Rethinking #etmooc – Towards the #unmooc

If you’ve been following this space, you’ll know that we’ve been considering and planning an educational technology focused MOOC to begin January of 2013. I’ve written on the development of this idea here and here, and there are a number of us who have been working on this collaborative #etmooc planning document and discussing possibilities in this Google Group. Progress has been intentionally slow, and very thoughtful.

Yesterday, I had a chance to meet with a few interested collaborators in a Google Hangout and the resulting conversation has me thinking about this project in a very different way than what was originally conceived. I think that this is a positive step, and I am sharing my thoughts here in hope that others will provide feedback on this reconceptualization.

Planning meeting with Alan Levine, Helen Keegan, Lenandlar Singh & Valeria Lopes. Sean Williams not shown.

Google Hangout planning meeting with Alan Levine, Helen Keegan, Lenandlar Singh & Valeria Lopes. Sean Williams attended, but not shown.

The Problem:
Each time I facilitated EC&I 831, a MOOC-like course, I was fortunate to have a core of 20+ registered students that took the course for credit. The approximately 200 other students, many who acted as mentors, had very loose responsibilities around the course, and came and went according to their commitments and interests. #etmooc, as planned thus far, would not have that core group. So, much of the discussion thus far around #etmooc has been around developing learner motivation, engagement & retention especially in light of the high drop-out rate for MOOC participants.

While I viewed the lack of a core group as a welcome challenge, until this latest Google Hangout, I hadn’t really considered the freedoms that a core-less MOOC also provides. For instance, the most discussed elements around #etmooc planning so far have been related to decisions around the specific content areas to be covered (see table), especially since our potential audience is somewhat uncertain. It took me some time to realize that I was planning this too much like a traditional course, focusing on a pre-constructed curriculum, scope & sequence. This is an unnecessary constraint.

I feel that it is the ‘Course’ element of the MOOC acronym that constrains our thinking (the ‘Massive’ is a close second), so this is exactly the component that I hope to avoid in moving this #etmooc project toward the vision of an #unmooc.

So what could our #unmooc look like? Here are some ideas that originated from our planning meeting.

The original content area for #etmooc was educational technology. This is such a broad area, too vast to cover in any one course, and certainly my bias has been towards social software, free and open content and connected learning. For the purposes of this #unmooc, I now propose that the general focus should be around supporting the creation of practical knowledge and experiences for developing connected learners. (It’s roughly worded – please help me idea/word-craft this)

The #unmooc could be appealing to educators of all sectors, preservice teachers, students, parents, or really anyone wishing to be supported in developing connected literacies & skills for themselves, or for others.

Rather than developing a long, defined list of topics, it would be ideal to have curriculum driven by participants – curriculum that is responsive to not only learner interests, but to current trends & events (while scaffolding within a historical context). Weekly ‘topics’ could be broadly themed with variations across interest groups, sectors, subject areas, and geography. I would suggest thorough, ongoing & recurring orientation to connected learning concepts (including tool orientation & #unmooc sharing protocols) so that participants develop basic literacies & skills necessary to share, discuss, and create.

There could also be a strong focus on creating learning artefacts (this was voiced loudly in our meeting). An Education adaption of the #ds106 assignments database could prove worthwhile. As well, as I did with my #eci831 course, it could be ideal to have any educators who participate in #unmooc to develop projects that could directly be applied to their own contexts. Thus, #unmooc could become an ideal testing ground (e.g., virtual lab) for teachers (or preservice teachers) to develop or facilitate presentations/projects with other educators before implementing elsewhere (e.g., in classrooms or with colleagues).

#etmooc was originally planned to begin in January, and end in April. But there are several of us beginning to question the need for an end date. I know from my own experience with #eci831, that many students became so immersed in the network, that it felt odd & unnatural (and sad for some) to have to ‘end’ the experience. For several students, the residual experience of the course has remained. If successful, the #unmooc could go well beyond April – and if not, we could pack up early. But since we are not bound by academic schedules, there seems little point in predetermining an end-date.

In our meeting, Helen Keegan raised a good point regarding her approach with her students. In her courses, students spend a portion of time sharing their artefacts and celebrating their successes in public spaces. In support of this, Alan Levine added that there should be a set of explicit milestones for participants. In my own experience, my students’ ‘summaries of learning’ have been wildly popular in the courses that I teach. So, even without an end date, it is likely important to establish milestones throughout an #unmooc experience to celebrate successes, share creations, and renew connections.

The type and format of participant interactions in the #unmooc could vary greatly. I believe there is still great value in large synchronous web-conference sessions/presentations, especially for introducing/advancing ideas and for tool demonstrations. However, deeper interactions are certain to occur through one-to-one or small group communications, both synchronously and asynchronously. Spaces could be provided via the #unmooc but as I’ve often stated, I believe that as much as we can use and control our own learning spaces (e.g., self-hosted WordPress blog), the better off we are in the future. Of course, with this distributed approach, proper illustration of the importance and utility of tagging is essential to aggregating networked conversations.

While interactions in the #unmooc would likely be more often serendipitous in nature, designing interactions would be key to the function of the #unmooc. Forums could be provided and/or we could setup a virtual helpdesk through a Twitter hashtag, or more directly, through a tool like Google Hangouts. As well, the nurturing of subject-area, sector-based or geographically-bound sub-groups would be beneficial to deeper interactions.

One of the most important comments from this recent meeting was from Alan Levine when he suggested that the #unmooc should help to encourage people to “do things out in the world”. While I have suggested above that activities in the #unmooc could directly inform what educators do in their classrooms, I think that this notion is extended by Alan’s comments. If we can nurture this idea, to enable participants to do (good) things out in the world, whether simple things or those of deep social value, I believe that this alone would justify the existence of this initiative.

Did I Just Describe Twitter, Classroom 2.0, or the World Wide Web?:
Some may argue that much of what I described above already exists in other spaces, and perhaps then, there isn’t really a need for this. I would argue that we should proceed anyways for at least two important reasons. First, much of what I see on Twitter, and elsewhere, can be quite shallow, lacking depth, and for many people new to these networked spaces, entry can be frustrating and difficult. This is not so much as a critique of the Twittersphere, but more so, of the medium. Educators need a rich set of tools and experiences to encourage deep learning, and I feel that thoughtful design and guidance can provide this. Second, spaces like Twitter are becoming increasingly controlled and restricted. We are losing the ownership of our own conversations and learning spaces. Though admittedly a grand ambition, I hope that the process of developing an #unmooc, while providing a rich place for learning, can help us become more thoughtful and considerate of our learning spaces and the control of our discourse.

So did you get this far? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

24 thoughts on “Rethinking #etmooc – Towards the #unmooc

  1. I too attended the planning meeting for the last few minutes, but was unable to do anything but listen in. (Technical issues – my icon showed up but not sure if you all; could see me) I loved the conversations you all had during the meeting regarding #unmooc or #notamooc and #MOOE (Massive Open Online Experience). I am also reminded of the “23 Things” concept (A discovery learning program created for The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenberg County by Helene Blowers, see I think what you describe may be “out there” already loosely, but the unique bits are what make it worthwhile: the passionate but small group putting it together, the value of the interactions (I see the planning process as part of the #unmooc, everyone should be in on the planning as part of a rich learning experience). Another unique thing is the idea of an organic course with milestones, where people can learn, go forth and create in the space of their choosing, and then share the experience, steps they took as well as the end product. Kudos to the group that met, and I will help in any way.


  2. I’ve been obsessing a bit over and similar projects lately. Once I started thinking in “Gits,” a lot of the collaborative stuff we’ve been doing, even with OER, seemed to be counter-intuitive to learning needs. Why do we have a bunch of people working together to make one thing? Why do we work so hard to make the one true wiki page, when there isn’t a single perspective to any story?
    I like the Git model, because it starts with a foundation, as you’ve created here. People can clone that, work with it, and submit it back to you. You (or the core team) can decide whether or not to incorporate it into your primary repository (course). But it can also still be it’s own fork.

    You could use GitHub to run it, or to develop it. I don’t know if there’s a better platform. Perhaps there’s an LOR somewhere that could do it. It would look like this:

    – You (or your team) create the core outline of the content, and publish it.
    – Anyone can take that document (or repository) and modify it and submit it back for consideration to the core course.
    – Anyone (including people who don’t get their content accepted into the core) can fork the core repository and create their own course.
    – Participants can stick with the core course, or follow a fork.

    I think the beauty in this kind of openness, is that there’s a place for all the forks and we can actually see what happens to our OER’s. People can then search the forks for versions that are relevant to their own context. Our remixes don’t get detached from the originals.

  3. “etmooc unleashed.” I think you are right on track with the revised model and the features you are proposing.
    ” supporting the creation of practical knowledge and experiences for developing connected learner ” There are many people in MOOC land who are highly skilled at connecting and are already open, connected and autonomous learners, but there are also so many others who want to connect but don’t have then necessary digital literacy skills and need support.guidance and some practical ideas to start engaging and stay around.

    I am participating in The Connected Educator bookclub currently and in a broad sense it has focused on supporting learners to become connected through the weekly reading of one chapter of this very good book by Sheryl Nussbuam- Beach and Lani Ritter Hall. The conversations have been enriching, deep and allowed each learner to enter and engage according to their own interests, needs and capacities. I think this experience will have provided people with the support to become more connected. People got some practical strategies and heard from people who were speaking from experience and able to scaffold learning. It’s the scaffolding of learning to become connected that’s not being addressed.

    Love the idea of the milestones and the DS 106 assessment bank concepts – learners need time to reflect and evaluate their own progress… it’s this can be build confidence and connection. – another good direction.

    Having built relationships in Change 11.. there is a still an active community, sharing thoughts in a couple of spaces (well after the ‘official’ finish date) ….the idea of no formal ‘end’ is the way to go as it supports the idea that connections are about the development of relationships..

    in short I’m really pleased with the change in focus and the word SUPPORT. I think this will encourage some newbies to step up. It’s also good to hear some ‘new voices’ engaging at the design stage, who bring rich treasures and perspectives…… :-)

    So, in short , highly enthusiastic about setting etmooc …… FREE !

    • Thanks, Liz. I hope this helps us take it to another place. Others are doing MOOCs that amount to not much more than a series of webinars. I feel that some of my work has been successful, but I really want to better understand and build on those successes – and push the concept further. This may end up as a miserable failure, but at least, it will be something we can all learn from – at least, I hope.

      Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. Not sure yet of my own perspective, which is somewhat frantically evolving as I deal with my own open online class (which, as it happens, we also based on 23 Things).

    But a first, broad thought. If you don’t have any set content or end date,then this seems like a new community rather than a course. Working backwards, one could set artifact creation deadlines (even something as vague as February = Video or something). Thinking of it as a community with a weekly/monthly/whatever theme (or task or focus) might be easier than thinking of it as a course and “opening” it.

    • I think there will still be some sort of dates – milestones – or otherwise. I know it can’t just linger, but I want to see if I can compromise more generally on time in some way. Thanks for the idea – I think I’ll be leaning this way.

      • I wonder if you could make the milestones not necessarily based on a calendar date, but a date from “enrollment” or starting date. Or a period of time from the last submission – so if someone does something else for a while and then comes back to the course, they haven’t missed anything.

        Of course, those are all traditional course problems – not necessarily a “problem” for a course that’s more open. .

  5. Reading the additional comments reminded me of an exploration I participated in based on 100 ideas by keri smith.
    The challenge was to pick at least five of these ideas, execute them over a two month period and document the process. Results were shared in a form that can be seen by the other participants. Basically choose your own adventure and create your own space and method. The idea is to share the results of your experimentation and creativity with everyone else. I received examples, documentation of projects, resulting thoughts in both electronic and IRL format. It was amazing to see how creative and resourceful people are, when given a prompt and freedom to create and learn. We made a little creative ecosystem that was time limited.

    The same sort of idea could be used for an #unmooc or #notamooc. A 100 ideas list could be ed tech related. You could provide a space (like wordpress or pinterest) for those who need it and as a place to communicate and receive support. You can set milestones, like maybe progress checks where the learner participant picks the method to show their progress. You could set date parameters, or leave it open ended to see if it maintains itself as a community. So many possibilities……!

    • I love this #unmooc idea – although I agree with Lisa – it isn’t a course. BUT does it need to be? This questions was asked of me as I tried to create an online environment – does it need to be a “course” or has Wikipedia taught us nothing? As I struggle with “Open Learning” looks like in k12 as opposed to open content, open courses or open resources – I think that you have suggested a great hybrid. Isn’t that what this is all about? Remixing, hacking, recreating?
      I love the 100 activities – I love anything about the pedagogy behind #ds106, but I also like the fact that we need to think about “giving back” or “giving out” – Whatever the definition – as a parent and teacher, I believe creating learning opportunities is the biggest gift that there is!

  6. Alec, this summary has really helped me consolidate my understanding of the project~ not having participated in a MOOC I was struggling with the concept of an UNMOOC, until I realized that what we are trying to fashion is an environment for self-directed and collaborative learning to occur simultaneously. This is something I’ve got both an interest in, and experience with.
    Much of my work has been in facilitating and guiding face to face, collaborative inquiry based on teacher problems of practice. I’ve been trying to shift these inquiries into on-line, or blended, contexts with limited success. Reluctance to put oneself ‘out there’ and lack of understanding of the ways social media and tech could support this are two issues I’ve flagged. This is why your initial invitation was so tempting. I’m thinking this structure will be a great way to sprinkle some crumbs outside the cave and get some of the folks I’m working with to engage in this learning.

    • I hope that you can participate, Brian. I still have a lot to think about this. I feel that I am at a fork in the road and will need many wise people to help us make this successful. I look forward to your help.

      • It’s interesting to think of an un-MOOC as being just a loosely coordinated movement of people– what tools do people need in order to participate in what basically amounts to a PLN?

        Very much like Jen’s interesting discussion of GitHub, it makes sense that collaborative knowledge building should have a centralized space to coalesce as well as individual “laboratories” where people can retreat to develop their own thinking.

        As I write this, I realize I’m describing DS106– where users feed individual blogs into a centralized space where they can discuss, cross-pollinate, and build on each other’s thoughts and ideas. In this scenario, the role of the teacher is (much like a manager in an open-source project) to provide the driving force to propel the community by presenting students with rich, meaningful challenges to explore.

        What’s missing from my PLN (which is cobbled together from RSS feeds and Twitter) is an overarching goal to help focus my individual explorations on edtech.
        Just my $0.02

  7. Jared – pegging student motivation as the key for completion is a great step. With a professional audience, you may have a minority of participants with the interest, time, and energy to complete programs in a traditional course timeline and structure. Yet most will be looking for information and applications that are immediately applicable and provide a tangible benefit. As a result, short courses, certification classes, and tutorials for specific applications where participants have a “need to know” offer a stronger target.

    A project coordinated by the Texas Community College Teachers Association at has created a repository of free online instructional experiences for faculty and instructional technologists which we’ve been promoting for the past five or so years. Participants are given the option of simply visiting and participating without registration or they may register and receive a certificate of completion that also identifies a recommended equivalency for CEU credit. I haven’t been active in the project’s leadership team since 2010/11 but will contact the current group to get them to share their current percentages for registered vs. non-registered users and other ideas being implemented to foster completion.

    From the experience that I’ve had, the major challenge was to remind potential users that the site’s available. Affiliation with the association was a major plus. Also, some of the strongest usage came from campuses where there was an annual requirement in the evaluation process for a specific number of CEUs or Credit Hours and the Texas Network had been identified as an approved provider of credit.

    As for myself, I’ve gone to the site to ramp up on a software application I need to use but have not done so recently. Camtasia and MS Access come immediately to mind. I access the course and continue in it until mastering the forgotten portion of the software, then go to the application itself and may not come back until reaching a point where I need to know a next step.

  8. I like the emphasis on openness, connection and creation. I like the no-end-date idea and welcome any opportunity for synchronous live stuff with big whiteboards and loads of freedom to contribute, exchange, debate, discuss, explore. I would hope for some kind of aggregate newsletter as we’ve had in #change11, #cck12 and #oped12 so that I can orient myself easily to new contributions. I’m a big gRSShopper fan (yay, Stephen!)

    You might wish to bounce this whole discussion around in #lrnchat and see what that audience has to offer?

    • I have been loosely thinking about gRSShopper – maybe it’s time I contacted Stephen and asked him to help me with it. It should be a consideration.

      And thanks for the #lrnchat idea – that’s probably a good way to go at this – get other groups to vet all of this.

  9. There is some very cool thinking going on here.

    I really like the idea of having synchronous play a key piece. I find Dave Cormier’s concept of clustering – finding and connecting the people who you want to learn with – an important consideration in any large, distributed course. I think providing people with plenty of clustering opportunities is a key piece in keeping people from feeling disoriented, and something that synchronous events can play a major role with as they can provide an anchor for some of the participants; some grounding that people may need to help them prevent from feeling disoriented and confused.

    Synchronous events are also a good way to find and connect with people who are interested in the same topics for the simple fact that we have both come together at the same time to take part in a session on a topic we are both interested in. That alone can form the basis of a connection, and start the clustering process.

    I also think that synchronous sessions can often be a good idea generator, or provide the spark for some people to then go off and explore even further on their own, or with others.

    Finally, making synchronous sessions available for anyone to facilitate can be a way to publicly share artifacts among participants. Just like blogs are an important tool, so to can these synchronous sessions be an important participatory tool. Giving people the opportunity to develop and host their own synchronous session not only provides some practical skills, but also then allows other participants another opportunity to cluster around a topic they are interested in. Perhaps part of the information design of the course is something as simple as making a synchronous tool available to participants, and having a central page where people can schedule a synchronous event that they want to facilitate?

    • Thanks for bringing up Dave Cormier. I thoroughly enjoyed one of his and George Sieman’s early MOOC’s
      The idea of conneting and directing your own learning does seem more natural.
      On the thought of being completely open ended. I’m not really in favor of that. As stated earlier that changes it from a course to a community. It would be great to build connections or even a community from a course, but lets build the course first.

  10. For what it’s worth here’s some unfounded rough ideas I’ve been bouncing around my head for a while.

    I really loved CCK08. I’ve tried to participate in CCK09, CCK11 and CCK12, but there was no drive for me – while I could attribute this to not having the same desire to learn about Connectivism, I suspect I developed a mental and physical habit with CCK08 of logging into the Moodle forums to see what’s new. I think DS106 provides some of that comfort of community, by providing a central location for people to go to. It didn’t stop people from creating their own spaces, or translating documents, but it did kickstart a community around that course. Maybe this course isn’t hosting a discussion forum, but a repository of links (created via wiki, or better still editing the Wikipedia entries or existing open resources).

    People should own their stuff as they do in a distributed learning environment, however I strongly believe that community gets a kick when there’s a place to go (even if it’s virtual) to claim and identify as one’s group. I know that terminology will set Stephen Downes off, but a community is merely a group with free thinkers…

    • I agree with you Jon re: having some sort of (centralized?) place to go as I don’t necessarily believe that creating a distributed architecture means being without some sort of filtering or activity hub.

  11. I think you should go for it and not over-think it too much. Isn’t that one of the most valuable parts of the learning experience. Making some mistakes, learning from them and moving on to improve the process??? I am not saying the reflection and thought put in so far has been wasted, but as Michael Fullan says, “at some point you have to stop planning to climb the mountain and just climb the damn mountain.” This will all be new to me, but I am looking forward to participating and learning from all of it. I say you give it a go and figure out what we need to tweak after. It sounds like you figured out a few things from your first attempts and many of the ideas you have listed sound great “Time to Climb!”

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