An exploration of the MOOC

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. My mash-up of a correct answer to a quiz in the FutureLearn course from the University of Nottingham ‘How to read a mind’ that ties in directly to The OU course on the same platform ‘Start Writing Fiction’.

As these MOOCs complete I have a few weeks over Christmas to reflect on a busy year of Moocing about and to catch up with regular coursework on L120, assisted with a necessary business visit to France.

My MOOCing is enjoyed all the more while reading Martin Weller’s new book that covers MOOCs, ‘The Battle for Open’. These are interesting times indeed.

With friends yesterday I evangelised about MOOCs on FutureLearn and found that what worked was to describe a MOOC in layman’s terms as the equivalent of a hefty, hardback, coffee-table book you buy because you have an interest in a thing. Let’s say it is architecture. The book is written by an expert with engaging photographs, charts and maps. From time to time you indulge yourself. A good MOOC is similar, different and better. Online you have an expert who leads the course. The introduce themselves, the course and perhaps the team. And then over the weeks they drop in to say something with a pre-recorded video piece or text. They may even appear from time to time to contribute to the discussion: though you may miss them if the thread is running into the hundreds.

I explained how threaded discussions work: that there can be thousands of comments, but you know everyone is talking about the same thing. That if you don’t get a point you can ask and someone offers a response. You may still not get it. So you ask again. Once again, there is a response. You may do this a few times. Even come back to it a day or so later, but you are likely, eventually to see something that says it for you – your fellow students have fulfilled the role of the tutor that a tutor could never manage: they only have one voice and they can’t give up the huge number of hours – there is one thread in ‘Start Writing Fiction’ that runs to 7400 posts.

These are filtered in three useful ways: activity, following and your comments. In this way you either look only at the lates posts, the posts of those you are following: say 10 out of 23,000 or, of course, you look back at your comments.

It works.

As for my graphic? Does obscuring the writing assist with anything? By making an effort to read the question are you any more likely to remember it?

World War 1: Paris 1919 A MOOC from the University of Glasgow

World War 1: Paris 1919 – A New World: University of Glasgow [Three Weeks]

100% Coming out of the MA in British Military History with a Postgraduate Certificate and 60 credits after one year it was good to take part in something carried by a leading academic. A challenge is worth taking on when there is something new to learn and understand. The WW1 theme hooked the interest and most students expected to stay there. Even if off my brief I was nonetheless happy to go the distances stretching out through WW2 and the creation and early history of the United Nations.

WW1 Aviation Comes of Age. A MOOC about British aviation 1911-1951

World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham [Three Weeks]

Both more, and less than advertised. Far from sticking to the First World War the course flew away on a gust of enthusiasm in various directions that stretched beyond the Second World War … without really taking off.

From Jack Wilson MM

Fig.1 My late grandfather – the period I thought we’d cover was his experience of flight. 1911-1919

100% Coming out of the MA in British Military History with a Postgraduate Certificate and 60 credits after one year shows that I am still passionate about the subject of the First World War, but not how it is taught in a traditional ‘Saturday School’ format: I felt that I was back in the ‘C’ set of my lower-sixth History A’ level. The course tried hard to understand the affordances of learning online in a MOOC and will surely make many changes before it is presented again in the New Year. It rather failed to understand who its audience were: more niche, specialists and some extraordinarily well informed. The WW1 tag drifted rapidly into events between the wars, into WW2 and beyond with very little of the development of aviation offered or explored, except by us students, often in great depth. Its saving grace. It was too much an effort at shoehorning a lacklustre campus-based course of lectures, talks and books with long lists of qualifying but unreadable lists of references attached. The quizzes in particular were awful. Put in with no understand of their purpose or the considerable level expertise required to get these right.

World War 1: Trauma and Memory

Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: The Open University [Three Weeks]

Fig.1. Though I’ve visited many sites of the First World War, this rather poignant stone I came across struck me as the most touching. Though broken we strain to comprehend the scale and nature of national and personal loss. 

100% Coming out of the MA in British Military History in September with 60 Credits and a Postgraduate Certificate from the University of Birmingham indicates a desire to understand this era deeper. From the Open University and an historian, Dr Annika Mombauer whose work I greatly admire made this a special, engaging and informed course.

The resources available is overwhelming: catalogues of photographs and archive film bring the First World War home.

How to read a mind

How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham[Two Weeks] Fig.1. The image I’ve used for a decade to represent my blogging under the pseudonym ‘mind bursts’.

79% Complete

Four activities remaining to complete. A touch more academic than some. I guess this is undergraduate English Literature, but third year. Or is it pitched at postgraduate level. I have had to spend more time with the reading than I expected in order to grasp the main thesis relating to ‘Theory of Mind’. It is proving complementary to ‘Start Writing Fiction’ as it shows how we conceive of, and follow imagined and real characters in a world, in our heads, that is always part factual, part fictional.

Why online you should ‘start writing fiction’ with The Open University on FutureLearn

Start Writing Fiction : The Open University [Eight Weeks]

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Over eight weeks I baulked at pen and paper, sticking to digital on iPad, laptop and desktop though in time turning to  A6 and A4 hardback notebooks. 

100% This is designed to need three hours a week over eight weeks. The depth and breadth of contributions may have had me spending two or three hours on a signal activity, possibly this much each week, perhaps averaging 12 hours a week. Each week has 8 – 12 activities. In scope it looks like a fully fledged Open University undergraduate BA course. Many fellow students commented on this. Enough have stuck through to keep it vibrant and very worthwhile. Looking at early notes on hopes and final notes on reflection I feel as if I’ve gone further than I might have expected in a year of committed part-time participation.

Fig.2. Norman Mailer. Whose last book was on writing and with whom I exchanged ideas when I blogged at length about the book. A decade late on this MOOC I end with over 100 followers and find 87 of my own whose ideas, advice and take on life I relate to.

#FLfiction14

Completed ‘Start Writing Fiction’ with The Open University on FutureLearn

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Start Writing Fiction

I’ve been blown away, shaken up, put back together, slapped on the behind, smacked on the back and learnt a huge amount. All I need to do now is spend less time online, and more time writing … and reading.

My blogging days aren’t over, but the time devoted to it will be.

24 hours later I’m joining the alumni community of ‘SWF 14′ on Facebook and posting my work from the eight week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) here. Historically I’ve been very bad at taking advice from fellow bloggers – stop blogging, go write! So if it looks like my self-discipline of keeping this to 40 minutes or so a day then give me an electronic kick up the hooter :)

With thanks to ‘Start Writing Fiction Autumn 2014,’ and The Open University, to ‘National Write a Novel in a Month’ and to author and writing tutor Susannah Waters who have over the last three months put me back where I want to be: on a creative path with ‘published and produced’ in the SatNav.