My first MOOC: diary of 1 of 24,000 students following a truly “Massive Open Online Course”

130225_MOOCMassive Open Online Courses are all the rage. A truly exciting and massive one (over 24,000 students enrolled!) is the Learn Creative Learning MOOC organized by MIT Media Lab, which will run from February- May 2013 . Since MOOCs are so new, still much ground needs to be broken about what they are, what they mean, and how to organize them. Having enrolled in this course which is so close to my heart, I decided to keep a diary of observations as “an average MOOC student”. I hope they help myself and others make better sense of what this phenomenon means, what deep impact it could have on learning in a globalizing society, but also how to practically organize and “tinker” such courses to realize the vision. Would be interested to hear your own experiences and comments!
6-8 February 2013
  • Registration was difficult. No confirmation mail received. Amazing how much stress this generated. Even though all materials are open, also for non-enrolled, the sense of risking “not belonging” was strong. Is this one of the secrets of courses, and continued reasons of existence for physical universities?
  • Managed after 5 times to enroll through an Android client, of all devices! Really experienced a thrill when I finally received that confirmation mail!
10 February 2013
  • Got an e-mail from an assistant to an earlier mail from me to the team that my application would be processed manually this weekend. No longer necessary, but nice to receive this human touch. They must be overwhelmed.
11 February 2013
  • Over 24,000 people enrolled! This is truly a Massive Open Online Course..
  • A bot subdivides the masses into learning groups, clever! The bot mail didn’t say how large our group is or who my peer members are. Would be nice to get that sense of awareness. There is “the mother of all Google+” communities supporting the whole course. Each group has its own “mini mailing list” (ours is and is advised to start its own G+ community as well. Wonder if anybody will take the initiative? Normally, I set up these things myself, but now really too busy with too many deadlines…
  • Many introduction mails from fellow group members coming in. I’ve also sent mine. Would be nice to have a mailing list archive for future reference, but also to check whether your own mails have actually been distributed, as I often do when sending mails to the Community Informatics Researchers mailing list.
  • My introduction mail to the group bounced! Instructions in the bot mail said to “hit the reply button”, which I did, but apparently didn’t work. Now how do I introduce myself to my coursemates?
  • I posted my problem on the general course G+ forum.  Immediately got lots of encouraging comments. Nice to feel the buzz!
  • Also a second attempt to introduce myself failed. More people seem to have that same problem of recurring bounces. It made me lament: ” Team: please help! Even though I have been admitted to the course, I know feel like an inivisible ghost, not worthy to be seen by my course mates…”
  • One of the replies to my Google+ post helped: turns out the reply address was wrong. My introduction mail has been received. Feel so much belonging now 🙂
  • (4 pm, Dutch time) Getting ready for our 1st live lecture, with 1080 classmates from all over the world, and counting…
  • (4:05 pm) Yes, we’ve got live video, but I can hear no sound! 😦
  • (4:20 pm)  I hate computers! Checked everything before start of class, YouTube worked fine. When the live stream started, I could see the video, but no sound! 😦 Spent a full 15 minutes checking the PC, finally having to restart it. So, virtually late for class even though physically I was in time!
  • Getting introduced by the speakers to the main course ideas & team, really feel excited! Highly interesting speakers and themes ahead in weeks to come
  • Student 2.0: switching from Google+ for video via Twitter for backchannel comments to Evernote for note-taking, and back!
  • This course big experiment: how to move in #MOOCs from massive, one-way video presentations to small group interactions?

12 February 2013
  • Yes, fellow course member Alex was so kind to set up a Google+ group. Proud to belong to “LCL-849 (Learn Creative Learning Course Group 849)” 🙂
  • Still no idea who our all the members in our group. To me, it feels like “walking in fog”. Would really be something to pay attention to in the next version of this course.

13 February 2013

  • Got a mail from “Oliver”, our friendly course bot, suggesting our learning tasks for the week ahead. The general idea is to do some readings, and share your reflections with your group. Oh, and we are also asked to upload an introduction video of ourselves to YouTube or Vimeo.
19 February 2013
  • 2nd lecture about to begin. Way behind in my reading and didn’t do my homework. Flu, deadlines, and so on, but still feeling guilty, if only to my own little corner of this MOOC’s universe, working group LCL-849. Should catch up by next week!
  • Hard to find the link to the livestream! Didn’t have the bot-mail ready at hand, and there’s no link to the stream in the obvious place, the home page of the website:, nor on the Google+ main community home page. I had to dig up the mail to find the link to the Google+ community event under “Register here”. Course navigation requires some rethinking.
  • Again, no sound, although, again, I checked my settings by playing an ordinary YouTube movie prior to the event! There really should be some test setting, because this way I am going to be virtually late for class every week!
  • Apparently, something was wrong with the “Media Lab encoding machine”. Must have had something to do with my sound problem of last week. After another 15 minutes last because of restarting my machine, I now get very stuttering sound, of very low quality. Impossible to follow the lecture. Too bad, will try to watch the replay later.
  • Really weird to see all the tweets passing by of a lecture I can’t see myself. Feel excluded!
25 February 2013
  • Way behind in everything, somewhat caught up today by reading a selection of the materials and watching a few of the videos. There’s so much to read and do! Still have to watch Lecture 2.
  • Lecture 3 is almost about to start. Still haven’t watched Lecture 2. Probably go ahead watching Lecture 3 first, catch up on Lecture 2 later. That sense of actually “being there”, at least in time, is worth a lot. I also like to see the backchannel comments on Twitter as the lecture proceeds.
  • Ah, Oliver The Bot sends a List of all the G+ Groups. Unfortunately wrong link (leads to Session 3 home page). Our own LCL-849 group still only has 13 members with minimal activity (shame on myself as well!)
  • Apparently, there’s a dedicated MIT backchannel. Not sure I really like it. It leads you to a non-informative login screen (a login screen?! Oh, only a username needed, probably just to recognize who you are when chatting, but why then call it a username instead of “your name”, “nickname” and not give some instructions? Also, isn’t the great thing about the Twitter feed that it attracts many people who are not participating in the course? Is this supposed to be used instead of or complementary to the Twitter #medialabcourse conversation?
  • (4.10 pm Dutch time) I’m all set up for the third lecture. Coffee ready at hand, tested the YouTube streams (sound working fine). They’ve also announced that sound problems would finally be over, let’s keep fingers crossed that this time I will finally be able to follow the lecture from the beginning!
  • (4.15 pm) Yes, I have sound, in one go. Hurray!!
  • Interesting how this superrich “learning environment” of so many learning materials, videos, lectures, Google Communities, tweets, assignments, etc creates so many degrees of freedom for individual learning paths: doing things on your own, in “the wrong order”, reading a bit here, watching a bit there, interacting in your subgroup, one-on-one via backchannels and e-mail, etc., etc.
  • The video connection was great today, contrary to last week’s disaster. Interestingly, the long-distance connection with one of the speakers (“Is Leah frozen again?”) was lost several times. Weird recursion: I have a perfect video connection through which I see the video connection with the speaker being lost!
  • Reading the tweets of the last half hour of the lecture. Although I was sure that I could parallel process (publish this blog and follow the lecture), there are many topics I missed. Will re-view that part of the lecture later (that flexibility being one of the good things about such totally digital courses).

26 February 2013

  • Had a cool little exchange on our little team Google+ with Alex on how Lego changed our life. Our team workspace is still fledgling, it seems the momentum is lost.  Should we then post our musings on this small team site or on  the big course site? The advantage of the team site is that there is still the chance of building a real community with people you get to know. However, the essence of community building is conversation, and if that’s not there, then there will be no community after all. However, on the main course site too many conversations take place. Oliver the BOT advises “Check out the big G+ community if your group is a little slow, or focus on your cohort if the community is too noisy.” However, it seems that we still lack some natural “meso-level” conversation activity that would actually lead to people interacting sufficiently for some kind of community of practice to spontaneously emerge. However, especially with such massive MOOCs that meso-level can of course not be planned, only evolve. Perhaps we need new socio-technical ways of looking and designing for these kinds of viable communities to come about? 
  • Oliver says “All these readings, and activities, and sessions might feel a little overwhelming sometimes. But don’t be overwhelmed. And certainly don’t feel like you are falling behind. Rather feel free to pick and choose, work on things that catch your interest, and skip others.” I like that, it fits in with the idea of the course being a “meta-tinkering” kind of place.

4 March 2013

  • [4:30pm Dutch time] A bit late because of a meeting. Again lost, where’s that link to the video feed again? It really should feature prominently on the general and Google+ sites (and I should really have bookmarked it :-)) Via Syllabus, “All videos are available on our YouTube channel” then? Yes! Please, dear MOOC developers, there could be multiple roads that lead to the Rome of this course, the weekly video!
  • Mitch Resnick is referring to the discussion in the community in his video discussion with Alan Kay. Great to have such feedback loops!
  • Questions being asked from the backchannel. Logged on to it for the first time, 178 people participating. Much more detailed interaction than Twitter. Too much for my liking, though, about one chat message posted per second, sometimes many, many more. That high frequency really distracts from what the speaker is saying. Furthermore, many posts are not too informative (“hi!”, “bye!”, “me too!”, “thanks!”). The Twitter feed contains more distilled ideas, easier to cope with while concentrating on the speaker’s contributions. Should there be a maximum number of active participants / number of messages posted per time unit for it to become more manageable?
  • Wednesday March 6 7-8 pm Boston time there’s going to be a “midweek” backchannel Q&A chat. Perhaps that’s going to be more useful, as you won’t have to parallel process like during the lecture?

To be continued…

8 thoughts on “My first MOOC: diary of 1 of 24,000 students following a truly “Massive Open Online Course””

  1. Interesting to read your thoughts on the technical challenges of this course! I had the same feeling when my registration failed – inexplicable, I felt that I, too, had somehow failed. I think the open G+ group helped allay some of those feelings, as I saw others post about similar technical issues.

    So far, I have tried watching the videos: 1) without synchronous interface 2) in a Google hang-out attempt that flopped due to technical difficulties 3) with the back-channel chat window open. So far, the hang-out was the most engaging, even if it didn’t completely work out. It was fun to trouble-shoot with other people in real time. Perhaps next week I’ll sample the tweet chat, as you suggest.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Rachel. Yes, interesting, isn’t it, how we’re almost “meta-tinkering” just to come to grips with how to take the course. It’s almost like the course components themselves are a big box of Lego pieces, which we all use in different ways to build our very own course experience!

  3. Fascinating stuff and very useful for anyone considering joining one of these MOOCs. Look forward to additional diary entries.

  4. Hi! I understand this is kind of off-topic however I needed to ask.
    Does managing a well-established blog like yours take a large amount of work?
    I am brand new to operating a blog but I do write in
    my diary everyday. I’d like to start a blog so I will be able to share my personal experience and views online. Please let me know if you have any kind of recommendations or tips for new aspiring bloggers. Thankyou!

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