Social Artists … ends up being about mooc design #change11 #socialartist

Finally caught up with the MOOC. Well not quite: I didn’t catch Nancy White’s presentation live, but looked at it, and the DTLT event as recordings. Nancy‘s presentation was hyper-interactive, with dozens of participants contributing via the whiteboard (usually all at once) … as such it was a bit frustrating to follow as a recording. later in the day she joined a smaller group for the DTLT chat, and it was this conversation that I found most stimulating (particularly the first 15 minutes on social artists, though the discussion of visual communication and sketchnoting was interesting on a different level) .

The start point for the chat was the idea of the social artist (a concept from etienne wenger) as someone who brings learners together, understands the commonality they may have and therefore facilitates learning (although interesting, not much was said about the complementary concepts of the transversal, who understands the inherent structure of an organisation/network and can therefore get things done and the social reporter, who has a formal role of spreading ideas within an organisation/network (my paraphrased definitions)).

I was sitting thinking about the ideas of a social artist (and how they might apply in different educational contexts) when I was stirred from my thoughts by a comment from Tim Owens which resonated (I think he said it came, in turn, from Jim Groom as part of ds106) that highlighted the importance of commenting on other people’s blogs as a way of stimulating ideas (a behaviour of a social artist).

I noted something similar in one of my Week 4 summary posts – that I am a great believer in commenting on other people’s posts rather than starting my own. In this way we build on each other’s work, rather than restarting anew. It also leaves an idea in its original context, rather than wresting it away to a new location.

Anyway, while I was sidetracked by this thought, the conversation moved on and I was stirred by a  second comment, this time from Zach Dowell, who was discussing the change mooc saying that it  ‘feels like a network I am not part of‘. This is an understandable sentiment, and one which I can recognise from my (non-)participation in previous moocs.  Moocs can be daunting, especially if you aren’t in from the start as the course does quickly gain an identity/tempo which can be hard to align yourself to (think of it like a juggernaut, as an individual, you are not going to be able to re-direct it). I think the preparatory material created by the organisers this year certainly helped me reflect on my expectations and consequently I feel I have managed to stay engaged throughout the event so far. I’ve not worried when I fell behind, not tried to read everything, not even worried with carrying out the tasks suggested by the facilitators. Instead, I set my own personal goals, and have focused on engaging and responding to each of the topics presented. From this perspective, I have managed to engage with others (comments on blog posts) and move forward my own thinking (making semi-coherent blog posts on topics I haven’t focused on specifically for years). By not worrying whether I am part of the network, I think I have become ‘part of the network’.  I feel I am achieving something.

In the past, I have said that if I were running a mooc, I would put a lot of effort into the initial establishment of learning communities (no, I’m not trying to over-formalise the course here) as I think peers become key to learning when some of the other sources of extrinsic motivation (synchronous/f2f courses, accreditation at the end) are missing. Two ideas I would consider are (i) to get people to explicitly articulate their learning goals and then group (or develop a tool to allow individuals to discover) others with similar goals (ii) to find ways to connect people together during the asynchronous parts f the course (e.g. have a live chat window below a recorded elluminate session to allow me to connect with others who are listening to the same recording at the same time as me). Thinking about the concept of the social artist discussed today, I wonder whether these ideas are mechanisms whereby technology plays the role of the social artist, creating a locus for learning (like the comments section of a blog post) and bringing learners together.



Author: Colin Milligan

Learning researcher based at Glasgow Caledonian University, and living in beautiful West Stirlingshire.

15 thoughts on “Social Artists … ends up being about mooc design #change11 #socialartist”

  1. Interesting comments! About your first idea of changing a MOOC, I would have trouble with that for 2 reasons.
    1. Having people explicitly articulate their learning goals at the beginning of a course. I did not have specific goals. Yes, I did put a few up but they have changed since. I really had no expectation of this Mooc since it was my first one. I sort of followed the others a bit until I knew the what’s and the how’s. Works great!
    2. Put people together with similar goals. That would be very boring for me. I like to read across the field, people that come up with different goals and ideas and on top of that, I don’t want to belong to “this box”….maybe I want to switch during the course… would restrict me too much and therefore I would not be having fun nor learning much…..
    I never liked walking the path that somebody else stipulated for me 🙂

    1. I like it a lot being free in this mooc – discovering interesting posts and persons – and loosing them again – joining when I have time and leaving it behind me when I’m occupied with other tasks. So it’s more anarchic, chaotic, sympathetic for me 🙂

    2. Thanks Irene, for your comment and challenge. To respond to your first reason, I know some people would resist or be unable to articulate learning goals, but I do think it important to find some mechanism to encourage engagement at the start – and one way to do this is to challenge them to say what they want from it. On your second reason, this would just be a starting point: I’d have no problem with goals changing, in fact I would expect people to change their goals continually through any learning experience as they more clearly understand what they do and do not know, and what they want to learn.

      From looking at this and other moocs (with the caveat that those I have seen have all been edtech focused) I see that often groups coalesce around technology – the facebook community, and in previous moocs there was an SL group. In a traditional course, groups of learners may reflect tutorial groupings, or students who use a particular library. My ideas in the original post were an attempt to supply other forms of catalyst for group formation for a mooc.

      Once again thanks for your comment, I’ve learned from the challenge you made.

  2. I have really enjoyed your posts however it is your photos on Flickr which have really grabbed my attention. They are really beautiful. You are doing wonders to promote Scotland etc as a tourist destination!
    Thanks for sharing your pictures and keep them coming please.

    1. Many thanks for your kind words Liz, The arrival of a little boy has stalled my photography somewhat but he is now getting old enough to get dragged along so I’m hoping to get back into the habit.

  3. Colin, interesting thoughts about the MOOC thus far. I couldn’t help thinking that a MOOC is not for everyone or every situation / subject matter. With the lack of initial structure and without establishing supportive learning communities, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and let it pass by while other demands in life call our attention. Do you think that certain purposes or populations better enable, or are enabled, by MOOC structures?


    1. Hello Jeffrey. The million dollar question. We were reflecting on moocs a little over lunch yesterday and thinking about what we can learn from them. My main problem is that delivering a mooc to edtech professionals is atypical and so I am not sure what we can conclude looking at this or the others run by Stephen, George and Dave. Reflecting personally on this mooc, I am notorious for being attracted to the bigger picture rather than focused on individual topics and even i am finding the breadth of topics covered here a challenge. So I would presume that the norm for participation in this course is for many participants to skip weeks which don’t align with their work focus (which I think will contribute to dwindling participation). I have a hunch that the more active community of participants are those like me (and I can’t claim to have been particularly active, though I have been consistent in my contribution which is different from previous moocs) who are more interested in the idea of a mooc than in the content being delivered.

      To try and get as bit closer to answering your question, I think that to succeed in a course like this (without end credit, or much formal guidance) requires that participants must be highly self-regulating: setting goals/expectations, participating, reflecting and subsequently/continually refining these expectations (explicitly or implicitly) is key to keeping motivated. The mooc structure is also more suited to courses where the balance of consumption and contribution is skewed heavily towards contribution (again courses for more advanced learners). I think in the future we will see smaller scale courses, delivered to groups of people who have a clear common identity. These will have a clear (narrow) focus, perhaps to address an emerging challenge in a particular field.

      To give an example. Our main research has been concerned with learning in the workplace and we have spoken about moocs with industrial colleagues who saw parallels with an organisation wide ‘innovation event’ which they run where staff from all over the world can drop into synchronous and asynchronous sessions to brainstorm challenges and pass on new ideas. Some combination of this and a mooc would interest me.

      1. Our work has focused on learning and development of knowledge workers looking at how knowledge is shared within these communities and the implications of challenges such as the need for continuous innovation and use of multidisciplinary teams. Allison Littlejohn spoke about our work extensively in week 4 of the course.

  4. Another great ‘discussion’ is happening here (see Jenny Connected’s Selfish Blogger post).

    Your comment “I’ve not worried when I fell behind, not tried to read everything, not even worried with carrying out the tasks suggested by the facilitators. Instead, I set my own personal goals, and have focused on engaging and responding to each of the topics presented.” resonated with me for two reasons:

    1) I’m not worrying too much about my varying levels of participation in #change11 so far either. Since this is my third kick at it, I have become quite comfortable with setting my own pace and letting go of any self-imposed shame or guilt that would come with saying I haven’t done “enough” (whatever that means).

    2) I wonder what worrying says about who is perceived as being in control of the learning? Do we worry because we aren’t meeting our own expectations or someone else’s? Do we worry because we are so used to someone else (teacher, facilitator, parent, coach) doing the navigation for us, helping us to establish goals, setting up communities and suggesting reasons for engagement?

    I agree that self-regulation is a must in moocs and I think we have to look a little deeper at whether more facilitator involvement than we have now would corrode that sense of personal accountability.

    1. Thanks for this. My first reaction is to say that ‘worry’ refers to meeting my own expectations – but when i set my goals at the start of the MOOC: to engage with each presenter’s material and to respond to it, not (for instance) to carry out the task exactly as directed. Because I set broad goals, I’m not worried that I’m not a model student, though I suppose there is a nagging feeling in there that there is a set way to participate in the course (despite what the organisers contend). The presenters invest a lot of time in preparing or and delivering this course,so on an individual level, I feel a responsibility to contribute in some way which I think matches their expectations.

      Onto self-regulation – I think the point I have been trying to make is that while each individual (if self-regulating) should be able to self-motivate, I think the course as a whole only works if there are also some networks or communities which emerge to bind these people together and provide additional motivation. Once established, some of these communities can seem quite daunting for those on the outside (with their norms, dominant personalities, niche agendas etc.) so i was trying to think of ways in which the organisers (with a light touch) could promote network building at the outset – but without corroding personal accountability.

  5. I’m catching up tonight, to circle back to #socialartist posts and wanted to pick up the thread of “outsiderness” — what can #socialartists do to help people step out of feeling like the outsider?

  6. As I was reading I had several comments I wanted to make, but now that I’m done with reading the comments, only those that occurred to me last even occur to me at all! I strangely wonder if the overwhelming-ness of the Change MOOC if having that same effect on me, or on others.
    To sip from the fire-hose would be much easier if we could somehow deflect the stream, creating another stream, and then sip from that. To keep up with the ones notes on the MOOC lectures, one needs almost to make note about their notes… a “meta-note.” At any rate, let me try to recall:
    1. Let me preface my comments with the statement that I’m relatively new to blogging, MOOCS and this sort of dialogue in general. Some things that may be interesting to me are probably “old hat” to you folks.
    2. Your idea about the melding of the asynchronous and synchronous modes of participation was interesting. I wonder if people would be put off by the fact that others could “see” them watching the recording at the same time, and attempt to communicate with them about the content. A large part of people’s “fear” of the MOOC, I would suggest, is the thought that they have to participate. An extension of your idea would be an interface that spoke to the last person to view a particular archived file, the total number of views, etc. The impact might be similar to that mentioned in the DTLT discussion, whereby it was noted that people’s blogs take off more rapidly if they get a bunch of comments early on. Recordings that were popular would, by default, get to be more popular.
    3. The above thought brings up the notion of privacy. Would participants feel the same about viewing if a recording if they knew that the interface would then show: “last viewed by Jarrad @ 4:19pm 11/26/2011” broadcasting to the world that Jarrad was weeks late and desperately trying to “catch up” to the MOOC? Here’s a loose parallel: I recently noticed, on my Facebook page (yes, I still use Facebook; I’m weaning myself) a tool that showed the Top Ten Visitors to my page. I instantly thought to myself: “wow, big brother knows when I look at my ex-girlfriend’s profile photos” and, what’s worse “big brother could out me at any time.” From that point on my interaction on Facebook was governed by a different rule set.
    The MOOC is less personal, true, but it would still be interesting to experiment.
    4. Similar to points 2 and 3 above, someone on the DTLT discussion mentioned that they were, in fact, LESS distracted because they were participating in a recent seminar remotely (I believe Julie stated she was at home in her kitchen but people participating online believed her to be at the event in person). Listening to the recording, as you and I have done, gives a different interaction. We could pause, rewind, restart, etc. I know that we could have done that even after participating synchronously, but, all of a sudden, I’m not too worried about falling behind.
    5. I’m starting to recognize people’s names (in your comments). Interesting!
    6. It’s funny how blog posts force you to read not only the blog, but every single comment as well, so that you don’t ignorantly post a question/comment that’s already been posted. A while back I mentioned that those posts with tons of comments are likely to receive more attention. The flip side has to do with those that have so many comments that you can’t possibly read them all (esp if you’re in grad school and have a test and two papers due). The resulting “tension” is funny to me.
    7. Please excuse me for hijacking your comment section. I can’t remember any of my original questions and it seems I’ve written enough here to start my own blog. Speaking of which, I will be copying and pasting this, at least so that I’ll have a starting point from which to compose my own notes on the content. No need to respond; you’ve done a great job here of responding to everybody’s comments. That must take tons of energy. Thanks for your insight thus far!

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