Leaving an open online class

I’m leaving Curt Bonk’s open online class “Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success”, which started this week. It’s a class about retaining, motivating and engaging online students, and I’m leaving because I’m not motivated and not engaged.

It’s not because of Dr. Bonk – his work is very interesting.

It’s the classroom. I wanted to attend to see the new CourseSites from Blackboard, which is being touted as Bb’s “open” LMS. Maybe it would be innovative! A new LMS. I’m always very interested in learning management systems, and what they can do.

Well, it’s the same old Blackboard, with more white space, nicer fonts and some cool icons.

First assignment included two 44-page pdf files that were expensive to print and difficult to read online since they were double-spaced. Oh.

Well, OK. I went over to the discussion to introduce myself, and oh dear. Same threaded discussion – very 1999. With each iteration of Bb, I find it harder to believe they’ve done nothing with forums. Each person had started their own “thread” to introduce themselves, necessitating opening each one at a time or collecting those on the page.

Only those on the page can be collected. There are 30 pages of introductions.

A sense of chore, of overwhelming ennui, engulfed me. I saw that you can also blog instead. That’s good! I can blog as I go, on my own blog! And everyone will read it, and there will be comments, and I can comment on theirs! Oh….

I’m not going to blog inside a closed system, even if it’s open at the moment. Yes, I could add a link to my own blog to the wiki, but that’s not exactly integrated into the course. Pretty evident, then, that the main discussion would be in those horrible forums.

It’s only for a month. No, I can’t. I don’t use Bb anymore for exactly this reason. I will be happy to read Bonk’s works, on my own, and blog about them. I’ll miss the community. No, I won’t. I can’t miss this many people.

I’m spoiled. I blame George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Alec Couros. I blame Jim Groom. I’m used to aggregated blogs, embedded media, distributed conversation. I think of these things as being what open, online classes are all about. I blame my own class at Pedagogy First!.

You’ll say I didn’t give it a chance. You’ll say I’m being too picky. You’ll say…well, I don’t know what you’ll say, since I won’t be in the class.

99 thoughts to “Leaving an open online class”

  1. I agree with many points you have, but let’s see how it goes. I am going to stay…I have 2500+ new friends:)

  2. I agree with some of your thoughts. I find it insane that after 10+ years of teaching or taking classes online, we still can’t find a better way to manage discussion boards, threads, forums, etc. It’s absolutely incredible that in essence, it’s still the same ole, same ole.

    I haven’t left the class yet particularly because I am a fan of Dr. Bonk and will enjoy the portions that are more direct with him. He has participated in many of the discussion threads and enjoy his perspective. I am one that clicks on the unread posts and just starts navigating down in time order. It does not obviously flow by particular thread this way (though I could do the 2 extra steps to go that route) but I do get a flavor of comments and have been able to engage more this way.

    I can appreciate that you tried and are leaving. I have had similar thoughts but don’t want to miss some of the opportunity the course affords.


  3. Lisa, I was so glad to read your post – and I share your feelings completely. It has made me even more pessimistic about the folks who are trying to use ONLY tools like Blackboard or Desire2Learn to create a social experience online. As near as I can tell, it just cannot be done; Blackboard cannot support a course which is focused on sharing and learning together online, much less a MOOC. I signed up for the course out of curiosity about Blackboard which we abandoned at my school some 8 years ago; in those 8 years, it does not seem that Blackboard has made any real improvements except for some newer, nicer graphic design. I commented in detail over at Inside Higher Ed about my frustrations. I wonder if anybody at Blackboard will be listening…?

    1. I can’t imagine why Blackboard has not updated its forum much over the last eight years, but I think it’s even less likely they’ll improve their software now that they’re focused on offering “services” from snapping up other platforms and vendors.

  4. I agree w/ your Bb critique, but I think it also goes to design issues and assumptions. Why WOULD you have an introduction activity for a group this big. Or if you did, why not structure it in a more network like manner. So we have the perfect storm. A non-network centric platform and a traditional non-network course design.

    1. Aha, Nancy, you are the Nancy White from the course, right? It is so nice to see a picture to go with your comment here! The business of being adrift in BB discussion space without avatars is really disconcerting. I always use a fox – not always the same fox, but always a fox; I study Aesop’s fables (http://millefabulae.blogspot.com/), and the fox is the main animal in the fables, tricky creature that she is. Anyway, thanks for all your good comments there at the BB board, crazy-making as it is.

    2. I also thought it ironic that the first readings were about keeping learners motivated. And you’re right, if we’re going open, why not go networked? Perhaps not enough chocolate in the course design team…

  5. Lisa, just to say I am a fan of your blog, and I love the images you have used to make your banner. I usually read your blog in Google Reader, so it was fun to come here and see the actual blog. I’m guessing we have lots of storytelling traditions in common, in addition to the world of online teaching. 🙂

    1. I think so too, and thank you! I recently changed the banner because I’d been complaining that other people weren’t expressing enough of who they were in their blogs, but then I had a default banner.

      Kind of like offering an open course in Blackboard. 🙂 Get the feeling I don’t like that sort of internal contradiction?

    1. Yes, it’s out here in the open. It’s a party to which everyone is invited. If you don’t mind the small rooms, the noise, and not being able to find the bathroom, you’re good.

  6. Ha ha, another thing I can credit this Blackboard debacle for: prodding me to think about contradictions lurking elsewhere, esp. where I can do something about them. I’m hoping for good new ideas to surface when I revamp my own courses this summer – surely new ideas will result from all the brain energy I’ve expended on this over the past week. 🙂

  7. Laura – It is only my second MOOC is as many weeks…and it is big. Last night, after reading through the #change11 readings by George Veletsianos (http://www.veletsianos.com/2012/04/30/scholars-online-participation-and-practices-my-change11/), I just couldn’t make it to the next readings for the new MOOC.

    So tell me…from your perspective…do we really need all the content? Do we really need all the readings? I’m wondering where the videos are….what about Flipped Learning? Talk to me in a video, give me the content orally….I am new to MOOC’s – is it normal to always have so many readings?

    And if it’s about spontenaity and networks, I think Alec is right…aren’t you doing that right now?

    Dr. Veletsianos speaks about the scholars vs Networked Participatory Scholarship…..You are offering networked participatory scholarship here (assuming that everyone posting has a Masters or more:) )….but limiting the connections within a MOOC….is unMOOClike…?

    I’m staying to learn more about why it is so unMOOClike to try and distinguish what freedoms are being squashed…but I wanted to thank you for making it “a real MOOC” by posting your thoughts….


  8. Verena, the way Lisa has set up this blog is just great because it does something we cannot do there at the Blackboard MOOC – since you entered your website address when you left the comment, I was able to click on your name and it took me to your blog. Just looking at the blog, I can think of so many things you and I might have in common – nice! (I don’t teach foreign languages right now, but that is my background; now I teach English composition.) Anyway, I agree with you about the content – I’ve focused on the design problems at Blackboard, but I think the class content reflects the same kind of problem. In the two courses I teach for example – Myth-Folklore & Indian Epics – there’s about a 50-50 split between the reading/blogging and the website projects the students choose to work on. For the students I work with, that seems like a good balance. For this MOOC, though, it seems like it is 100% reading/blogging, without any kind of project at all… whereas with these participants, I would vote for something more like 25% content and 75% project, where we would all be doing some kind of project related to the topic of the MOOC, while sharing our projects online – individual projects, small group projects, big group projects, whatever, but projects of some kind. It’s the projects that motivate my students… and I sure would be motivated if there were some kind of project aspect to this MOOC. But I don’t see one – so even if I were not leaving the class because of Blackboard, I would find it hard to just sit there and read and blog… I don’t need a MOOC just to read and blog (which is all the badge says to do: read/watch and write a discussion or blog post… each week, exactly the same). I already do that every day at Google+ 🙂

  9. Hi Lisa, I understand exactly your frustration with the traditional course management platform to support a more social and collaborative approach to learning. That is exactly, why I chose to use an (open source) social collaboration platform (rather than a dedicated “learning” platform) to host my online workshops at the Social Learning Centre – http://sociallearningcentre.co.uk/ Here the focus is on the flow of interactions and discussions around the workshop readings and activities, and creates a much more engaging approach to collaborative learning, as the feedback from our participants testifies.

  10. Hey Lisa.

    All good points about aggregation. The Bllackboard/CourseSites people and I discussed this during the past week. Keep in mind that this is the first MOOC in this system. So it is a test of the system. First one for me too. We have done the following to address some of this:

    1. A group of 8 master’s and doc students of mine have been added yesterday to the course for feedback purposes. All these people have had 1 or more classes with me and know the content pretty good. Of these 6 or 7 of them have been my TA’s in my residential classes. They have been assigned people based on alphabet of first name. Some will be in the blog posts and some in the course discussions. That will increase interaction. All 8 were asked just 1-2 days ago, so this has happened very fast in terms of response.

    2. I am a social constructivist by nature. And I have written several pieces on what goes into a community of practice. So sure, we want more social construction of knowledge; more membership and feelsings of identity; historicity, more rituals; more of a sense of purpose and mission; more interaction in areas of personal interest; etc. Blackboard people (and I) are thinking about different ways for social groupings. But we do not want to pull away from the core or entire group event either. We are discussing. Hang on. Your points will help with that discussion.

    3. In terms of scope or mission or purpose, I did an introductory video last Thursday to explain the course scope better. It is posted. This was an addition to the MOOC that was not planned.

    4. Blackboard has assigned someone to monitor themes and trends and aggregate data. They sent me their first summary. It looks great. Not sure if you were sent this or not. I will check. My team of 8 will also be doing and noting that.

    5. Blackboard is monitoring their tool usage. And will respond in kind about options with them that they will turn on and off.

    6. Yes, those are chapter drafts in PDF and they are double spaced for the publisher to look at (though I may decide to give the book away…the participants will vote on that tonight in the sync session). In future weeks, all articles are all single spaced. I am happy to change these to single spaced and have Blackboard repost them.

    7. Many other items and issues are on the table. More than I can list here.

    But sure, the way George or Stephen have run their open courses will be different from this one. Not just because they used Moodle. People are different. Each has different things to offer or strengths. I was pretty amazed when I talked to George a few years ago and he said he gave like 150 responses to people in 1-2 days of his MOOC and perhaps it was more like 200 or 250. He was highly committed to seeing it succeed. I have gone in pretty hard the first few days as well but not like that. It is the end of the semester here in Bloomington. If I was to do that, I would not have time to grade papers or read dissertations of students trying to graduate and so on. It is pretty hectic right now. That was his main course at the time I think. I am still finishing up mine from the spring semester.

    Thanks for your post. Let’s see what happens tonight.

  11. p.s. Keep in mind, that in March, I was asked by CourseSites/Blackboard to come in and deliver 3-4 talks. That starts tonight in 6 hours. My strength, or so I think, is in delivery. Other people have strengths in aggregation and feedback or thoughtful blog reflections on the MOOC. There are also some pretty deep thinkers in this field like Alex and thoughtful commentators like George and Stephen. That is the strength (hence, the expectation) you and others may have been accustomed to. Let’s see what evolves here.

    Hope you make it tonight. Now I guess the pressure is on to perform. Smile. Yes, I know…the MOOC is not about one session or one person, but the experience. We will attempt to elevate that. Thanks for your post.

    1. Hi Curtis,

      Since this has become an engaged discussion rather than a discussion of my disengagement, I feel obligated to explain my concerns more fully.

      If the future is for the big LMS to become more socially constructivist, then CourseSites is an obvious failure. It has always been technically possible to offer an open online class in Blackboard, but why would anyone do that? Anyone who cares about student interaction has been complaining about the threaded discussion board for years – it’s why I stopped using Bb. The major strength of such systems is in the tracking and analytics, and its failure is in the design of social interactions. Open online classes, especially Massive ones, need to emphasize social interaction not only as a course goal but as a management system – Curtis, you need all those extra people helping and responding because the system isn’t designed to encourage crowdsourcing of support and interdependency of learning.

      I totally understand that Siemens and Downes have way more time than you do to respond to vast numbers of students (and you have more time than I do, since I’m at a community college teaching 150+ students in six sections of History). This is why that interdependence of learners is crucial. I would like to think that the future isn’t the big LMS companies E-washing the marketplace, but rather the emergence of more cleverly designed, flexible programs for people who need them (think Ning) and the ongoing development of set pieces people can use. Unfortunately, the market is going the other way, toward “freemium” set pieces and putting new wine (like your class) into old bottles (this not-really-reworked LMS).

      You say that you were asked by CourseSites/Blackboard to do some synchronous sessions, and that Blackboard will re-post the revised files. So they are “running” your class, which means the course design wasn’t of your own making. Outsourcing course design seems backward given your expertise and experience. The CCK and Change MOOCs weren’t based in Moodle – they used Moodle (with much hand-wringing and introspection) as an optional discussion area, while the base platform consisted of pieces mostly coded by Downes and people’s individual blogs.

      I spend a lot of time helping faculty use mandated LMS effectively. We tell them to turn off all tools they aren’t using, and design discussions as best they can given the limitations. Your answer to me and the work you’re putting into this class clearly shows your commitment to its success, but your good work seems stuck in a system poorly designed for what you’re trying to do.

  12. Thanks for your reply, Curtis – there is a certain irony in the fact that it is possible to have this conversation outside of the course when it is pretty hard to really have a conversation at Blackboard. I should note that in addition to the discussion at Joshua Kim’s Inside Higher Ed piece (where you crossposted) and here at Lisa’s blog, there is some discussion over at Google+ (Phil Hill, in particular, had some interesting observations re: Blackboard architecture and how it might be sort of un-MOOC-able: http://goo.gl/IKHX3). This is an important topic and there is lots to say but I will just second what Lisa said (thanks, Lisa!), and reiterate a couple of key points from my own perspective:

    1. Like Lisa, I find the threaded discussion boards at both Blackboard and Desire2Learn unusable (which is why I use a Ning for discussion and blogging in my online courses instead). I signed up for this MOOC largely out of curiosity about Blackboard Course Sites; I was very sad to see that its discussion board is in even worse shape than Desire2Learn’s discussion board (the blogging tool seems equally bad in both BB and D2L – and as for the BB wikis, what is the point of a wiki if it is not searchable?). I want to see participants interacting with and learning from each other; adding a cohort of readers patrolling the discussion board is not going to improve the social interaction among participants.

    2. As Lisa mentioned regarding content, I personally do not feel inclined to participate in a class which seems to be designed as a content-consumption experience. I know you are a gifted and talented presenter, and I am sure the readings are interesting. But I already watch great videos and read great articles and participate in great discussions every single day already at Google+ (and other open online venues). Why would I want/ need to do that in a closed environment?

    3. I want to create projects – together with others! My online courses are project-based courses; projects are what motivate my students to participate actively and the courses are successful exactly because of the unique creativity that each student brings to the class and contributes in the form of a project. When I think of the creative powers and collective knowledge of the hundreds of people who signed up for this course, I feel that those talents and energies are being squandered by just filling up Blackboard discussion boards. I was hoping there would be PROJECTS for us to participate in together – web publishing projects, content curating projects, and on and on, so many possibilities! (For example, why do we need Blackboard staff to curate the content of the MOOC? Just speaking for myself, that does not make sense to me, esp. with the highly skilled and motivated participants in this course – curating the MOOC could be one of the projects people could choose to participate in.)

    Admittedly, that is just my own pedagogical preference, both as a teacher and as a learner. I think my objections about Blackboard are pretty much objective: I am sure that the technological deficiencies of Blackboard are going to hinder any kind of MOOC (in fact, any kind of socially-oriented course). As for the course design, that is just something personal on my part; getting a badge for watching/re-viewing a webcast and writing four discussion board posts is just not something of interest to me personally, esp. when the social interaction opportunities are so limited, as they sadly are at Blackboard.

  13. Lisa, your reply to Curt is a great synthesis of the broader challenge of the need to add people, and more people, to shore up what in this case is the old “course management system” model scaled up. The social networking is now happening everywhere else (G+, Twitter, blogosphere…) with CourseSites as a place to swing by if we have time. Bb may be working from the basis of the “course design team” in which the instructor is only one person in the chain, and in some ways of limited importance. I also think Bb is still looking at this course as a “nail” and their LMS, whether CourseSites or Bb, as the preferred “hammer.” I would like to see something from their side that shows they’re even thinking about features beyond the old discussion boards, or if they have even ONE outlier staff rethinking the concept of “course.” I’m hanging around for that.

  14. Hey Lisa.

    All your points are well taken. I did not immediately say yes to this. There was much discussion. But I think the positives are huge positives (see below). It is not often that someone asks you to help thousands of instructors around the world who are using free tools for teaching online (this is not the traditional Blackboard system…)…more details on that in Week 5.

    I am a firm believer in open education. My most recent book is “The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education.” I have used Ning. I have used PBWorks and Wikispaces and Wikibooks and so on. Hec, I used to use Nicenet in the 1990s. Have you seen my 54 page monster syllabus on this open learning world? Everything is a hot link. 100’s of open access articles, resources, tools, etc.: http://php.indiana.edu/~cjbonk/Syllabus_R685_Fall_of_2012.htm

    I sometimes use Sakai (Oncourse) from IU for discussions. We also use blogs. Next semester perhaps Piazza. Check out Piazza if you have not seen it.

    CourseSites (a division of Blackboard) is their arm for helping instructors teach online who lack resources for doing so. This MOOC is using their free system to help the instructors who have signed up learn about pedagogy (mainly) as well as technology tools.

    So instead of looking at it as Blackboard, think of this MOOC as a way to support the thousands of instructors around the world who have decided to use CourseSites as well as helping anyone else who wants to join in the MOOC. Could these instructors use something else? Sure. But they are using CourseSites. I gave 100+ talks a year to people using all sorts of things–D2L, Moodle, Angel (yes, this came from my university), Sakai, Blackboard, etc., or a mix of things. So, for me, this is like any other set of workshops I do only on a more major scale. I just want to help people reflect on their pedagogy and have some tools, models, and frameworks to reduce their tension and anxiety.
    See the video intro I did to explain this:

    And ya I can directly feel your point about online discussions. I spent much of the 1990s studying asynchronous/CMC stuff. And later sync stuff. Dozens of such articles but I have moved on. In Week 5 (at the end), Blackboard/CourseSites people will explain what their suite of free tools and resources can offer.

    I could have created a MOOC with Ning, Wikispaces, Piazza, etc. But I did this MOOC simply to help out since they asked. And I think this project (CourseSites) is the type of thing Blackboard and all CMS/LMS companies should be doing.

    What am I doing?
    1. I have a Website with much free stuff.
    2. I publish in open access journals when I can. http://www.publicationshare.com/
    3. I am working on a couple of books to that will be free; the 2 chapters I posted were drafts from the upcoming book on motivation and retention online. The reason the MOOC is in May is that I need June and July to finish the book.
    4. I have a set of 27 videos (10 minutes each) online how to teach online. Anyone can share, download, watch, remix, and perhaps even sell them.
    YouTube (faster): http://www.youtube.com/TravelinEdMan
    IU Site (more support materials): http://www.indiana.edu/~icy/media/de_series.html

    1. Your work is great. The way you model openness is great. The way you freely share everything is great.

      But the space does matter. The more major scale means more publicity, analysis within the MOOC context, and more extensive criticism. You wanted to “help out” CourseSites because they are taking baby steps toward some kind of openness, and to get your message out. I’m not sure that this is the sort of thing they should be doing. Redesigning spaces is the sort of thing they should be doing.

      Their free system is free in one sense, yes, but there is a cost. In this case, trapping a conversation about openness in a poorly-designed system is part of that cost.

    2. I am really glad to see real discussion about the course – even if prompted by Lisa’s parting shot declaration. There must be a metaphor for what’s going on in the course – a bunch of barely-conceptually-connected spaces where people show up, interject their two cents, perhaps visit the two cents of a couple other folks, and leave. It’s not a learning environment, it’s a complete-the-task environment.

      And I knew after spending two minutes in the course what Curt says above: that he is a hired gun here, coming in to speak and giving permission to use his articles and text. What is unfortunate is that the design does not live up to the content or Curt’s body of work (and here I blame the course design 90% and the tool design 10% – I think this could be done using CourseSites/Bb if the designers knew what they were doing).

      So, Curt, if you’re still tuned in, I agree that it makes sense in many ways for you to take the opportunity that was presented here. But I think this was represented as “an open course taught by Curt Bonk” and really, the design of the course does not reflect well on you. I don’t think you would have thought an “introduce yourself” discussion board with little direction to encourage interaction for thousands of people was a good idea. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

      1. Jim, that “complete the task” phrase is one that really resonates with me. I know that is a complaint my students have about re: other online courses, and one of the best and most fun challenges as an online instructor, esp. one working in an institutional setting, is figuring out just how to avoid falling into that trap. It is a dangerous trap in face-to-face classes too, of course! 🙂

      2. I think you summed up the MOOC very well when you said “It’s not a learning environment, it’s a complete-the-task environment.” For me it’s not even a complete-the-task environment, it’s a save-the-resources-to-study-later-at-leisure environment. I like the idea of having all the possible tools available in one LMS rather than having to combine a variety of different tools from different places, but obviously we aren’t there yet. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned but I feel like online education is becoming too scattered, with too many tools (whose names don’t describe what they do) and too many ways to communicate (discussions and blogs and wikis?). I believe online education needs to focus on bringing learners together and encouraging them to interact as easily as possible. I’m not certain how interactive any MOOC can be unless people’s participation during the first week or two is used to organize them into smaller more manageable groups, who can then come together and interact as a whole.

        1. Lynn, just from my own experience teaching online, the multiple tools thing is not a problem at all – everybody is usually doing all kinds of things on their computer with all kinds of tools; that multiplicity is the nature of how people do their digital work. Of course, it’s not just digital – think about your kitchen: you use the stovetop for some things, microwave for other things, the refrigerator plays its role, as does a knife and a chopping board. What I’ve learned, though, is that exactly because there are so many options and possibilities, it’s really important for the course organizer to introduce students to the tools, how to use them, and what the goals are for each one, as well as getting feedback from the participants about any problems they might be having. So, in my class the students publish their websites with Google Sites, they blog in a Ning, they take quizzes at Desire2Learn… and everybody’s happy with that. In fact, the students are often thrilled to be learning about new tools, especially tools like Google Sites, Google Docs, etc., that can be useful to them in other classes, outside of school, beyond graduation. I can only speak from my own experience, but I really think the faculty at my school trying to use only Desire2Learn to create an online learning experience for their students are going to end up with students much more frustrated than the students in my classes with tools chosen carefully for the tasks at hand. 🙂

  15. Curtis, no one is questioning your amazing contributions to openness and advancing ed tech around the world! That’s kind of the point: given that you are aware of all the many great tools for learning and sharing online, it is hard for me to understand your endorsement of Blackboard Course Sites as a good option for anyone to choose voluntarily. I am very sympathetic to people at institutions where Blackboard or Desire2Learn is the institutional system (I am under considerable pressure at my school to use D2L but I limit it just to the gradebook and quizzes – nothing else). If someone is out there “in the wild” and looking for a good set of tools to choose for teaching and learning, I have no idea why they would ever choose Course Sites for that purpose. Not only is it incredibly deficient when it comes to social features in its design, the closed content means that all the effort and energy poured into a course is doing nothing to direct advance the open education movement. Here I have to really applaud the guys at Instructure Canvas for their openness – if the instructor chooses, Instructure Canvas courses can be open, truly open, for self-learners, for discoverability by search engines, all of that, because the course pages (even the quizzes) are just pages out there on the Internet itself. Is there ANY advantage at all to Blackboard Course Sites over Instructure Canvas? (Yes, Instructure offers free space to instructors also: Canvas: Free for Teachers, and they have even released their code as open source via GitHub.) Personally, I think we need to move away from the idea of course management systems and instead look for tools and strategies to integrate personal learning networks… but if someone feels a need for a course management system, I think the guys at Canvas really (REALLY) understand social – while the folks at Blackboard do not.

    1. Thanks Laura.

      There is much happening here. Wow. The response. More discussion here than I have seen in any blog post for some time. You must have hit a “I must respond to that” button inside of us. Good on ya as my Aussie friends would say.

      In terms of tool or system and the use of a closed system, well, again, I was asked. I have nuns at Catholic schools who might ask me to speak to their teachers about how to teach with technology and want me to speak in a gynasium, I often say yes (if it is drivable). Well, I was brought up Catholic and my aunt is a nun. I have spoken in a Chapel/Church (Ohio Valley University), a gym, a corridor of a university, out on a sidewalk, and in many magnificent places. Those are the physical environments. I just want to help people who attend think about their pedagogy and the available technology tools for doing so.

      Is Canvas, Moodle, Instructor (sp/), or Angel or some other tool better. Sure? Could we have spent more time planning out the introduction part. Sure. But we are helping educator or assist in the learning process of hundreds (or thousands) of people who use CourseSites. I do not think Wikispaces people would use PBworks with their usergroup. Not would Adobe Connect people use WebEx or Elluminate. But what CourseSites did is open this training event up to everyone. Many people who are in here have had a MOOC on connectivism. That is great. But this MOOC (or open teaching experience) is on teaching online with most participants being existing CourseSites users.

      But sharing with everyone is important. With that in mind, here is the URL for the session from Wednesday on online motivation and retention (500+ people showed up of the 3,400+ enrolled.


      My slides from session #1 are here and attached.


      And in case you want them, my originals can be downloaded from…TEC-VARIETY_Blackboard.ppt. Download link: http://mbf.cc/mjVaO

      That is my original slides, a color PDF of my slides, and the Elluminate session. In the MOOC, as you know, I share 3 chapters from a book I am working on that is not even yet published. Happy to share with anyone who writes to me (cjbonk@indiana.edu). My focus is learning. If people have radio, let’s give them educational content on the radio. TV…TV. And so on. As I said earlier, my life changed from educational TV and correspondence courses. TV was inferior to the classroom, but it changed my life. I got into grad school in the mid 1980s because that is what I had available. Some people only have CourseSites. We invited them in to learn about teaching and learning online. As JArl from CourseSites notes below, it may not actually be a MOOC here. There might be another name for it. Perhaps Open Online Professional Structures and Development (OOPS’D).

      1. Curt, I am not advocating for one kind of technology over another – I am just saying that whatever technology we use should be GOOD; it should allow people to communicate and share. That is not happening at CourseSites, where there are no blog comment notifications, no way to search the blogs or wikis, no profile pages for the participants, all points that I have made repeatedly. As a result of those limitations at Course Sites, we have great access to the materials you are sharing, but our access to one another, as participants in the course, is painfully limited by the slipshod way that CourseSites is built. It simply does not anticipate what people need to communicate with each other in an online environment on the scale of a small course, much less in the massive experience we have here. If people only have Course Sites as you say (I guess you mean because Blackboard is such a common institutional choice…? luckily, there are many free options online far better for sharing and communication than Course Sites), all the more reason for the Course Site developers to do a better job with some very basic things, like subscriptions to the blogs and blog comment notifications, something better than a plain text editor (!) for those blog comments, etc. etc. And etc. 🙂

        1. As Laura notes, the Massive size of the course (and its Massive intentions) amplify the weaknesses of this particular technology. As the course size makes it less and less manageable as a typical LMS-based class, the fact that the technology isn’t appropriate becomes more and more obvious.

  16. I’m one of the developers on the CourseSItes team. I’d like to thank you for your thoughtful comments and blunt feedback. My team and I are very passionate about opening the LMS and tearing down the garden walls. We’re learning a lot from this MOOC and our homework is to figure out ways to learn from your feedback and enhance our product.

    1. John, I submitted a longer post (still awaiting moderation by Lisa apparently) where I make a brief comparison between Blackboard Course Sites and Instructure Canvas. I think the guys at Instructure Canvas really ARE tearing down the garden walls (and doing a great job of that, even though I am personally not a big fan of the course management system model in general). I did not see anything – and really, I looked and looked very hard! – that was about tearing down garden walls there at Blackboard Course Sites. Could you explain more exactly what you mean by that re: Course Sites?

      1. I’m sorry – I have WP set to allow all these comments – I don’t know why it suddenly is throwing a few into “pending” instead.

        1. Lisa, I’m just grateful that you are hosting this conversation here! It’s a great example of the power of open and how people can find each other when things are accessible in the open like this (Jim Julius’s blog was new to me, for example, but you’ve made it easy for people to connect here as part of their online interactions). 🙂

          1. And even people not Bonking can join in (I follow Lisa’s potcert11 and change11). How is that for open?

            Just coming in on this thread (and having facilitated online course discussion in forums), I’d hazard the opinion that doing something about forums (or working out a way to do away with them), would have been a huge step and a good faith demo about about not being the same old clunky design.

            I can’t even begin the imagine forums in a course with these numbers… PLENK2010 Moodle on ‘roids?

  17. In terms of tearing down the garden walls, we’ve built course home pages and instructor profiles with links to their personal blogs (for example https://open.coursesites.com/). We are also providing a mechanism where the course materials can be published to a common cartridge format. Once this course finishes we will actually be making an archive of the course available in Common Cartridge which will enable the materials to be re-used by other instructors in their own courses. We’re also enabling the ability to link in Google documents to your course via the “mashup”, and connect in your social media profiles to your Blackboard profile. Perhaps you should take a close look.

    1. Not sure I understand, John. The big new thing is fill-in-the-blank home pages and linking in and out of places from and to Blackboard? I get what course cartridges are, and it looks like you’re making them from work other people are doing (for free, I guess?) to give away so people can load it into their Bb system. Not getting what you mean here by “mashup”?

    2. Hmmm, John, publishing to a Common Cartridge is not my idea of open: isn’t that just a different garden wall? To me, open means something searchable and discoverable, something you can link to. Instructure Canvas meets my definition of open since the course materials – wikis, assignments, even quizzes, are just honest-to-goodness webpages on the Internet (if the instructor decides to have the class be open; it’s their choice).
      As for having special pages for courses and instructors outside the system, sure, nice – but that sounds like a course catalog, not something that makes the course itself open.
      As for linking out from inside the course to social media profiles or embedding things inside the course that are embeddable, that still does not answer the fundamental question about how the course itself is closed, esp. compared to the options available at Instructure. Perhaps you should take a close look.
      Setting the open course question aside, though, I just don’t see how you expect people to really communicate and get to know each other inside a course where blogs and wikis are not searchable, where there are such painfully limited notification options, where people’s names are not linked to some kind of profile page, and where the discussion board hasn’t even got little avatars to make people more readily identifiable. Even Desire2Learn has profile pages for participants and little avatars in the discussion board… I’m no fan of Desire2Learn, but I was expecting more from this new venture by Blackboard, not less.

      1. The course home and instructor pages are not only indexed by Google but actually contain the LRMI semantic markup so that search engines can index the information as well as open graph for Facebook so links render gracefully there. Common Cartridge is an IMS standard packaging format that is used by lots of LMS’ including Canvas/D2L/Moodle/Sakai, not just Blackboard. It is also used by learning object repositories like Merlot and instructional design tools like SoftChalk and Merlot. The ability to easily publish your materials with a creative commons license from CourseSites seems fairly useful, especially if an instructor wanted to share something more than a webpage, like say a quiz.

        1. John, as I said, the course home and instructor pages are like a course catalog; that is not the course itself. If the course wikis and blogs were being indexed by Google, that would be different – but they are not being indexed by Google; in fact, they are not even being indexed by Blackboard (or, if they are, Blackboard for some reason has decided not to let participants search the blogs or the wikis). Speaking as an instructor who wants to share things directly to the Internet, the Instructure Canvas model works much better for me. But that is not really the issue; I am not in a position to speak about Blackboard as an instructor – I have really no sense of Blackboard from an instructor standpoint. My concern is from my experience this week inside Blackboard as a student. I have no Blackboard profile page where people can easily find in order to connect with and learn more about me. There is no way for me to get notifications about comments left at my Blackboard blog. I cannot search the blogs to find people posting about things of interest to me. I cannot subscribe to someone’s blog when I do find one of interest. There are no avatars in discussion board posts, and no avatars in blog comments, so people kind of disappear into the utter sameness of nothing but text. And on and on. For a course that claims to offer “a personalized and social learning approach,” it does not feel personalized and social at all.

        2. This is the language of packages, standards, product, not the language of learning. With any product, the question is what problem is it trying to solve? The free distribution of content isn’t a problem – the web itself makes that easy. The problems are creating dynamic places for distributed learning (which this product doesn’t do because of its poor design) and commercialization/profit/commodification (what I think is what this model is trying to solve).

  18. Wow Lisa- You certainly opened the doors to a great chat. I have been watching the reactions all over the place today.

    In my opinion, I think that “Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success” could actually be called a “Blended/Hybrid” learning approach between a MOOC and a traditional online course.

    I’m not “really” a scholar (as discussed earlier today in #change11) and I am only one opinion…but isn’t it ok to have your own version? I would feel incredibley intimidated if I were thinking of creating a new MOOC idea if I were online today. I did not know all the “rules” and “expectations” associated with MOOC’s – now I know they exist….

    Are we debating the name and what a MOOC stands for? Or are we debating the LMS infuence in online learning? Or what a MOOC looks like?

    Bonk’s MOOC is different, but it is still engaging, interactive, spontaneous and obvioulsy a conversation starter (networking???)

    What do you think, a hybrid MOOC? This course will be one of many if things go the way they are….


  19. Verena, there are definitely two versions of MOOCs today – the rhizomatic / constructivist type pioneered by Siemens, Downes, et al, and the Stanford / Coursera type pioneered by Stanford AI. My thought at bit.ly/JK6MRx. We may be seeing a new version.

    In my opinion, this discussion is not based on semantics, but rather on real experiences, expectations, and frustrations in this particular MOOC. The other topics (LMS influence, what a MOOC stands for) are just clarifications or references to understand the specific issues with the #bonkopen course under discussion.

    My $0.02.

    1. Or more. The SMOOC (my tongue-in-cheek name, meaning Small to Medium Open Online Class) I facilitate in online pedagogy is neither rhizomatic/constructivist nor sponsored by a big university or company.

  20. Hi again, Verena, I’m not very good with labels and such myself… although I am a believer in the open Internet and the search tools that help us find each other, connect, and share online. That’s why, for example, I can value the conversation we are having here more than anything that is going on inside the Blackboard course – not to mention that the whole approach to blogs in Blackboard does not even support this kind of lively exchange where we can “be ourselves” as it were (I can click on people’s names here to get to their websites or blogs, see their avatars, etc.), taking in the flow of the conversation here at a glance, scanning quickly for new comments, etc. etc. None of that can happen in Blackboard right now.
    So, again, thanks to Lisa for the great space that she has shared with us in which this conversation can unfold!

  21. Loving coming back to the rich comment stream.

    I’d love to re-raise the issue of bounded groups vs networked individuals, which I think is at the heart of the MOOC value proposition for me. Which has tremendous implications for reimagining many of the fabulous practices championed by Curt Bonk and others when we were working in the bounded group context, particularly “class sized” groups. So Dr. Bonk’s grad students coming in to respond to small groups could be a network strategy, or a way to chunk the network into bounded groups (I’d be interested to know!) Looking for patterns and visualizing text streams seems very networked. Threaded discussions with multiple page load requirements –> NOT networked. So the BB forums are really an anchor (or for some of us, ball and chain) back to the bounded context.

    So for me, there are TONS of MOOC options, including SMOOCs! But the critical distinction is the network-like design and functioning and how a) our teaching and learning habits work in that context and b) how our technologies can openly support a networked experience.

    Does that make ANY sense? (And Laura-the-fox, good to “see” you too!)

    1. It does indeed, Nancy. The force of networked individualism is coming up against the bounded group(s) dictated (is that too strong a word?) by the Bb forums. One of the questions is what size group works? We have a small one here for an intense discussion, so we could argue “class sized” groups are better for focus. But networking is better for exploring. I just can’t figure out where Bb threaded discussions could fit into any of this? They worked in only a limited way in Moodle for the big MOOCs, and even there it was because the whole group didn’t participate. So is this an issue of size, or of a technology that simply cannot support a networked experience?

      1. I think that threaded discussions are generally very difficult to make work well (in any flavor) with a large number of participants within a narrow timeframe. It might be possible with some designs and some tools to have a more successful experience, but I think as Nancy suggests, it would be more of a divide-up-the-whole-into-groups experience than a network experience.

        I want to thank Nancy here for introducing that distinction to my thinking … though I consider myself familiar with connectivism I really had not translated that into thinking about distinct designs of learning environments and experiences given a network approach rather than a group approach. Perhaps I made a distinction more related to formal/informal learning, but this is clearly a different and important lens.

      2. As I just noted in Nancy White’s blog, there is much happening this week in the world is open education since January (especially this week). This piece in the NY Times caught my eye today. I wrote to David and told him about the MOOC.

        The Campus Tsunami, NY Times, David Brookes, May 3, 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/04/opinion/brooks-the-campus-tsunami.html?_r=1&hp

        And today, an interview came out on the MOOC in “the Evolllution” in both text and audio formats. It will give you some of my perspectives on this MOOC.

        Interview: “Audio/Massive Open Online Courses: Taking Learning to a New Level.” Interview by Amrit Ahluwalia, The Evollution.

        Article (shorter): http://www.evolllution.com/community_matters/audio-massive-open-online-courses-taking-distance-learning-to-a-new-level/

        Audio file (full interview): http://www.evolllution.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/MP3-2012-04-30-Curtis-Bonk-Interview-+18123351746.mp3

        As I said, much happening today in this space. And this conversation is among them.

    2. Nancy and Lisa, here we are getting at what is for me the essential question that led me to this MOOC in the first place. Right now, I’ve been teaching online courses for 10 years that are highly interactive classes. I’ve got 80-90 students every semester, nominally divided up into three classes, but in a sense it is really like one big class (we share a Ning for example). I’ve learned to make use of all kinds of good project-based learning approaches, along with good online tools (Ning, Google Sites, etc.) so that the interactivity is really high; I get to know all the students quite well and the students also get to know each other quite well, too. I’m super-happy with the courses, the students are, too. Life is good, every semester is a great adventure.
      In my professional life online, though, I have come to discover that I really thrive in networked environments. It’s given me a confidence about the power of networking for learning that is new to me. So, that has now made me very curious both about what I could do differently in my own classes, and also how I could share my class experience more widely, outside the boundaries of my university. So, in order to rise to that challenge, I know I need to discover more about networked learning, experience it, practice it, start growing ideas that I can use in the future.
      Nothing in this Blackboard MOOC was helping me to do that, but the related discussion is actually proving to be very helpful indeed. I am esp. intrigued by change.mooc.ca – I’d seen references to it before, but never really checked it out until Nancy mentioned it… now THAT appeals to me. 🙂

      1. So I wonder … has someone created a taxonomy of learning tools identifying their affordances and how well suited they are for networked learning designs vs. group-based learning? That would be interesting to consider …

        1. That is a great question, Jim! I have usually expressed my dissatisfaction with course management systems in terms of how they are second-rate tools – e.g., why would I want to use the blogging tool in Desire2Learn when I can use a real blogging tool like Blogger or WordPress, why would I want to use the email tool in Desire2Learn when I can use Gmail, etc. I think part of that frustration with the tools in the course management systems is that they are not for networking and not networkable. Likewise, over and over again, I see the faculty at my school trying to make their online courses into replicas of a classroom experience, which necessarily tends to be the group-based model (at best). Since classrooms are usually/naturally disconnected from one another and not networked, that is yet another factor that drives the group-based but not networking assumptions of the course management system.

          So insofar as “course” seems to imply by force of tradition and inertia the class/group model, the whole use of the word “course” may be the problem here. If Blackboard can make this massive class and call it a MOOC, very M and very C, while not having much O or O (is Blackboard really open? no; is Blackboard really online if it is so disconnected from the Internet itself?), then maybe even the term MOOC is in trouble.

          People could start to think of a MOOC just as a big course using an online delivery method with open enrollment (but not open in other ways), tending so strongly in the direction of a traditional group-based course that the whole pioneering notion of a networked experience is not even going to be a possibility people expect from a MOOC… Eeeek. That would be really depressing – and if Coursera, etc., are going to look and feel a lot like Blackboard (someone at Google+ yesterday who is both in the Bonk MOOC and in a Coursera course said that yes, that is the case), I think that is a real danger we are going to face.

          1. I do think that it is possible (and becoming more so), and in many ways understandable if not desirable, to use a course management system as a starting point for networked learning, particularly in formal education. I think tools like Canvas were built with the idea of “networkability” and the Blackboard folks recognize that improving such capabilities are important (see John Fontaine’s comments above). Overcoming inherent limitations/biases of CMS tools based on the prior walled garden model is possible IMHO. And just as a classroom offers a safe, private, familiar space that some faculty will never seek to transcend, so too the CMS.

            Thus, a major disappointment for me with #bonkopen has been the fact that the Bb employees designing the MOOC did NOT go this route. They stuck with the non-networked tools baked into Bb, and (as has been said many times now) learning designs that are very course-based. They did not have to go this route. By doing so, they have reinforced tired ideas about online learning to non-network-learning-savvy participants, and have also missed a huge opportunity to show those already experienced with PLNs and connectivist MOOCs that Bb might possibly “get it” …

      2. Hi Laura-

        #change11 is my first MOOC and very different from the Bonk MOOC. I have to advocate for it as well- I “met” Lisa in the live discussion this morning. In fact, I think most of the student participants in this discussion are #change11 “scholars” as well. The link to the Blackboard Elluminate seesions is:

        Thanks for the great day everyone…


  22. Can’t resist jumping into this one. What a great object lesson you’ve created with your openness, Lisa.

    Whether it’s MOOC or SMOOC offered by Stanford or Mira Costa, it’s that first “O” that creates the brand confusion. “O” as in open, connectivist, networked learning (as Nancy is championing) was the intention of the Siemens, Downes, Cormier concept and original MOOC. Many MOOCs that have followed are open only in the sense of free-to-all.

    Laura, you should definitely check out Change 11 of the original MOOC persuasion. I’m reading Diane Laurillard’s (Week 31) new book, Teaching as a Design Science, and a line seems particularly relevant to this discussion: “Knowledge technologies change what is learned by changing how it is learned.”

    It sounds like the course that Bonk would teach as truly “O”pen is not the same as the one behind the walled garden.

    1. Cris, agreed! I definitely expect a lot more of the word open than just “open enrollment.” A vocabulary crisis: I guess I’ll just have to start adding a parenthesis every time I use the word open, something like open (REALLY open). Anyway, I’m glad to have met up with you here and I’ve found your blog (looks super!). I hope our digital paths will continue to intersect. 🙂

  23. I will paste here what I wrote in my one blog entry in the course:

    I am 48 years old (nearly), an original gamer (1981), highly experienced in web-based technical and webdesign skills, and work within an Ed Tech department at a college. Some thoughts:

    From having browsed around in this course I am deeply frightened and unmotivated to participate. There are several reasons (1) Because of the overwhelming volume of participants – most of whom I will never know – I don’t know where to begin. It reminds me of being invited to a massive social event by a friend but the friend didn’t show up, and I don’t know anybody. This kind of environment is a rich pasture for some, a frightening hopeless experience for others. Count me among the former.

    (2) There is no advance organizer that explains or describes how a participant is supposed learn in this kind of environment. What do I do? What can I expect to find in return for my participation? What kind of phenomenon is this MOOC experience most similar to that I might understand it better? How can I expect to cope in this course when there are 27 pages of threads? I can’t possibly account for that much information, or put in that much effort to get to know my classmates.

    How should I approach this social situation differently than I would in in-person social situations? Should I stay within my “bubble” of similarly interested persons, or would I gain more from staying out of my “bubble”? Why isn’t there a “host” of some kind to help me acculturate to this environment?

    None of this course design makes any sense to a prior social situation I have experienced with enjoyment. I can’t cope in this environment without some help. I instantly feel unprepared, panicky, and unsuited for this environment, and feel like I will fail this course.

    This is why I hate learning online: course developers who propound social learning ***but offer no social means for orientation***, no account for varying (social) entry points of the participants, and purely text-based attempts to represent the MOOC’s complex interactive environment.

    The BlackBoard environment is no different on face appearance than it ever was. No surprise there.

    I quit.

    1. Steve, I totally hear you! I teach online courses that are not massive (80-90 students), but that is still plenty big, and I make sure to spend the whole first week introducing students to all kinds of things I think might be new to them – the technology, yes, but more importantly to the IDEAS on which the course is based, what I hope they will get out of it, how they can explore new ways of writing (college students often don’t do a lot of creative writing!), what it means to share your writing with other students (often something college students don’t do a lot of). By devoting a whole week to all that, the rest of the semester goes great. Yet I meet plenty of online instructors who don’t make all that stuff explicit and expect the students to figure out on their own. Danger, I say, danger!

      What motivated me to try the Bonk course was that over the past year at Google+ I have realized that networked spaces can be AMAZING. I interact with hundreds of people, directly and indirectly, every day at Google+ and it has been an incredible experience for me in terms of my professional growth as an educator (here is my public stream there, and I post 99% of my stuff publicly). The more I use Google+ the more I am impressed at the choices the designers made for facilitating interaction. It is not perfect (not by a long shot!), but it is good enough to let people get going, create their own experiences, and interact with others on a pretty massive scale.

      So, I am a believer – I know this kind of networked space can exist and be a super-productive learning environment. I’ve also had really excellent experiences in some pretty massive Ning and Yammer networks, so I appreciate that there are lots of different ways to build these spaces.

      Blackboard, meanwhile, is basically everything a socially networked learning space should NOT be, IMHO. 🙂

  24. @Laura. I don’t doubt the potential of efficiency of participating in a network environment. That is not my issue, however. My issue is (from an uninitiated learner’s perspective) that this environment is unintuitive to fundamental human experience. It is mediated through an interface. The interface offers **nothing analogous** to the social environment which it symbolizes. I cannot be more emphatic about how important a framework of social orientation is to online learners. It is as if the greater importance in the development of an LMS is the *information*, not the human.

    I am not autistic (in the spectrum of its definition), and was a “clubber” in the heyday of the NYC nightclub scene of the 80s and 90s, partying with hundreds of strangers. I don’t mind mass volumes of people provided it is clear to me how it is constructed. Nightclub crowds (though nominally purposeful) are ad hoc, self-forming, and fluid, guided in their behavior by a combination of visual and auditory feedback. It is clear that certain “beats” cause certain individuals to respond, and you can identify your “tribe” quickly, even if you don’t know them. This might not be the best analogy, but it’s the best I can do 😉

    The analogy could be said in the Bonk course by the SIG blogs – but it isn’t enough. The SIGs are not presented as the gateway to the environment – they are ancillary (and all text-based). Thus, I feel more like a new 2nd grade kid standing with his lunch tray at a full cafeteria, without a clue where to sit, as compared to how I should feel: a customer at a restaurant who is asked by a knowledgeable host where I would like to sit, and who might be able to respond to some questions about where the right place might be for me, based on certain preferences. Instead, in the MOOC, I am pretty much on my own.

    What is needed in the MOOC environment is something that precedes the structured learning, but is more than an Introduction thread (which is pointless and leads nowhere – note that there are hardly any threads beyond one response). Maybe something along the lines of an online dating questionnaire – or better, a game of some sort that is not only fun and builds motivation but is aimed to acculturate the learner, and perhaps place him/him into a “regional” environment within the MOOC – at least as a starting point. This is *social*. Bonk’s MOOC is primarily *information*, and secondarily, social.

    My oversensitivity here, I hope, will serve as the moral equivalent of what Temple Grandin provides for the livestock industry. Her research into the sensitivities of animals in captive environments has lead to improvements in stress reduction. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Grandin

    1. Wow, Steve, what great analogies! The clubbing one especially. I love the idea of the “beat” of a thing… that idea of rhythm is something people respond to and I’m guessing there are rhythms in so much of what we do. For example, I love the sound of keys on the keyboard (I learned to type when I was a little kid on a big old manual typewriter and I treated it partly as a typewriter, and partly as a percussion instrument, ha ha) – so even now, as I type, I realize the rhythm of that just works for me… which is why I am so disconcerted by trying to type on a tablet “keyboard” – I can’t get my rhythm. I need my keyboard/drum.

      The crucial thing for my classes I think is that they are project-based and one of the first things students do in the class is visit the projects of students in past classes (for example, old projects from Myth-Folklore, old projects from Indian Epics). As soon as they see those, and see the variety of them, things start to click – they get a sense of where we are going and all the possibilities there, just waiting for them to come up with their own topic to add to big mix.

      In that sense, my classes acquire more of a “massiveness” from the fact that the students of the past are very important to the students of the present (as pathfinders, motivators) … and the students of the present think of themselves as students of the future, leaving something behind to go in the big archive. Another reason why I like teaching online: you don’t have to feel confined in space OR time. 🙂

  25. Just to say – wow! – I have found so many good blogs here to read and follow! (Just added yours, Nancy!) One of my goals this summer is to revitalize my Google Reader. This year I’ve thrown myself into Google+ and have neglected reading blogs as much as I used to. Now, though, with a much expanded list of interests and goals, I am ready to regroup and reorganize my blogs in Google Reader… and I am so glad to have the blogs I’ve found here. I know it’s just a little thing, but the way that Lisa’s blog is set up to facilitate this kind of interconnection (I just click on someone’s name and there I am in their world) is exactly the kind of thing I was missing at Blackboard, making it so hard for me to make the person-to-person learning connections I was hoping for there.

  26. I’d like to add Bon Stewart’s post to this conversation because she’s got such a good analysis of the ways in which this class departs pedagogically from the “lateral, distributed structures” of the Siemens/Downes MOOCs.

  27. Lisa, I’m sorry we lost you so early in the process, but I am very excited about the conversation that has started here as a result of the first open course on CourseSites. What’s happening here and elsewhere on the web is something we hoped for – to start a targeted conversation and have that blossom into new ideas, perspectives and discourse inside and outside of chosen environment. I fully understand your perspective and appreicate your insight; we are listening. As Director of CourseSites, I wanted to provide a bit more insight into why we’ve decided to offer this learning experience, and expound on our initial course design decisions.

    As former high school teacher, faculty development coordinator, online course developer and Blackboard consultant, and as a current online instrutor, I’ve personally struggled and have seen many other educators struggle with how to engage students — with or without technology. An enormous tool chest awaits educators now to help motivate students to learn and achieve, but many are still overwhelmed and have little access to professional development resources, or someone who can help them make some sense of the theories and tools. Knowing that this need exists, among many, my colleagues and I began to think how we could leverage CourseSites to not only provide access to some of these tools, but to educate teachers and instructors on how to use the many tools at their disposal effectively.

    In putting this program together, we did not intend to label it as a MOOC. We were fully aware that CourseSites could not replicate the significant MOOC experiences that have been provided to date. An initial thought was to make this a mini online conference with Dr. Bonk’s live sessions as the centerpiece and the environment a place to meet and converse about the topics. We stuck with open course feeling good that we could combine synchronous and asynchronous components into a cohesive experience. After the announcement, it seems the buzz word was quickly attached to this learning experience. Our experience is intended to be a course open to all those interested in learning about Dr. Bonk’s theories and ideas, and those wanting to share how they might apply the concepts or other related ideas. As Dr. Bonk wrote, we might have chosen other tools, but expected a modest audience and thought, “Why not?!”

    Did we predict some difficulty with establishing community and making connections with the available tools? Sure. As such, we designed the environment so folks could choose which tools they would like to engage, and again, how much they wanted to engage. Has the system and our choices been perfect. Absolutely not. We’ve learned a great deal already, particularly in the orientation week, and have applied our hindsight adjusting the environment to optimize connections. That said, we know further work is necessary. While there are and will continue to be some issues, the positive responses we’ve been getting help us to know we are reaching individuals who may never have received such information and helping to form connections which otherwise may never have been made.

    A difficult challenge during the design process was knowing participants would be looking to us to model what Dr. Bonk would be espousing. While many concepts apply, the research for his concepts have been based on learning experiences of a lesser scale. Dr. Bonk is a draw and motivator himself, but we also wanted to encourage individuals to meet, interact, share, collaborate, and create some lasting connections to keep the conversation going beyond the 5 weeks. As such, we opened up an array of choices for participants to connect. Some chose Discussions, others chose Blogs, some chose Wikis. Are there limitations and missing components? Are the tools in need of some updating to better support the community. No doubt. Might this opportunity help expedite development of such capabilities? Most likely. Despite that, we know that connections are being made and people are learning which is what matters most to us.

    There is much material to cover, and we know we can only scratch the surface. We set out to start a conversation that could be carried on after the 5 weeks transpire. We chose CourseSites to start that conversation and provide an experience in a platform that many are comfortable, and could use a model to create other open courses. We actually are hoping the course does expose educators and designers to tools outside of the LMS that they can use in a meaningful ways. My colleagues and I often refer to CourseSites as “one learning landscape.” For some, this seamless landscape makes sense. For others, a different learning landscape is preferred.

    If you are still awake, thank you for allowing me to share the why, what, and a bit of the how about this initial opporunity. Everyone’s comments and insights have been helpful in making it the best it can be, and informing future opportunities.

    1. Jarl, I am glad you ventured here and are engaging in this discussion.

      Without trying to do too much second guessing I am interested to hear more about the design choices that went into this not-really-MOOC. I appreciate the notion of providing choice, but if you predicted difficulty I think more than just a choice of the Bb tools was needed. At minimum a rundown of pros/cons of the options and some guidance on how to make the most of each would have helped. Much better would have been a demonstration of how Bb can integrate feeds from external blogs, twitter, etc…

      I’d also be interested to hear some specifics of how you’ve “adjusted the environment to optimize connections.” At this point there’s so much good discussion going on outside of the course site that I’m hesitant to try to do anything inside it other than access the materials.

      1. Jim,

        I expect to pull together a proposal for OpenEd 2012 on this topic so as I’m able to complete that and pull my thoughts together I’ll reply here and contact you. I’m also happy to chat through some initial questions as you’d like (jarl.jonas@blackboard.com.)

        Your choice to stay outside of the course is more than fine, and a bit of what we expected knowing the range of participants that would be interested in the topic. There are some educators who’ve not ventured into the social media sphere and are comfortable using the LMS tools to interact. Others like yourself have made great strides in creating your own presence on the Web and connecting with others through other tools. The adjustments so far have been to how the discussions and blogs are being managed, providing the ability to self-form groups, and a quick blog feed from the course blogs. As well, we are working on aggregating information ‘out here’ and providing that within the course as well.

      2. Jim, I should mention that I do see a difference in the conversations here or ‘outside’ vs. inside the course. Here, we are discussing more about the format of the course and open learning in general, and in the course environment participants are expressing ideas more closely related to the content (i.e. applying the models).

        1. Jarl, yes, but that is related to the design of the course. If the course were designed to encourage/facilitate the use of open tools to discuss the content, that would happen. But because people were frustrated with the tools within the course, and frustrated with the design of the course, that became the focus of the discussion out here in the open. This is all magnified because of the topic of the course and its audience. In that sense, the discussion of the course format here is not really distinct from a discussion of the course content and application of the models.

    2. Jarl, thanks for your comments – I know you are very busy and I appreciate the time you took to interact here. I see where you are coming from but I also have to disagree with framing the question in the way you have – when you say people have “little access to professional development resources,” I’m not even sure what you mean. People often do not have TIME for professional development … but the Internet abounds with professional development resources. Basically, I do almost all my professional development at Google+ and it is AMAZING. I don’t need to pay for conferences or attend workshops: I get more ideas than I can even handle every day, and I get lots of support and encouragement as I try out those ideas in my own classroom. If people THINK they do not have access to professional development resources, then they need help in developing their PLN… and Blackboard is a poor environment in which to do that for the main reason I have pointed out repeatedly: I cannot be “myself” there simply because I have no profile page, no point of reference. I cannot connect to others there, because they are just names on the screen, with no profile page. I’ve said this all already – poor notifications, lack of search (no blog search, no wiki search), and lack of hashtags, all of these things prevent Blackboard from being a useful part of a personal learning NETWORK. Without those things, there is just nothing social about Blackboard… which makes it a very poor choice for people in search of professional development, which you say is the goal for this course.

      For Discussions, BB does not offer anything like the interactivity of Google+ or a Ning, not to mention the discussions that go on at real blogs like this one, at Twitter, etc.

      For Blogs, BB does not feel like a blog at all. I cannot subscribe to other people’s blogs, they cannot subscribe to mine, there are no labels, no RSS, and all the blogs look/feel identical to one another. Just look at the Course Sites blog itself. THAT is a real blog. The blogs inside BB are just text boxes with people’s names on them.

      For Wikis, what could possibly be the point of a Wiki with no search…?

      I know I am being harsh here, but it is because I really expected better. I learn new things every semester and improve my classes semester after semester, year after year. I have been watching Blackboard for over 10 years. I see almost no significant changes or improvements at all. That is very disappointing to me, exactly because so many people are looking to Blackboard for more… Blackboard has such a great opportunity to really make a difference. It sounds like you want to make a difference. So, I have to ask, why are the tools so poorly designed? With years to observe and learn from what other systems are doing and with all the resources at Blackboard’s disposal, I just cannot figure out what the problem could be.

    3. Jarl, thanks for your extended response here. You’ve provided in #bonkopen what you call an array of choices, and up to a point (the LMS boundary) that’s true. You also say, “For some, this seamless landscape makes sense. For others, a different learning landscape is preferred.”

      At this point in the conversation it would be great to hear from participants for whom this landscape makes sense, whether “as is” or with adjustments. (I tweeted a variation on this as well to @coursesites.) Where are they posting, and what are they saying?


  28. A correct to the last paragraph:

    If you are still awake, thank you for allowing me to share the why, what, and a bit of the how about this initial opportunity. Everyone’s comments and insights have been helpful in making it the best it can be, and informing future opportunities.

  29. Well … I am still innocent in using LMS Bb. I thought that Bb is ideal befor reading your comments. I feel lost now. Is Bb not practical or you only think it is old?

    1. Bb may be appropriate for a certain type of class using text-based, presentation pedagogy with 1990-era threaded discussion boards. The problem is that the design of Bb is deeply reinforcing of not only traditional pedagogy, but of the early problems novice instructors experience working in an online environment (see my article on this). It is necessary for any instructor using Bb to learn a lot to be able to force the LMS to do the instructor’s bidding (which can only be achieved up to a point). But in the case of Bonk’s course, the central problem is that Bb use seems anti-thetical to both the course subject and how he’s trying to run it.

      1. Lisa, I agree! Plus, I increasingly get the feeling that this is not really Bonk’s course at all in any design sense. I think he agreed to participate in the live sessions and to supply PDF readings, but the course was put together and designed (such as it is) by some folks from Blackboard. There’s really no pedagogical direction at all to the course except this: read PDFs by Bonk, watch video of Bonk, post something. Rinse and repeat four times. Get badge. I have gotten a lot out of this pretty negative experience just because it was so unexpectedly provoking in a galvanizing kind of way, but I don’t think any of the learning I’ve done in the past week was anticipated (or even desired) by the people who built the course. 🙂

  30. Man, I picked the wrong time to go on vacation, would have loved to participate in this dialog while it was still going on. At any rate, thank you thank you everybody for your Insights.. gives someone like me plenty to think about, and I learned a bunch here!

  31. I just wanted to pop in to thank you, Lisa, for opening up this discussion. For me, it’s been exceptionally valuable to read such candid accounts of the ways in which other people also get whooped up into new ideas, and then get caught out by the simple things that bedevil all of us — bad timing, unexpected developments. We do need to get better at sharing these stories of the less-than-perfect outcomes.

    As an educator, I truly hope that our edtech and LMS colleagues are reading all of this aloud to one another at design meetings. Blackboard has been singled out here, but I’ve just been through a really extensive RFP and been offered the benefit of quite a few demos since, and I have yet to see an LMS roadmap that has really come to terms with the conceptual problems being aired here.

    1. Hi Kate! You are so right – these issues are in no way limited to Blackboard, and it’s good to try to come to grips with a problem that hits some of us in a visceral way, but needs to be carefully defined and better described.

  32. I would like to see more co-facilitators for these MOOCs or MOOW (Massive Open Online Workshops). I like to feel that people relate to the multimedia that I share. And yes, I need to get feedback from the facilitators, too. I like to feel wanted in the courses I take.

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