Mass education and motivation

May 3, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Posted in waffle | 1 Comment
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I’ve joined Prof. Curt Bonk’s MOOC on Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success. This is a free 5-week course hosted on Blackboard’s  CourseSites, and it currently has around 3000 students enrolled – although it should be noted that around 500 turned up last night for the first live webinar. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course, although there are disagreements about the word ‘massive’ – for example Stanford’s open course on Artifical Intelligence had 135,000 participants … but there is also debate about whether that was actually a MOOC as well.

Week one of the course focuses on the critical importance of motivating students in online courses, and in the webinar Prof. Bonk raced headlong through a pile of slides that showed inspirational case studies from around the world, organised according to his TEC-VARIETY model of motivational techniques. One student commented that she felt she had been ‘fire-hosed with ideas’, and the relentless rush certainly left no time for reflection. The chat windows scrolled by at a distracting rate, and it proved impossible to scroll up to read them as new ones were continually added. Welcome to creative chaos! Luckily, the webinars are being recorded and you could save the chat as a text file, so later reflection is possible – provided we have time!

The last time I was involved in an online course was 1998-2000, when I studied for an MEd in Networked Collaborative Learning at the University of Sheffield. The course was run by an educationalist with fairly radical ideas, Dr David McConnell, and he gave free rein to them on the course. For example we could choose our own assignments and did a lot of peer assessment – it really moved me outside my comfort zone and was just great! The topic of my second assignment was student motivation, as I could see that it was clearly a key issue. Back then, technology issues (connectivity, equipment, software and skills) were far more of a concern, and the use of audio or video were out of the question, so motivation had to be encouraged through the medium of text and the design of the activities. Accordingly, my assignment talks about John Keller’s ARCS model (Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction) and strategies for running discussion fora.

How about motivation in the era of the MOOC? Prof. Bonk and his team are clearly going to model the TEC-VARIETY approach as best they can, adjusting and adapting as they get to grips with the challenges posed by thousands of students. But what about us, the students? What about our own internal motivation?

Firstly, the topic has to have its own value – we’re not going to get a credit-bearing certificate or award at the end of this. Apparently we will get a ‘digital badge’ which will look great on our blog or LinkedIn profile, but won’t cut much ice with employers (or at least, not at present… but they may be big in the future). On the other hand my CMALT status will need re-accreditation in 2014 – at which stage participation in this MOOC will offer real benefits.

In this MOOC, lots of us (including me) are also there for the experience of being in a MOOC – so for us, the medium is also (part of) the message. By definition, almost all of us are ‘up with the technology’ – and it is interesting to think how an ‘ordinary student’ would cope with this. Or is that unfair? Suppose I was an English student taking part in a MOOC on ‘Metaphor in Elizabethan Drama’  how would I cope with the sprawl of the discussion forums? I found the analogy with a big conference really helpful – you attend the keynotes, drop in on a few sessions and spend most of your time interacting with just a few people who you bumped into.

Stay tuned for next week’s comments on MOOCs Progress…

oh… and WordPress just let me know that this was my 100th post on Telic. Yay. Wot, no digital badge?


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  1. […] TELic – Adam Warren’s blog, with weekly reflections about the experience of being in this MOOC, plus other TEL topics […]

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