Cluster and Focus -> Surviving week 4 of a MOOC

Had a quite excellent weekend of meetings with George Siemens, Sandy McAuley and Bonnie Stewart regarding our research on MOOCs. We’ve rewritten a good deal of the stuff from the video I released a few weeks ago about how to be successful in a MOOC based on some of the feedback we’ve gotten, some discussions I’ve had with people in the different elluminate sessions and the results of our narrative enquiry. We have four broad steps for success in a MOOC… but as we’re already a few weeks in, I’m going to focus on steps 3 and step 4.

The distributed nature of a MOOC offers a variety of challenges to the participant. PLENK2010 central has a list of suggested readings for the week, two live events and a discussion area for people to connect in. ‘The Daily’ rounds up the posts and tweets from the day and keep people apprised of what is going on in the course. But this is only content. It’s a description of connections maybe, but it hardly satisfies the goals of the MOOC as we’ve talked about them?

We’ve noticed, MOOC after MOOC that weeks 3 and 4 are the most difficult for students. The ‘newness’ of it all has faded at this point, we’ve covered some of the more basic material, and for many participants, its enough time that they start to sit back and reflect on the experience and evaluate if this is something that they are going to be able to commit 6 more weeks to. Why finish the course? Why continue to participate? How do I get the most out of this process?

There are two main questions surface over and over again throughout this course. The first, and most enduring question is

What am I supposed to do now?

Followed closely by the second most common concern

How am I suppose to keep track of all the things that are going on in the course?

Step 3 – Cluster
One of the easiest ways of dealing with the scattershot nature of this course is to pay close attention to your clusters. By this point, if you’ve been participating and working along with others, you’ll likely have found some people that are doing what you are doing, who are interested in what you’re interested in, or with whom your ideas seem to connect easily. This is a natural clustering process that happens in a network… it’s a combination of making strong ties to a smaller number of people, looser ties with a larger number beyond that, and maybe not paying attention to other work that you find distracting or doesn’t fit in with where you see yourself going.

Step 4 – Focus
Any MOOC is necessarily going to need to be directed by the participant. There is not way to do reasonable consultations with 1400 people, and no way to create a set of activities that is going to satisfy the needs of those participants nearly as well as they can do that themselves. So… this week you need to find a point of focus. I think that those who do well in MOOCs are often those who find something in their professional activities, find a particular angle of interest in the learning materials… something that they can turn into their own final project. This might be something that you do with your cluster, and it might be something that you do on your own. Focus. Find it.

The answer…
The answer to the two questions, then, is that by clustering, you’ll be able to concentrate in deeper ways on the work of specific people. For many people this is going to offer a richer experience than trying to loosely follow a hundred people and their work. The answer to ‘what do i do now’ is simple… it’s up to you. The MOOC provides a jumpstart on a topic, some guidance, some access to people who’ve spent a bunch of time considering this stuff… and it provides access to a ready made network for you to borrow and make your own. The success of the process, from there, is up to you.

Of course, some of you just love being in the chaos of it all for ten weeks… and that’s good too :)

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