MOOC forum: does it enrich e-learning?

April 5, 2013 § 2 Comments

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Credit: Cikgu Brian

As part of the learning experience of a MOOC, students not only watch lectures and read articles or texts. They also have the chance to virtually engage with other students, teachers, and monitors of the course in a forum. There, they can ask questions, send opinions and post other additional materials they might find interesting. Although MOOCs do not present a learning formula, within its interface, the forum is the first option for interactivity. Indeed, courses developers are looking for other interactive possibilities such as social networks and wikipages to enable connectivism, but forums always have been popular among e-learners and online communities, even before web 2.0. Along with e-mail, it was one of the first digital tools to be used in courses.

As author Marc Rosenberg points out in his book E-Learning: Strategies for Delivering Knowledge in the Digital Age: “Forums enable everyone to participate in discussions, helps solidify the learning communities that are essential building blocks of a learning culture”. In all MOOCs I’ve have seen so far, forums are predominant and very active. I find amazing how students rapidly answer each other’s questions, so the instructor hardly needs to keep track of every discussion.

In the UvA MOOC, for example, the forum is an excellent ally for studying Communication Science. Compared to other MOOCs where you can find hundreds of different topics about the course, this one has a different structure. Every video has its own topic and students are able to directly address their comments or questions in the right place.  According to my own survey, students posted a total of 568 messages in the UvA MOOC forum (considering only weekly lectures part). The most popular was week 3, with 144 messages. In this week, professor Rutger de Graaf discussed about the linear effect-oriented approach and taught about many theories, such as the hyperdermic needle theory and how it proposes explanations for the power of media. There, two particular topics were popular, one about the power of propaganda (17 messages) and another about the rise of the television (with 28 messages). According to the UvA MOOC team, the forum received so far 36.631 visits.

In this one I created a topic myself about effects of advertising on Youtube, and I got great replies from my fellow colleagues. I claimed that those ads seem ineffective, and about five other students agreed: they’re ineffective and annoying. But it was great to see how everyone gave complete answers, structured in their points of views and also in the content of the class itself. There was even one student who talked about history of advertising! The richness of those discussions can be incredible. Moreover, lots of students use the forum to ask questions. Some have technological problems, others want to find books online and many introduce new examples to theories. It is great to see that everyday one member of the MOOC team or the professor engage with the content, reply questions and also tell about their own experience of making the course, as illustrator Mark van den Anker did in week 3. Can’t wait to hear more about the making-of next week .

Here is a small overview of some of the most popular topics in the forum. I have been tracking some of them since week 1, so now we can see how they developed during the course. The title corresponds to the week (and I also added one with the amount of feedback the course received). In the graphic you can see how many messages one topic received. For instance, we notice that many students reported issues of quizzes from one week to another. And although it was very popular, week 2 did not evolve much. Students created topics, but they did not go back there in other weeks. In fact, this is not bad news for MOOC, because we know that week 3 had also many students participating. I created the graphics with the free software Tableau Public. You can click on it to enlarge.

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When you enroll in a MOOC, do also join discussions in the forum? How often do you post? Tell more about in the comments! 🙂

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§ 2 Responses to MOOC forum: does it enrich e-learning?

  • Thanks for the post. I agree that for most if not all online courses the forum is the “default” place for feedback and assignments. It’s good to see you are having a positive response here, just wondering if there might be other ways to have students interact and still solidify learning. Could instructors encourage group hangouts, or voicethread, or chats?
    As an instructor, I realize that offering these options makes it very difficult to assess the learning so that would need to be thought through.

    To answer your question, yes I did participate in the forums for edcmooc, but only on FB and G+. I found the Coursera forums too difficult to navigate.

    • Hi Rick, thank you for you message!
      I also had the same feeling with the edcmooc forum. In addition, I felt that the forum had so many messages that it was quite difficult to keep track of discussions. I also carried on conversations on the Facebook group and they were very helpful!
      I agree that instructors should encourage live chats or hangouts. This gives a personal touch to the course and makes students more interested. There is one in Coursera about Social Networks analysis, for instance, that the teacher made a hangout with two researchers from Google. This is very cool, specially for people looking for professional enhancements. I hope that MOOCs can explore many other ways to interact with students worldwide. Can’t wait to see ideas!

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