to copy/paste your discussion post to the Assignment. Then a quiz was at the end, after 1.3 which had 10 multiple choice questions about learning theory and copyright and Fair Use. Points were awarded for successfully copying/pasting text into the box on the assignment, and answering the 10 questions correctly.

LESSON : Set the tone and the pace for the course by carefully selecting topics that build upon each other and introduce new topics in a way that learners can recognize the connection. Be clear in the instruction: This is what I am going to teach you – this is why you need to learn this – this is how you will use the new information – this is what you will do to show that you have learned it.

The videos were short, glossy talking head videos of the instructor. I guess. I’m not really sure because I only saw the first 3 seconds of one of them. I couldn’t get them to play. Maybe because 41,000 people were accessing them? Who knows. So i looked for the slides or transcript. Nada. Wait. This is 2013, right? We do know that we need to provide alternative resources to meet accessibility standards, don’t we? To the forums I go, to ask for slides and/or transcripts of the videos. I see in the forums I am not the only asking for those and many many many people complained about poor video access. So I pulled open the articles and marked those to read. I did read a few, but some were dry academic papers (heavy stuff for week 1.2!). A day or two later, when I next logged in, I was able to get the slides and use those as a review before completing the quiz.

That done and no access to module 2 yet, I surfed the forums and saw all the unhappiness and irritation. People really hated the course site. People really hated the course design. People really hated the videos, complaining about the teacher simply reading bullet points off the slides. Since I hadn’t watched the videos and the slides she shared gave me all the info I needed to ace the 10 question multiple choice quiz, I was really glad I didn’t have to sit through all the videos. I think there were like 10 videos in week 1. Yeah – I know, 10 videos in week 1! Plus all the readings and the group discussions, and learning how to use the course site! Crazy!

LESSON : Be careful about video production for online classes. Make sure it is good – not just quality, but content. Do not (ever) read PowerPoint slide bullets. Provide alternative methods for users to access the information in the video.

jello circleThe Faculty Circle

The faculty circle did meet at SSU and conversation revolved around initial thoughts, feelings, impressions. We also had side conversations about online learning and being a faculty member at SSU. It was fun and interesting and worth my time to travel out there. I love teaching. I love teaching at SSU. I am glad to have the opportunity to do it and to be a part of this circle. We talked about expectations and all confirmed commitment to the circle (keep meeting) and the course (keep learning).


A day and a half after the faculty circle, the course closed. WHAT?! Yes! Below, from the instructor (Feb 2, 2013):

Dear students,
We want all students to have the highest quality learning experience. For this reason, we are temporarily suspending the “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application” course in order to make improvements. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause. We will inform you when the course will be reoffered.

Act II: The FOE MOOC Fiasco

I will not rehash everything that happened or the subsequent media storm around it. Ok, it was a small storm, but it did get some attention. Below, find a list of articles and blog posts. Read at your leisure.

In the meantime, my SSU colleagues and I have decided to keep working together. Other FOE participants are re-grouping on Facebook and in Canvas (ha! imagine that!). There is no proposed timeline to the re-launch for FOE MOOC on Coursera.

UPDATE: Feb 7 2013: My SSU group has launched into next steps. We have a plan to do our professional development together as planned, but without the #foemooc. Future blog post – yay!

Articles & blog posts: