MOOCs, are they worth it?

Ping, I have constantly been hearing this noise all afternoon as my phone has been lit up with the excitement brought about by the start of a new MOOC. In the space of 4 hours I have received around 40 email notifications as participants have published their first task for the Association for Learning Technologies Open Course on Technology Enhanced Learning (ocTEL). Although the excitement is contagious and I’m fast becoming drawn into participating, after my first MOOC experience earlier in the year I am a little skeptical. Particularly about the ratio of time spent on the course to the amount of relevant work based knowledge that I will gain.

When I started the Educational Technology and Media MOOC (ETMOOC) in January I was like today’s participants of the ocTEL MOOC- full of excitement and raring to go, however my interest and motivation began to wain during the first module. By the second (which was a creative based module) I was more enthused but by the third module all I managed was half a webinar before admitting that I wasn’t really interested in finishing the course and I probably wouldn’t have tuned into the webinar if I hadn’t been following the speaker, Doug Belshaw’s blog for a while.

Why didn’t I fully engage with the ETMOOC?

The course started in January which was an extremely busy time for me as I had just started an undergraduate computing module with the Open University (OU). As the OU course was accredited and the MOOC wasn’t the MOOC naturally came at the bottom of my to do list. Teaching full time and studying for an undergraduate module in an area which I have no formal qualifications or experience in meant that I didn’t have much time to connect with other participants making the MOOC a very lonely experience. This feeling was made worse by the ‘massive open-ness’ of the course – there were so many new posts and status updates that it was difficult to keep up.

The positives

Although I didn’t finish the course there were a lot of positives to be drawn out of the experience.

I discovered new learning technologies which have gained the seal of approval from my students. This includes Bit Strips which is a comic book generator, Mozzila Popcorn Maker which can be used to edit audio and video clips from the web and Thing Link which is an interactive poster generator that I have been using as  a tool for an end of course assement. I re-connected with Deb Seed, who I’d previously studied with, as she mentored me during the first few weeks when I was feeling lost and over whelmed. The course has encouraged me to further promote the use of ILT at my own institution and as Deb has been using the Mozzila Popcorn Maker with her own students I’ve arranged for her to speak about this at my institutions annual teachers fair. I learnt how to better manage my use of the internet including how to use the Buffer application to schedule my tweets so that they are shared throughout the day instead of being sent out in one flurry and I also learnt how to turn my RSS feed into a personalised magazine via the use of Flipboard. Finally one of the main learning points to come out of this course was the development of realistic expectations of MOOCs in general and how much I’m going to be able to learn from them. It is going to be overwhelming at the start, as I’m not meeting up with people in a physical classroom it is going to feel lonely at times and I’m not going to manage to keep up with all of the tasks. However I am going to develop a deeper understanding of how I make connections (Twitter is my best friend for this) and I am going to learn more about what motivates me (I like creative tasks and am turned off by the traditional academic style). I am going to be inspired to try out new things and whether these work or not they are going to inspire to be more creative in my practice. So although they’re hard work, they do take a lot of energy and the chances of me completing the course are small MOOCs are still worthwhile.

Why I’ve decided to take part in the ocTEL MOOC?

Up until this afternoon I wasn’t going to participate in  the ocTEL MOOC as my last experience had left me feeling rather negative and doubting their worth, plus my situation hasn’t changed since January so my shortage of down time and the fact that, through my work I’m starting the L4 Learning Through Technology qualification at the end of the month,  I didn’t want life to be all work and no play. However the buzz and excitement of  this afternoon had me doubting my original decision and as I’ve been writing this post reflecting on my MOOC experiences so far I’ve decided to give this new MOOC a go. I’m also off work this week due to the Easter holidays so tomorrow I’m going to strap myself in and embark on the ocTEL journey.

Rocket launch



6 thoughts on “MOOCs, are they worth it?

  1. Hi Gemma. Thanks for your honest, transparent reflection on your experience with ETMOOC. Like you, ETMOOC was my first experience with a MOOC, and I had very little preparation for such an intense experience and the massive “open-ness” of the course. I just jumped in after reading the introduction on Being in a very rural area with few options for professional development and connection with others, I was hoping to make some connections with others who had an interest in educational technology, explore some new ideas and engage in a conversation with others, and enjoy using some new tools with others. Fortunately, my workload wasn’t quite as heavy as yours when the course started. I built time into my schedule for some of the activities for professional development and then did the rest on my own time. During the first few weeks, there was quite a bit of discussion on dealing with the massive “open-ness” of the course, and I think that helped me begin to look at my own approach, which evolved over the course of time. If I hadn’t engaged in that discussion and made some connections though it, it would’ve been difficult to stick with ETMOOC. Later in the course, I had to step away for the most part for a couple of weeks when I had an intense project to complete and I missed the interactions with ETMOOC. I did try to engage the community of learners on Twitter to keep in touch. However, it was good to step away from some of the activities for a short period and re-group and become more strategic in my interaction with the course.

    Was it worth it? I guess everyone will have a different measuring stick, depending on what their expectations were. I especially liked this one point in your post – “one of the main learning points to come out of this course was the development of realistic expectations of MOOCs in general and how much I’m going to be able to learn from them.” That reinforced for me the importance of seeing participation in MOOCs as a progressive learning experience. I feel more prepared for the next MOOC I will be involved in. Building some of the personal connections on Twitter and Google+ as I do another MOOC will help sustain me and others in the learning process. After all, even though the MOOC is an individual learning experience, I think the power is in finding ways to align with the “community of learners” and enjoy moving in learning together.

    Thanks again for your reflection and the best to you as you start again.

  2. Gemma, Even though you doubt your learning and participation, your reflection shows otherwise: you participated as you could, as did I. I wanted to do more, but reality in chimed in and I did what I could, meeting some amazing people, re-connecting with others, and learning a few new tech tools to tackle. Thanks for the insights.

  3. Gemma this has also been my experience with MOOCs. They need to be radically simplified and designed as a far better UX. My limited time for OCTEL has been spent cleaning up my littered email inbox and trying to find out how to change my password. I’ve now lost the first activity instructions in the mess. MOOC designers need to understand we’re enthusiastic but very time starved! Best of luck Imogen

    • Hi Imogen,

      The email over load was slightly frustrating although it had the opposite effect on myself as it encouraged me to participate in the course although I had originally gone off the idea. I like the ‘If you only do one thing this week…’ feature of the ocTEL MOOC as that will certainly help when I’m time starved.

      It seems to be that the workload of educators isn’t considered when education based MOOCs are being designed. I’m lucky if I have a spare few hours during term time never mind 20! Hopefully the ocTEL MOOC will go more smoothly than our previous attempts. Good luck!

  4. Pingback: ocTEL – My plan of attack |

  5. I have just created my first Thing link resource as a result of the very inspiring session that we had yesterday at the Teaching & Learning Forum, and made a start on my first blog. Many thanks Gemma. I have a renewed enthusiasm for integrating more ILT into my teaching as a result. The fact that I have just received 18 tablets for my classroom (18 months) after they went on the business plan as also helped. I now no longer have an excuse for not getting my butt into gear with all this. Keep up with the blog I am following you closely and trying out all the things that you suggest. Whilst The T&L group is still new due to the recent influx of new people I sense that the enthusiasm is really picking up as more people get settled into their roles. I really feel that we can all make a difference. Exciting times !

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