Thursday, October 7, 2010

Where is the MOOC’s Social Network?

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.


  1. Vahid

    I agree. We need more and better spaces to get to know each other. I've felt that frustration. Officially we are encouraged to create anything we think will add to the course. So I encourage you to build it, hopefully around some idea such as PLE or PLN or even PLENK. FYI: there is a FaceBook fan page for the group. Not sure who created it.

    I also think we need to encourage more comments on each other's blog post, at least the ones we find most engaging.

    I'm working on a post about building a strong PLN, but am stumbling on it. Partly perfectionism, but partly I have yet to say what I want to say. I'd love to know what your PLN looks like, how many? How Active? I am looking for a more collaborative PLN.

  2. Hi Vahid

    We were hoping you as participants would come up with these groups/ connections. Please start these initiatives and get people involved. In a conenctivist learning event we can all manage, organise and develop structures.

  3. @SteveLeBlanc Seems like we agree on a lot of things. Facebook is not really tailored for the interactions that i have in mind and tried to describe. Moodle does what FB can do and is much more focused, so no need for replacement. I am eagerly waiting for your post on buidling strong PLNs.

    @Rita I think that expecting exclusively spontaneous relationships to emerge is ok, but leaves too much to serendipity and randomness. I believe that the facilitators can and should play an active role in facilitating the emergence of clusters. What's more: this should be an explicit goal of the MOOC as a whole and an explicit action of the facilitators.

  4. I agree. It feels a bit like a pub crawl except without the beer. I comment on a fellow member's blog here, tweet to #plenk2010 there, put up a forum post or comment somewhere else, then do my own thing on my blog, plus link to it from the moodle blog hanging off my profile there.
    It would be nice to have one space - I didn't know that someone had set up a Facebook page, though - I'll go join that now, maybe there's hope there?.

  5. Hi Vahid,
    I agree with you. Is this text in Moodle Forum,too? I have read and agreed in my mind. Stephen Downes commented (in Ellumantion, last Friday) that finding the right links is a learning process. Yes, but .. much time wasting this is and the same in FB and everywhere.

    We have profiles in Moodle. and tags there. How could I tag myself? So that others could find me?
    You have a South-American Group I saw it in your Blogger profile and you can use your own language there. It must be fine. Congrats

  6. Dear All

    Friendfeed might be a possible solution. It's a sort of Facebook but it;s great for bringing sources together. A few of my colleagues use it and one in particular has even used it to teach PLEs to undergraduate biologists ... let me create a group and get back to you.


  7. I've created a public group on FriendFeed called PLENK2010. The URL is I'm not sure how open it is, but anyone should be able to post. I've added the Atom feeds for this blog's posts and comments and my blog and comments. I'm looking for ways to bring in Twitter, the Facebook page, Flickr, the discussion, the daily, etc.

    It would be worth trying the add/edit feed option to bring in your own blog posts. If you can't see the add/edit function use the post feature to point me at your blog and I'll bring it in.

  8. Great job Chris! Let's test this out and see how it goes. I've subscribed already to that feed.

  9. Thank you for your comment Vahid ! I am completely with you, but the loong :) post wasn't intended as rant, more questioning details.

    I once again point to This tool is so close to ning, that it allows to collaborate on creating something, to go for more than discussion, when linked well to the rest of collaborative tools out there - and valid ideas what to go for + how.

    I too add the post here, weird that the tools don't allow us to choose how to link our commment profile freely: