Being social in a MOOC

March 8, 2013 § 8 Comments

Social media and digital learning environments are now combined. As part of the MOOC experience, students are requested to join debates and course’s topics on social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter or Google +. The idea is to go beyond the regular e-learning platform, or the virtual class – instructors want to encourage students to learn and share ideas where they feel most comfortable at. I believe this is a great thing about MOOCs. Not only we can learn everywhere, but it is also easier to be in touch professionals/students with similar interests. Have you ever, for example, joined a Facebook Group of a MOOC class? It is amazing what people can share out there.


In the end of January, I had the opportunity to join one, EDCMOOC (made by students of E-learning and Digital Culture, provided by University of Edinburgh by Coursera) with more than 4,000 members from many different countries. Of course, not everyone is active, but those who occasionally post do have consistent points of views. It is most likely that your question or comment will receive feedback in a few minutes (or even seconds!). The course has ended already, but students are still keeping discussions alive. This new form of communication and learning online already has a theory behind it: Connectivism. As educators George Siemens and Stephen Downes define, Connectivism happens when students engage with each other using different communication resources, rather than regular lectures or student – lecturer interaction. This how learning can be spread across the web and it is not restricted to the learning website or portal anymore.

In an article written in 2011 about the topic, researcher Rita Kop points out four main processes of the construction and development of Connectivism online:

  1. Aggregation – access and collection of a wide variety of resources to read, watch, or play.
  2. Relation – after reading, watching, or listening to some content, the learner might reflect and relate it to what the student already knows or to previous experiences. 
  3. Creation – after this reflection and sense-making process, learners might create something of their own (i.e., a blog post, video, presentation). 
  4. Sharing – learners might share their work with others on the network.

Although many communities of MOOC students may have thousands of active members, there are still many challenges, questions and criticism to this theory, which it is still very subjective and informal. For instance, how effective is this self-learning environment? Could it be measured? To what extent an online presence can stimulate learning? Could social interaction really produce successful experiences? Maybe it is too early to answer, but my opinion is that Connectivism should be highly explored by educators. Students might not learn complex theories on Facebook, but I feel comfortable sharing my doubts and topics about the course I am taking in social networks. Even without knowing my classmates personally, I like to exchange ideas with them just as in a regular classroom (only bigger!).

As I am currently doing the UvA MOOC – Introduction to Communication Science, I also try to engage with students in the forums and start conversations on Twitter or Facebook. Although UvA MOOC has a Facebook Page – not a group – the page is open and students can post questions/photos and interact with each other or the lecturer himself, Rutger de Graaf, who always stops by. In order to analyze how students are interacting with content on Facebook, I created two graphics that you can see below. I made them using a great, free and open source software called Gephi. And I extracted all Facebook data using the app Netvizz, which is also free.

In this first one I highlight users by their countries/languages. The content posted by page administrator is represented in bigger nodes, in light green, and the colorful ones are countries representations. Connection between nodes represents engagement or action on Facebook with a particular post, for instance, a like or a comment. We can see that most students are engaging with the content posted by the page, but do you see small colorful dots connected? Those indicate that students are interacting with each other. We do see many red and blue dots, which says that most students on Facebook come from the Netherlands and United States (or, their Facebook pages are set in American English). Green dots (UK) are also very representative! And it is interesting to see that UvA MOOC has a very active participant from Poland (can you see the orange dot in the middle?). You can click to enlarge:

Countries on UvA FB 7_3

This is another interesting graphic. It shows intensity of participation by type of content posted. Blue dots are users, colorful ones are posts. Here is the label:

Green: status | Yellow: photo | Pink: link | Purple: video

By types of posts UvA 07_3

So, it is quite easy to see that students like to engage with pictures on UvA MOOC Page. Now, bigger the node, bigger the engagement: Can you guess which post is represented by the big green node in the left?


§ 8 Responses to Being social in a MOOC

  • lets go with green for solutions and suggestions!

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  • Reblogged this on Reason & Existenz and commented:
    Thinking of MOOCs from the connectivist perspective. In my opinion, this is this way of using a MOOC is the ONLY mode that has the possibility of offering a successful format for humanities. These social media can be used by any kind of subject, but if all schools are jumping on this bandwagon (and with a n xMOOC model in mind primarily), it is crucial that arts & humanities folks learn how make the most of social media. I would suggest that for a philosophy class, instructors will need to become very familiar with Twitter as well as Skype or Google Video. But again, here comes the labor intensity issue: This requires that folks doing MOOCs are primarily teachers not researchers. They need to give their time over to the classes to be a real resource if true connections are going to be encouraged. Students can learn for themselves in many areas. But there will never be a replacement for learning dialog & communication skills by actually having dialogs and communications with people who have decades of experience.

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  • Beautiful graphics. My favorite part of the MOOC was the global collaboration. Through social network interactions I’ve experienced hyper-learning: information at twice or 3x normal speed.

  • Indeed very beautiful graphics.
    I was also enrolled in the fantastic EDCMOOC.
    Comparing this experience with other more classic (lecture – quizz) MOOC I’ve taken, the connectivist MOOC was far more enriching. It made me discover new subjects that were not on my radar. Jumping from one article or one video to the next, this MOOC has created a ripple effect of constant learning that classic MOOC somehow have failed to produce.
    What did you use for the graphs? R?

  • […] Social media and digital learning environments are now combined. As part of the MOOC experience, students are requested to join debates and course’s topics on social networks, such as Facebook, Twi…  […]

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