Jun 14

Ditching the MOOC

I have become one of the vast majority of people who start a MOOC and fail to finish not because I wasn’t enthusiastic to begin with but because I couldn’t keep up the enthusiasm necessary to maintain the commitment to the course.

I have reflected on the reasons for falling behind to the point where the only realistic option was to give up, and whilst much of the blame lies with me there are things that contributed towards this.

  1. Going it alone

I posted to the discussion forums, to a string with thousands of contributors.  My post was unlikely to be found within the mass of others and the overwhelming number of posts meant I was unable to find a way in to reading others posts and engaging with them.  Is my digital literacy, when it comes to navigating discussion forums, lacking or is what appears to me to an over-facing mess actually un-navigable?  I know when creating online courses like ILOOC (Northampton University’s International Law Open Online Course) I tend to get participants to divide up into smaller groups.

  1. Unrealistic expectations

I founds that the time required was substantially more than what I was told to expect – the materials and tasks filled the time but we were also asked to keep a journal of characters we witnessed whilst sitting in coffee shops, waiting for trains etc… Perhaps I’m not their typical student or target market but I spend very little time doing either.

  1. Please sir, can I have some more

Finally I didn’t have the prior knowledge assumed and would have really benefited from an additional resources page or similar to allow me to get up to speed.

May 14

Week 3: Writing fiction

Its 6:21am on Sunday morning and I’m almost a full week behind with the MOOC and catch-up time is elusive, the baby I’m bouncing on one knee is screaming while I try to concentrate.

I’m halfway through the MOOC and the content is enjoyable but, and its a big but, I’ve not interacted with any other MOOCers yet.  The page I’m currently on doesn’t require a comment like others, yet there are 1526 comments so rather than engage I know I’ll just click through.  I wish there was some kind of smaller group activity so there were other people I could share this experience with – perhaps its my own skills at navigating a MOOC that are lacking.

Anyway time to catch up!

May 14

Week 2: writing fiction MOOC

Yesterday I finished first marking one module and second marking another before grabbing a coffee with the ILOOC team – ILOOC is our new international law MOOC.  Its exciting, we have a launch date – put 22 May in your diaries.  This means that I am yet again behind with writing fiction MOOC but also that I have today, at home, to do that and write some of my PhD ahead of a supervisory meeting tomorrow.

Each week starts with a short video from the instructor, it sets out the aims and really helps manage expectations.  The obvious excitement is infectious – these 2-3 minutes are great.

We were asked to consider how we worked best, reflecting on other author’s experiences from the podcast, I wrote:

I’m great in the early morning, if I have a lot on I get up before the house wakes up and work. Our new son is barely a month old and the 5 year-old has taken to rushing down stairs as soon as he hears me … aaargh! I like the idea of practice though – I blogged when I was going through crap to keep me sane – it works.

The next task was to write two descriptions, one of our ideal work space and one of our dreaded work space – I wrote each from a positive perspective although one is a way or working I can’t abide.  Is it obvious which is which:

I left the house, the kids playing noisily, the dishwasher competing with the washing machine for supremacy and headed across the fields. At first the silence shocked but gradually I realised it wasn’t silent but full of natural, peaceful sounds. By the time I got to the pub my head was clear, worries had evaporated and I felt energised. I ordered a pint of Abbot and found a quiet corner, took the lid off my fountain pen – it makes a mess of my hand but I love scribbling in green ink, scrawl illegible to anyone else.

The computer sits on the old pine desk in the corner of the kitchen, my eldest son at the kitchen table doing his homework, the youngest asleep in my lap. I know everything is okay – the boys are safe and my wife is contentedly busy sorting something that’s been nagging at her all day. I relax into my desk chair and start typing.

We were asked to post this paragraph for feedback so please critically respond to it!

May 14

Week 1: writing fiction MOOC

Monday - Today is my first day as a MOOC student, I’m going to participate in the OU’s Start Writing Fiction MOOC on FutureLearn. I’ve done the packed lunches, dropped our eldest off in the playground, fed the baby and he’s napping so it’s time to go!  I’m also doing a full day’s work today, this is for real, like many of the other participants I’m doing a MOOC as well as a full-time job and busy family life.  And, like most of the participants I’m looking forward to it. I’ve received the welcome email and the first thing I’ve been asked to do is follow a link to SurveyMonkey – they want to know why I’m doing the course.

Saturday - It’s now nearly the end of the first week of the MOOC and I’m already playing catch-up.  The MOOC requires commitments of blocks of time, its not something you can pick up and put down as much as I had expected and that’s created problems.  It also is taking much longer than the time stated on the course, the amount of time isn’t a disincentive but the failure to manage my expectations is frustrating.

What I’ve liked about the course is the way its chunked – initially it felt like there were a lot of parts but each part is really small and manageable so you constantly feel like you’re progressing.  This is something I will definitely be taking with me and applying to my teaching.  The materials are also well presented and have an air of professionalism about them which I like.

What I’ve found difficult about the course is quite how massive it is, comments run into the thousands and this isn’t managed so its just an over-facing list – as yet I’ve no comments on my posts and I suspect I won’t as they get lost amongst the masses.  I would have liked to have connected with other students and I wonder if there is a place for break-out activities here?

Mar 14

Start Writing Fiction

ILOOC is near completion – well at least the videos are recorded – and, after an interesting meeting with my supervisor we agreed that it would be beneficial to my research if I actually did a MOOC, start to finish, for real.  We agreed I would do something completely new so I was engaged with the content and after a brief chat creative writing emerged as an idea.

On 28 April the OU’s ‘Start Writing Fiction’ MOOC on FutureLearn kick’s off and I’m registered.  I’ll try to participate as actively I can,  connect with other learners and blog my learning journey here.  I’m more than a little bit excited.


Feb 14

Leaping before ILOOC

The guest blogging continues, this time with Dr Simon Sneddon giving his reflections on working on ILOOC

When I was asked to be part of the ILOOC project at the tail end of last year, I thought it would be an interesting and useful project to be part of. I was already developing the larger CPD course into which ILOOC will slot, but that is a much more linear, traditional type course (and it is not open access!)

There are many interesting comparison between this type of non-linear MOOC and the previous style of delivery I have been involved in, but the most interesting to me is the level of creativity and teamwork that is involved. The first ever online delivery I was involved in (different times, different rules) involved posting (yes, in the actual post!) the students a 250 page A4 document, which included all the course materials, assignment titles and submission dates. That was pretty much it. Those days are (hopefully) gone for good, but even so, anyone can sit in a darkened room and pull together a few lecture slides (Prezi or PowerPoint, it doesn’t really matter), and even filming the delivery with something like Panopto is no longer the game-changer it used to be.

What is interesting with ILOOC is the range of things I have realised we are able to do – if anyone is considering something similar, it is crucial to get decent technical support (thanks Simon!) otherwise the office floor will be full of pulled-out hair and remnants of gnashed teeth! The OOCy nature of the course means that a range of other sources can be imported – YouTube clips, open access documents, and so on –and this widens the possibilities for delivery. As every unit within ILOOC is self-contained, the students can choose their own path and individual learning interests and priorities can be met. There are 5 sub-units with in ILOOC, which means there are 120 different routes which are possible (assuming students want to cover all 5 options), and will all allow the student to reach the same end-point. This is simply not possible with a linear style of delivery, and for me is going to be the great strength of ILOOC.

Feb 14

Goodbye NILE … Hello Course Sites

Another member of the ILOOC project team, Simon Thompson, gives his thoughts on working on the project…

Lots of firsts for me on the ILOOC project – first MOOC I’ve ever set up, first time working on a project with Nick and Simon and first use of a number of enhancements to the Blackboard platform. Not the University’s first MOOC on CourseSites.com though – we have an excellent ‘Study Skills for Academic Success’ launching on 5th May 2014.


Based on a course successfully developed in our own version of Blackboard Learn (we call it ‘NILE’ – Northampton Integrated Learning Environment), it made sense to host the MOOC on another Blackboard platform. This isn’t without its problems. Some of the tools we have integrated into our own learning environment and use all the time (such as Kaltura and Panopto) are not available on Course Sites so the whole course needed re-evaluating and re-written to accommodate these changes.


It is a huge advantage developing material in a familiar environment, but we have had to regularly upload material to Course Sites to ensure that things still work as expected. It is also a bit of a wrench not to have the full control of systems administration, so striking a balance between  pushing at the boundaries to deliver an exciting site and eliminating the technical ‘cheats’ has been an issue. First and foremost we want to deliver a great experience for ILOOC learners without technology getting in the way. And we will be actively seeking user feedback to help us improve the delivery of material as we go along.

Jan 14

Opening Panopto’s box

Having written some of the material for ILOOC and seen some of it uploaded I decided to spend time yesterday recording some of the micro-lectures using Panopto.

I downloaded the software to my home desktop – less disruptions than at work – and tidied the parts of my study that were in the webcam’s shot.  I even shut the blind so I wasn’t a talking silhouette, not wishing to look like an interviewee on crime-watch having their identity hidden.

The sound worked well on a simple computer microphone, although the feedback from one colleague was that I need to cheer up!  The video, intended to go in the corner of the presentation to give a human face was less successful, clunking the keyboard to advance the animation was awkward so I feel that someone else needs to advance the slides so it doesn’t distract the speaker.  The window still cast terrible light and my now tidy study looked bare, even the prop of an international law textbook appeared clinical and staged, so we need an appropriate venue for lighting and general aesthetics.  My eyes darting down to my notes was painful to watch, I’m not used to lecturing from script and it showed – the script needs to be held up behind the camera so eyes are towards the camera, not the desk, teleprompter style.  The final problem was that the webcam just wasn’t good enough, we need a better one.

I’d already realised that the funding we received to buy out our time was woefully underestimated, I’m already running the project on goodwill, and more professional style recordings involving more people are going to require me to abuse the goodwill of others but that’s what we will do.  The end product will be something I can be proud of and future bids will better reflect the true time commitments of such projects!


In light of this I suggest we continue to prepare materials, including Prezis but that we set aside time together (and find space) to record the Panopto bits more properly than I am able to at home!


Jan 14

The nature of international law

Returning after an enjoyable Christmas break is a good time to look back and reflect on the second team meeting we had had to discuss ILOOC.

Having previously divided up the material this was the opportunity to discuss the first draft of the first unit – the nature of international law – which it had fallen to me to produce.  We had the snags you’d expect – multiple choice quizzes needing a fourth option etc… – but overall as a team we were happy with our progress.  More interestingly we were able to discuss the academic literature that’s out there, based on others’ experiences, and use it to improve our offering.:

  • We are going to make sure we include a very clear ‘about this course’ page, supplemented with description and introductory video.
  • We are going to try to clearly indicate on each unit how long we expect it to take.
  • We are going to keep it personal, ensuring there is a talking head in each video we produce.

This last point led to a change in our choice of tech, for all its strengths we are going to ditch videoscribe in favour of panopto.  The latter will record from a webcam, embedding the image in the corner of whatever is on screen, this will be our talking head.  Whatever is on screen will most likely be a prezi.  The other techy decision we made was to use blackboard as our platform, hosting ILOOC on their coursesites website.

The other lecturer involved is busy working on the next unit ahead of our next meeting on 10 January – something to look forward to – and all seems to be on track.

Dec 13

ILOOC is like a box of chocolates

Last week the bid we had applied for for the project we are calling ILOOC arrived with the school accountant so we made a start.  One of the conditions of the bid is that we blog our progress, although the purpose of blogging is much wider than this and we would love to receive your comments.

I described ILOOC (International Law Open Online Course) in a previous blog; in essence we are building an OOC that is hopefully along the lines of a cMOOC, focusing on connectivism by building a network of learners.  We intend to use learner diaries to assess the impact of ILOOC.

To encourage engagement I want to develop a course that can be studied in an asynchronous pick n’ mix fashion, more like progressing through a box of chocolates than a three-course meal. The team, consisting of another senior lecturer in law and a learning technologist, agreed.  In fact a lot was agreed upon at our first meeting on Monday It looks like we are using coresites as our platform and maintaining control of discussion through our own hosted forums, although we will use hashtags and encourage learners to explore building their own networks.  We are also exploring how we can utilise videoscribe and flipboard – in fact I’m to play with the iPad flipboard app next!

Numbering units seems odd in an asynchronous OOC but I have completed the final draft of the materials for the first unit, looking forward to getting feedback and seeing what it looks like when the learning technologist has worked his wizardry.