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.

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