Moving past the Theory: #diffimooc Victories and Challenges

Diigo and Wikispaces and WordPress, oh my!
Groups and Reader and Livetext, oh my!
Tweeting and Blogging and Posting, oh my!

In August, I was standing in the copy room at UAS, probably getting a new pen, since pens are elusive beasts, and I can’t seem to keep up with one for more than an hour. My colleague Virgil Fredenberg approached me and said, “I want to create a MOOC.” I had been toying with the idea of creating a MOOC since last year’s ASTE conference, and said – “I’m game”. Shortly after that conversation, the #diffimooc was born. We applied for and received an Innovation Grant from the University of Alaska Southeast. We researched and joined MOOCs. We brainstormed and planned approximately once per week from September until January. You’d think with all that planning, this MOOC would be the perfect experience! But it couldn’t be…we’re out on the edge – that means we’re finding the bumps in the road…

As we go through this experience, I’d like to outline as well as I can the bumps and the breathtaking points of interest that we discover along the way – in the name of transparency for those who are in the #diffimooc (especially those taking it for credit, who found themselves unexpectedly in this experience), and for those who are considering and are designing their own MOOCs.

The Underlying Theory

Our MOOC is a connectivist MOOC. We are social constructivist teachers, and the theory of connectivism fits well with our own ideas of teaching and learning. However, we do know that novice learners need additional direct instruction in some cases. I am not one who believes that this is always needed. I do believe that especially in our technological age, there are learners who don’t want to be told how to do things. They’d rather figure it out for themselves. (I am one of those learners :-)). I also know that our learners are teachers who will be required to learn on their own, and I feel we do teachers a disservice when we deliver information (see my recent post about the NET GEN in my classroom). But I know that we have to gain confidence in our ability to learn with and from technology. When we aren’t confident, a short video can help. Videos are more associated with xMOOCs; however, our course certainly isn’t an xMOOC. The xMOOC uses video to “deliver” information, and then tests competency at the end. It’s a linear experience. Our cMOOC is a multidimensional experience. It’s very Piaget.

We learn as we challenge our existing frameworks of understanding to accommodate new information. This framework of understanding is called a schema. Imagine a schema with information being blasted at it from all angles. Some information will “stick”. Some will fly by because prior knowledge isn’t there, and this information is beyond the existing cognitive structure. Still other resources will be transferred into the schema as a result of interaction with others or with the technology. Motivation should occur since so much information is available, at least some will be appropriate to the existing prior knowledge and can be added to the existing schema. This is the way I see information abundance and learning in our cMOOC.

Moving from theory to practice…Challenges

This first week of the #diffimooc was filled with challenges for the teachers enrolled as they became accustomed to the multiple tools and log-ins they needed for successful engagement in the MOOC. While we didn’t restrict students to any one tool for curation (Diigo, Pinterest, etc), or Blogging (WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger) these were still new tools for most of the teachers enrolled in the MOOC. We anticipated they would be new for some of the users enrolled in the class, and planned accordingly. We took a page from the xMOOC book, and created videos to assist. My own challenge was to be brief and to the point! I was successful in keeping most videos under 5 minutes.

As I oriented students to the experience, however, I created a 30 minute orientation video. This was a tragic mistake which I will not repeat! Because the video was 30 minutes most students (I suspect) didn’t get through the whole thing, and may not even have explored the rest of the page to find the other (much shorter) videos!  This is Instructional Design 101 and I am embarrassed to have made this obvious mistake! In the future, I will have a “Table of Contents” at the top of the page which links to the information on the page so that students can easily find the important information. I’ll also include the length of the videos (i.e. 3:56) in the table of contents. This will help me to be brief. These videos should be 3 minutes MAX. I am working on it…

To be fair, we really underestimated the support learners would need to begin learning these new tools and applying them to a learning environment. We also underestimated the number of tools we recommended that would be perceived as “new” to our learners.  Their challenge in the first week was to get accustomed to several new tools so that they could manage the information abundance of our cMOOC.  I have to admit the first week was somewhat frantic! In trying to give students the tools that would assist them in success with the ongoing MOOC journey, we created some issues with cognitive load.

In the future, we will scaffold this experience differently. I think outlining one tool every other day for the first week might work. That way enrolled teachers won’t be faced with four tools to learn all at once (if they are unfamiliar).  Perhaps each twitter chat might focus on the “tool du jour”. Our intentions were good – but our assumptions were not. As we tried to overcome unintended consequences – we created some as well!


On the positive side of things – as we move into the third week of the class, and we focus on tools that might be used to organize our learning, our teachers are doing really well! The tools are no longer “new” and the non-linear design of information retrieval in the course seems to be becoming more natural as well. Some students created videos that illustrated their Alaskan lifestyle in subsistence communities very different from our own. We have also begun to share some great resources with each other. The #diffimooc chat has focused on tools for creative student learning, the importance of knowing our learners and even some Native Alaskan language teaching supplements! What a great way to keep these languages alive! Finally, teachers are beginning work on the Wiki page which will share their collaborative web pages, lesson plans and resources with other teachers. Soon, this page will be public – and I will share it with all. Right now we are still in the organization stage 🙂

In addition, we identified a blog of the week for the first week of the MOOC. This is an exemplar that meets, at Target Level, all of the requirements of the Blog Rubric.  (I took to heart Grant Wiggins’ post a few weeks ago about the use of rubrics without anchoring models.) This week the honors went to who demonstrated well her learning, the way she learned with others, and demonstrated a strong voice as she responded to the essential question: “What are the attitudes I will need to be successful in the cMOOC?”.  In the future, I would like participants to nominate a blog entry, and then vote so that they might be more a part of the process of choosing the blog entry of the week!

I appreciate so much the support and mentoring of others as we move through this experience! I am happy to share what I learn about MOOCs as we go through this process, and also am happy to share the wonderful work that the persistent and stellar teachers enrolled in this experience will produce.

Onward and Upward!


16 responses to Moving past the Theory: #diffimooc Victories and Challenges

  1. 733lori says:

    It must be especially hard to plan for learners who you don’t see face to face. Everyone has different preferences and needs. I appreciate the videos, as I can watch them more than once if I need to.

    • colin says:

      I appreciate the intro bios / videos for the participants being posted in a searchable place – that way when I interact with someone via Twitter I can go back and check out what background they are coming from and get a sense of context.

  2. Chris Carlson says:

    I too have difficulty breaking videos down to smaller bites so they’re easier to chew. I now make sure the video I create for my website are ten minutes or smaller.
    Scaffolding is good for learning the tools necessary for operating in the mooc. However, I’ve always felt that your videos explain the navigation and uses well. Thank you. Making it through all of the content generated and keeping it organized is my personal goal.
    I’m not sure I like choosing a favorite blog. Psychologically, the effect of competition can be counter productive to learning. I know that’s the elementary teacher talking and probably not the graduate student. I’m not known to be hyper sensitive but I’ve had lessons go bad because I asked them to pick their favorite student work. (obviously this issue is magnified in 2nd grade). As a grad student, I’m more than happy to pick a favorite blog. This will help work through the content and keep a more robust list of resources using Diigo.

    • +1 shorter videos. Especially when you are really just looking for some quick *thing* and you’re familiar with 85% of what the video is about.

      Re: blog of the week, I have mixed feelings as well. I do like the idea of highlighting people’s work who exemplify something but I don’t like over feeding my competitive nature. I guess that’s why I like the retweet concept – it’s a nod from someone that they saw something original, relevant, and wanted to share.

      • akedtech says:

        Maybe the “Blog of the Week” isn’t that great of an idea :-)…you are right about retweeting…it’s tough to present models when by nature things become competitive.

  3. Sharon says:

    You mentioned that there were “several” tools to get used to. That is a bit of an understatement. I count eight new “tools” that I have had to sign up for and get used to (I use the term loosely because I am not really used to any of them). That does not count the ones that were optional such as the daily something or other. I can’t even remember the name because they are all confusing in my head. I chose not to sign up for it because it was just one more thing. Even now I can’t keep all 8 of these “new tools” straight or where I saw something posted so I am guessing that introducing one every two days is still fast. I admit, I am the low end of the technology curve (by choice-this is not my way of learning nor do I want to be plugged in all the time and tied to a computer). I know I am missing a lot of people’s blogs, tweets (because it is such a convoluted web of words), etc. but I only have so much time I am willing to sit in front of a computer.

    I did appreciate the videos (visual learner here) but agree the one was too long, especially if I needed to find just one tidbit of info again. It was informative though so don’t be hard on yourself. It did manage to ease the frustration and tightening in my chest a little. Thank you for all your help.

    • akedtech says:

      I am glad, Sharon – then at least one goal of the video was reached! You have been so persistent with the tools – I know it will continue to make more and more sense as we continue with this experience!

  4. The MOOC started out fast and frantic. The first tweet session made my head spin. It was like being in a classroom where everyone was talking at once! With every class, there is a rhythm. As I student, I find it takes a couple of weeks to get the rhythm. Then things begin to fall into place. In the third week of class, I feel like a rhythm is emerging and things are starting to gel. Even the tweet sessions seem to be more productive and less frenetic. I’m glad to be part of this MOOC experiment/experience!

    • akedtech says:

      So glad to have you here Barbra! As an experienced blogger – you have been and will continue to be such great support to your colleagues!

  5. Amber says:

    I completely agree with the idea that the video’s presented should be much shorter…as i admit, i was one of the people who didnt finish watching the first 30min video. Although, that was not by choice. I live in a small village (Gambell, AK). We have extremely poor internet out here, and therefore streaming is a very very very slow process. Even then, I have a limited amount of bandwidth each week. If the videos are shorter, it makes it more possible for me to be able to watch the video, sure it takes about 10 minutes to fully load (sometimes longer) but at least it’s actually possible.

    Although I still feel a bit overwhelmed from all the new programs we’re expected to learn and use, i feel like i’m slowly settling in. I’m hoping i’ve done all the requirements for the 1st week, and hopefully by the end of this evening, complete the requirements for week 2. I am a bit worried sometimes that i’m missing things that i’m supposed to do, therefore If you see i haven’t done something, please let me know! It wouldn’t be intended what-so-ever!

    • akedtech says:

      Amber – you are doing great! We are all getting used to this process and managing the tools will be key to being sure we can move through the experience well. I have seen your persistence and your great blog! Also I’ve see you on Twitter asking questions when you have them – this will be the greatest key to success. I am happy we are moving beyond the initial challenge of the tools and onto the content of the course – differentiation in all of its shapes and forms!

  6. dtj800 says:

    Lee –
    I concur with the idea of easing into the different tools used for a MOOC that you suggested in the write-up! After week 1 I feel like things are starting to settle down, but I’m still mastering the tools and understanding how they best fit into this process.

  7. Anne Kurland says:

    Thank you for sharing your process with us, Lee, and for your frequent encouragement that feeling unsettled and lost really is okay at the beginning of something so completely new. This MOOC experience is helping me think about how and how much to push learners to take risks and assume responsibility for their own learning. I see that is an important part of identifying our learners and differentiating instruction for them. For us in Week One and Week Two, many factors have come into play: practical logistics such as internet access and bandwidth, prior experience in cyberspace, tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity (your instructions and rubrics are clear! But the whole cMOOC experience is so new to many of us), and time available outside of class for reading and exploration, to name just a few… I appreciate your reassurance from the Week Two Weebly page: “This MOOC is all about YOU and YOUR learning. There is no one path that will lead us to a common goal. Our goal is very broad purposefully – so that you might engage in the materials, conversations, and resources that will serve you best as a teacher and a learner.”

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