One of the goals of the MOOC (or was it just in my mind?) was to generate a community of participants, and Dave Courmier’s post on surviving the fourth week goes on to say that participants should now enter a stage of clustering, where we form stronger ties between peers that have common interests, or at least enjoy each other’s artifacts.
Eventually, i believe we need some unifying tools to get around the MOOC. Allowing the participants to do their own thing on their own corner of the net is great, but I can’t help myself think: “if only we knew what we know”, a saying that every person that has dabbled in Knowledge Management (KM) will recognize. What it means is that within an organization (such as our MOOC) there is often more knowledge than the individual participants of the organization are aware of. Knowledge Management therefore tries to increase the knowledge that is available to most participants by various means and strategies.
What I think is needed, in the case of the MOOC, is a ‘social network’ functionality. I am grateful that the course is wide open (and free!), and that I have the liberty of using the tools I want to do what I want with the course. But the presentation forum is not fulfilling the function of allowing me to know who’s who and who’s what, and more specifically, where they are storing+sharing their artifacts (at least for those who are hanging them on the ‘net). I’m thinking for a Facebook profile styled thing, which would link to the key things participants would want to share, and allow for a more effective clustering by specifying interests. Tags (Delicious or Diigo style) would be a must where one could describe himself and his work and interests, and allow others to tag him or her with what they see fit.
Yes, again for those that have some background in Knowledge Management (KM), I’m talking about the good’ole Yellow Pages, where experts can identify themselves and identify others, and which’s ultimate goal is making connections easier and faster. “If only we knew who we know” is very often the first step in KM. We need this for the MOOC to take shape, and more specifically for our PLNs to get jumpstarted and conform themsevles. In a previous post I described my PLN as the group of people I collaborate with to learn and develop new concepts. These people play a key role in helping me understand and achieve new things. I know there must be lots of new people that can help me, and possibly a few that could benefit from what I can offer. However, the MOOC, given the very philosophy that animates it, should make this easier and not so random.
Every informal education specialist will tell you: When you start a workshop, you need some ice breakers, or at the very least have people present themselves somehow in order to facilitate integration, and setting (hopefully shared) expectations. I once asked my professor of Organizational Psychology “how do we get people to open up in a group activity?”, which he answered “By sharing something intimate”. [No, it probably doesn’t have to be as ‘intimate’ as you’re thinking of right now]. ‘Personal’ might be a better word in English. When this introduction exercise is done, the facilitator probably has an idea about who’s who and who wants what in the course.
Our little “hello world” in the forum are not quite enough. From what I observed, we mostly got locations out of everyone, but a more detailed profile would go much deeper in order to start forming the ‘clusters’ as early as possible. The course’s organizers must have their own expectations of what is going to happen in the course, and who the ‘types’ of participants might be, so adding a few related good questions would help the participants get a sense of who they are and where they stand in regard to the other participants. Obviously, the self-descriptions will change over time, so those changes should be embraced as a design feature.
It might be apparent (and a tad repetitive, but this is "learning theories week, after all?) by now that what I am asking for is a ‘social network’: Facebook style, LinkedIn, Ning, whatever. Each participant should take a little time to throw a self-description in there, along with a few tags he/she would like to be associated with them, and his links for the course: where his blog is, what his twitter is, and maybe a couple more (social bookmarks, and personal website?). I do realize that not everyone will fill out every single field, and given the libertarian philosophy of the MOOC, why not? If, however, we could display a couple of the person’s RSS feeds right on the same page, this would probably become quite valuable for all the users.
I do realize this is extra work, but I’m pretty sure that more than a few specific research goals from the organizers would be solved there and then.