Sunday, 3 February 2013

#edcmooc No long words, a few stats and braving my lack of confidence as a writer

Becoming a blogger

When I first joined the #EDCmooc Facebook group there were many calls to become a blogger.  I did to a fashion, linking some Prezi's I'd created and talking about them. I even got a few nice comments. But later I was told that that is not really blogging. Oh! okay...

Since then I've made many attempts to post just one article.  It isn't really in my nature to do it this way, I am more of an off-the-cuff sort of guy who has thoughts and writes about them straight away.  If I am doing something more thoughtful, I will think about it for sometime beforehand, often allowing myself to procrastinate in order to let my subconscious put my thoughts into place, then I'll create a mind map, a Prezi or a pdf, whatever was required at that time.  But I don't blog, it makes me feel too exposed.

If you look at the back office of this blog, it is filled with half finished posts;  A couple of paragraphs about crowd-based learning, a paragraph discussing stats, the beginnings of a song I'd created about MOOCs.  All unfinished and sitting there waiting for me to give them some attention. As Angela Towndrow said to me on Twitter, "too many intros..."

The issue of confidence and exposing your thoughts is further exacerbated when you look at who else is a student. So many of the group are academics... or have expertise around education.  It's somewhat daunting to expose yourself to a group made up of that level of expertise and talent... and then you read their posts; Long words and expressions, theories and pedagogy that I have only the loosest understanding of, despite my time working and studying at university.

Finally, much of what I want to write about I am not entirely certain about.  I have not drawn conclusions, instead the lightbulb is still quite dim.  I do have ideas but when you are writing about them publicly that is scary... and it explains why my previous two posts were about objects I'd created.  It's much easier to be criticised about something you have created, than to be criticised for your own thoughts.  It's less personal and not as much of a risk.

Oddly, I have no such fears of exposing thoughts in Facebook or Twitter. I quite happily tweet away, saying all sorts of rubbish or signposting many articles that may not stand up to scrutiny.  Somehow that's different.  When a person writes back to disagree it doesn't feel quite as personal... most of the time, anyway.

A few stats

Last week I posted a few thoughts on Google+ about the numbers of people who were participating and asking the question if the Facebook group is actually as successful as people are saying.  I then deleted the post after receiving less than enthusiastic replies, suggesting I was 'having a go' and that I was being unfair.

It's quite easy to believe that it has been a wonderful success, especially when the people running the Coursera course add links to the group in official email, giving it the authenticity and reach it had lacked before.  And then there are the blogposts that sing its praises. Well, actually, singing the praises of the small group who have been so creative.... and deservedly so!

I'm a bit of a lefty so it's natural for me to be concerned with those who are not participating, rather than those who are. Last weekend I did a few basic sums and did a rough count of who was posting to the Facebook group.  They are somewhat rough as I don't have specific numbers to hand and there are no analytics I can refer to, but when I calculated them I thought they were sufficiently interesting to write about.

At the time there were 38,000 people signed up for the course.  Of those, 1,900 had joined the Facebook group, or 5%.  Interestly, and something to debate at a later time, of the 1,900 only 32% are male, less than a third. Of those 5% only 10% or 190 were actually posting to the group, and of those 190 only about 25% were posting anything other than a twitter handle, an email address for access to the wiki, or a 'hello' to the group.  A few more were 'liking' posts, but most were silent or as we say on mailing lists, lurkers.  It is clear from monitoring Twitter that there are many more reading the posts than contributing, but it is impossible to work out how many without data tools.  

The numbers reminded me of some marketing articles I had read about Facebook Pages, where only 1% or 5% (depending on what articles you read) of LIKES are turned into sales.  It made me ponder if there was something similar going on with the group... But this was where the thought ended, not knowing enough about the subject for me to go any deeper.

If we turn our eyes to Google+, where apparently all the good conversations are now being had, there is a similar degree of participation... and noticeably, the same people are doing all the talking. Most of the members only participate to introduce themselves or to add a +1. It's a very small, albeit fluid group of people who are posting regularly. And of those there are only about a dozen who have posted since the beginning... and they tend to be the same people who have created so many of the resources the rest of us are consuming.

I am not drawing any conclusions from any of this but I thought it is worth thinking about.  I suppose it all depends on how you measure success and I can see big holes in my own argument.  Personally, I find it amazing that people have voluntarily, without any suggestion from Coursera, created so much for other people to see and use and share.  I am bowled over by the level of conversation and how nice everyone seems to be. It actually restores a bit of faith.  

To conclude

A lot of the articles that you read about the internet and social networking talk about people coming together and collaborating. Lately much of that is directed towards Twitter where people have tweeted about serious issues like Syria and Egypt, alerting the rest of the world to the atrocities happening within those countries.  But as someone interested in education what I have looked for and what I am experiencing now is being part of a learning community that does more than just talk and link articles. A community that makes use of the tools available to them and creates things that are useful, meaningful and practical. This is what I really hoped for when I first came online and started using social media. Time will tell if it lasts beyond the course.


  1. wryerson.wordpress.com25 January 2013 at 20:12

    For your first blog,Andy, I think it's terrific. You make some good points about our kind and generous pre course "leaders". I have learned so much before the course actually starts. You, too, have shared by posting interesting articles, prezi's and of course you were the catalyst behind our MOOCish music. You came to mind just yesterday when I heard the song Grease on the radio. I immediately changed the words to MOOC is the word, it has groove ,it has meaning.....:) All this connectedness... I love it.

  2. Congrats on taking your fear of writing head on. Your writing is honest and sincere which are hard qualities to achieve and made it enjoyable to read. On the critical side I suggest you apologize less for your opinions and observations. Could they be wrong, sure, but who cares. I like to think that writing is an opportunity to share ideas (good/bad/right/wrong), challenge assumptions and create debate.

    Interesting points regarding FB, Google+ and the entire community around the course. We have 3 social platforms if you include the Wik and will soon have the course forum. I imagine like me many are overwhelmed and confused which probably impacts participation. In terms of what purpose does this pre course community serve, I don't know but it does seem to humanize the course in a way that other MOOCs I have taken have not done.

    Should be an interesting experiment.

  3. Andy,

    I have been waiting for this! I wish you had left the post on facebook, I saw it (probably in the wee small hours) and when I returned to read it, it was gone. After my brief encounter with your sums, I was thinking about how those sorts of figures may or may not correlate with data on MOOC participation and completion. So many people start MOOCs, make the initial introduction, observe and never do anything else. There is a great video from Lynne O'Brien where she discusses Duke's interpretation of these sorts of actions.

    I was pondering my blog post this week, and if you find your way there, you will see it is about writing and digital identity. It actually came about from the sorts of observations I see you making about writing styles. All this talk about pedagogy, theories and oh yes, those long, obscure words. We can use words as a weapon, as a shield, to make friends, to make certain sorts of friends... all kinds of stuff. The more I thought about it, the more I realised the super serious articles out there are bound to create divisions within the group. My post was almost going to be translation of one of those academic style posts rewritten in plain English,in layman's terms. Because to be honest, I'm sick of having to interpret some of these conversations when I am on holiday. Anyhow, my post morphed into how discussions come from one of the many personas we give life to at any given time as part of our mulitple digital personalities. I think it can be a disorder when what you write creates distance rather than common ground from which everyone can be part of the conversation.

    Anyhow, my non confrontational persona just couldn't quite couldn't go there. But you have been brave enough to articulate how difficult those types of conversations can make it to join in the giant online dialogue and I wonder if that factor also presents a barrier on facebook and leads to lesser participation? I'm sure it does.

    Thanks Andy, great post, nice to hear your voice in more than 140 characters, you are no longer cheating!!!!


  4. "But I don't blog, it makes me feel too exposed." I'm with you there. I had a lot of reservations about sharing my (pre-existing) blog as I'd only ever written it as a reflective tool for myself. Part of me worries about the whole "future employers reading it" thing. But mainly I think that I'm just a bit scared of putting myself out there. Hence my name not actually being on there. Something I'm thinking about changing. Like you, a large part of that is not really knowing the 'language'. But also I often start writing something and then realise that maybe I've not formed an opinion/ got any conclusions/ understood what I thought I did in the first place. The process of attempting to put my thoughts into a narrative, even if it does't work and I don't publish, is still a useful one though. Which sort of leads into you point about half finished posts. I've discussed this with a friend with a blog for her business and she reckons that she's always got three or four ticking away waiting for further inspiration/good grammar/ time to finish.

    The whole language of academia is a bit of a mystery to me. I'm working on a project where for the first time in my life I'm having to write conference submissions/project reports. We have a team approach to this, I write the content then my boss "translates" it into academic speak (and yes, this normally involves shoehorning the word pedagogy in there somewhere!) I was discussing this over a pint last night and apparently the best way to learn a new language is to fully immerse yourself and not rely on a translator. (Wondering if I stretched the analogy too far now?)

  5. Some terrific encouragement and good points to think about. Thanks so much for all your comments.

    Learning Technologist, if that's your comment I don't think you have anything to worry about. I encourage you to post your blog to the public, you seem to have good things to say :)

  6. Your post was accessible and thought provoking. It mirrored my observations on communities and triggered explorations of points of view. The "participators" are following through, but ringing out, sometimes painfully, across the fields of lurkers- powerful in their silent observation.

    I do appreciate the quadblogging idea for inter-blogation.

    When I got to the end of your blog, I not only admired your written voice, but also the fact that you are either an innately clean writer or it took you a great deal of time to be so clear and accurate in your expression. Also, I wondered how long all that estimating took... Impressive! Thank you.

  7. Great blog post, Andy - and congratulations on getting it out of your mind and into the public domain! :-)

    Don't fear publishing your writing. I do understand (from experience) how daunting it can be, but also - from experience - the rule is that people who don't agree with you are either, a) people you can learn from, or b) idiots.

    My big blogging (and general social media) tip is this: don't discuss Christianity when you're drunk, and that includes questioning them about dinosaurs.

  8. I completely agree it's terrifying. I have only just started blogging but I still feel really uncomfortable about it. As you say there are a lot of academics which I find a little intimidating. On the other hand I am hoping to learn from them so I guess my natural curiosity will override my fear (fingers crossed).

    Your post even has a conclusion! I hadn't even thought to do that!

    Keep up the good work.

  9. Keep it up, Andy.

    You have a refreshing voice from some other blogs I tend to follow and read.

    I agree with Sunil, perhaps not so much apologising. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and their own interpretation of the same data or information.

    I am also going to be blogging for the first time in a few weeks times, with fellow quadbloggers.

    And although some of the community platforms have become abit "spammy", it has certainly made the course less daunting, more human, friendly and engaging. Im on another course, and it seems so cold - people are only engaging in the coursera space, and not on any other platforms.

    So defintely well done to the student leaders who created the initial spaces, and for those who are active contributors in one form or another.

  10. Hi Andy, glad you've started blogging! It is particularly daunting I would think to jump straight into it with a public blog - go you! I had to blog for a couple of years privately and with just a few invited friends or small group of students til I got used to it... but I've found that 'going open' is so much better... I used to feel very anxious about what I was writing and how this or that person might interpret whatever... in this open space I've just let go of all that nonsense and just say what I think and couldn't care less who thinks I'm a dickhead - it's so liberating! There will be readers who 'get' and enjoy what you say, other days there may not be, but I realise, finally, that the point of blogging is actually to blog, to think, to digest, to pay attention to details of life that would otherwise be forgotten... it's like living - the point of it is to live, and any other question about its meaning is rather missing the glorious point of being alive and just enjoying it. So I hope you really enjoy reading and writing in this open space, I think it's triffic :)

  11. OK. I'm 56 (or is it 57? Never mind), so definitively a digital immigrant. And your post (had to check what it was called) clarified what it is that I find really difficult in all this. It is writing. I'd rather talk. (maybe that is why I feel comfortable in twitter). But there is a limit to what you can say in 140 w.

    But --I am wondering--, of the 40k doing this course, what % is blogging. Hopefully not 100%. Just imagine what that would be.

    And if blogging is required for e-learning, that reminds me soooo much of homework (just another name).

    These are just fragments of the thoughts your post determined.

    bye bye

  12. Splendid! And for what it's worth, blogging briefly (whether reflecting or annotating) about other digital doings, is blogging too. Like participation levels and modes in an open course, you decide what is for you.

    Just keep your authentic voice.

    As a serial blogger behind on posts to not just one blog but many, I may not be the one to advise (or just the one...blogging is like that, variable, individual, idiosyncratic and more. It is a public conversation with yourself and others, but somehow not as public at Twitter or a public Facebook page, too public for some, not public enough for others.

    There are a plethora of how-to, about-blogging, and why-blog page (I've done a few of those myself) but there is no single way to blog

  13. I have to say I'm quite overwhelmed by the positive responses in comments. It's very encouraging for such a novice blogger. I might even write another post at some point, although at the moment the paragraphs are building up in the back room and remain unfinished.

    I appreciate the time and effort people have put into commenting. Thanks :)

  14. Liked your blog post. The EDMOOC is very thought-provoking, to say the least.

    Still, to add to the wonder of the EDCMOOC, I would like to mention that personally the twitterchat last night was cacophonic. Basically four questions were answered by those who were present and able to type in between reading the tweets.

    The setting of the whole course has given me new ideas of how one could have utilized this setting, had I known in advance what takes place. Many students could be involved just to analyze what takes place in G+, FB, Twitter etc. Students of IT, Communication, pedagogy, etc. What wonderful research topics there could be available right now! And lots to study and explore.

    Regarding Facebook, not everyone wants to be on FB. For some, LinkedIn is enough with G+ or Twitter.


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