To MOOC or not to MOOC? Some post-MOOC reflections and advice

I feel that I lucked out with the choice of MOOC I made to experience the MOOC phenomena.

I’m not sure absolutely why I chose Coursera’s E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC (#EDCMOOC), run by the University of Edinburgh, but I am very glad I did.  I wanted to experience one of the big, new platforms, hence looking at Coursera and I wanted a topic that was of interest and use to me personally and professionally hence the choice I made.  Simples. I didn’t give it very much thought.

Whilst I’m aware of vastly variable MOOC experiences, I think the EDCMOOC was viewed as a success by the vast majority of active participants and the course team.  I would put it at one extreme whilst at the other are MOOCs that ceased to be part way through and those where there was little or no learner engagement, a critical piece in the puzzle when the instructor(s) cannot have nearly as much personal presence as in more traditional learning and teaching.

The EDCMOOC had 40,000 students enrolled and I think about 17,000 were active.  Of those, I don’t know how many went on to complete the assessment and peer assess at least three other students’ work.  If you did that then you were eligible for a Statement of Accomplishment from Coursera, a nice touch.


Whilst there are many flaws in the model, there are also benefits and for me, in my context, the benefits far, far outweigh the flaws.

I don’t see MOOCs replacing traditional degrees, not even close.  There are very few, if any, ‘typical’ 18 year olds able to pick out a series of MOOCs that will equal, roughly, a degree, never mind being able to articulate that to potential employers.  They will not have the necessary skills, understanding or wherewithal to do that.  Neither will teachers, parents or student advisers.  No-one does and MOOCs aren’t credited that way (yet).

I do see, however, a clear space emerging for MOOCs in the continuing professional development arena.  If I don’t need a qualification but I do need up to date knowledge, then what could be better than a free course designed and delivered by masters in that subject area?  I have updated knowledge and have joined new networks as a result of the EDCMOOC.  I am now in touch with sharp, cutting edge, impressive individuals who are also interested in e-learning and digital culture.  There are no geographical boundaries and the potential impact for me is mind blowing.  That’s a key result in my book, although absolutely not why I set out to engage with a MOOC.

If I was choosing again, and I am registered for two forthcoming MOOCs, I would be and have been, much more discerning.  Afterall, it is my precious time I am using and that is at a premium.

Getting the most out of a MOOC

1.       Decide WHY you want to engage with a MOOC and keep this in mind the whole time.   For example, if it is about developing a network then ensure you work at doing just that.  If it is about updating knowledge then milk the resources and discuss the concepts and implications. You may have several reasons and that is fine but make sure you plan how to address each one so you achieve all your goals at the end.

2.       Follow the guidance.  The course has been set up purposefully so take the course team’s advice on the order to do things, what is optional and what is core.

3.       Plan your learning and engagement.  If the course team indicates that 5 hours a week is roughly necessary then plan for that.  Little and often can work just as well as doing it all in one sitting and that approach gives time and space for the really important reflection process.  Be pragmatic and work with your context and what is possible in your life.  It is different for everyone.  Be selfish.

4.       Decide which social media you will use to engage and stick to your preferred platforms.  You cannot possible join every social media option so stick with what works for you.  You may want to develop new social media skills and here’s an ideal opportunity as there is a clear purpose.  You will undoubtedly find others in a similar position and going on the journey together can be very rewarding.

5.       Blog about your experience and learning.  This helps you to focus your thinking and reflect on your learning, whilst engaging with others in a similar space to you. Work on connecting with others who are blogging so you can share ideas and reflections.  This may be how the MOOC is designed but if not, you can make it happen for you.

6.       Talk about it!  We all talk about what is happening in our lives and if you are taking your MOOC seriously you will naturally want to talk about it.  In what can be quite a lonely space, you can make your MOOC come alive by sharing it with non-MOOCERs and MOOCERs alike.

7.       Be selfish.  If you don’t put YOU at the centre of your MOOC no one else will.  What you put in equates to what you will get out.

#EDCMOOC Am I human?


Here’s my digital artefact for #EDCMOOC.  It is a short animation, less than 2 minutes long, pondering what it means to be human.

Click anywhere on the robot image on the left  to open my animation video.

To make this digital artefact I used to create the animation. I published it to YouTube and linked its url to the image of the robot that I created.  The robot image was made from clipart which I added a text box to.

I hope you enjoy my slightly tongue in cheek musings around being human.

#EDCMOOC week 3 – Being Human: reasserting the human

One of the key questions posed this week is: what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?

It is not often we contemplate the boundaries of being human but with developments in digital technology, bioscience, philosophy, ecology and popular culture they are becoming more and more blurred.  The concept of being human is becoming less secure.

The Toyota advert emphasises, for me, the need humans have for the ‘human touch’, feeling alive and being ‘real’.  These are things that technology alone cannot replicate.  I doubt that it is Toyota’s intention to encourage a deep, moral vision and I took this advert very much at face value.  The BT advert evokes feelings of guilt for me but the message doesn’t really make sense.  It is saying that talking is the best way to have a heart-to-heart relationship with someone and screen-to-screen just doesn’t cut the mustard.   I get that but my argument is that heart-to-heart is best in person, not by phone so BT are encouraging the second best option, not the best.  I’m splitting hairs, I know but I find that sort of message annoying.

In the short film, World builder, a guy uses holographic technology to build the perfect world for a lady.  I’m unsure if she’s his girlfriend/wife/partner or not.  I wonder if she has mental health issues but that’s not clear either. This film blends human and technological interactions as he creates an old fashioned street with several human touches including a perfect flower. The scene then morphs back to nothing and he only has an image of his lady with that perfect flower.  The lady ends up in a neuro holographic recovery unit in rather a sinister ending, hence my querying her mental state.

They’re Made Out Of Meat has a comic, sinister poke at humans being ‘made of meat’.  The intonation used on the word ‘meat’ is very funny and the inference is that humans are a sub species comprised of ubiquitous, non-descript ‘meat’.

These films all concern being human, what that means and indeed whether we are now looking at a posthuman era where technology is increasingly important and humanism and the humanism project has become rather artificial and outdated.

Francis Fukuyama’s thesis on biotechnology creating more social evils than good is thought provoking as is his notion that humans assign themselves dignity which is linked to language, reason, moral choice, emotions and social interactions.  He believes that technology cannot replicate consciousness, emotions and subjective feelings and these things will always determine what it is to be human. He concludes by suggesting that regulating biotechnology and directing technological developments to ensure that they enhance human values and human flourishing is necessary. That is easier said than done when you consider the pervasive nature of technology and its implications across humanity.

In contrast, Steve Fuller believes that humanity is artificial in that it goes beyond what is required to survive and reproduce. There is an overarching rejection of humanity in contemporary society personified by the growing divide between rich and poor, the continued persecution of ethnic minorities etc.

Posthumanism is a term used to describe the contemporary position embracing what it is to be human now compared to previously, through the lens of philosophers such as Freud and Marx.  Badmington attributes Hollywood with influencing the posthumaist thesis.

In a much more accessible article, Kolowich makes a case for the inclusion of more video and audio in online teaching, in order to increase the sense of presence and ‘human-touch’ for distance learners.


Being human is about our consciousness, emotions, subjective feelings, relationships, engagements and making sense of things in a shared context.  It is about having morals and choosing to do the right thing, even when no one is watching us.  I think the analogy with guns works:  technology doesn’t educate people, people do.

For me, being human in a technology-rich world is about choices and making the right choices.  People learn in different ways, there is no one size fits all.  The pedagogy should always come first and the technology be selected to best fit the pedagogy.  Technology is a means and not an end in itself.  I have seen many examples of technology being such a barrier to learning that I have to question its value, for example the webinar made by a novice faculty member that has zero personality, passion and therefore engagement.  The plethora of online learning materials that don’t come to life without some kind of human to human engagement (either faculty-student or student-student) is astonishing.

As humans, we are responsible for making our own choices and one of those choices is not to use technology.  That’s an important one to remember.

I think it’s really important to embrace technology when it facilitates us getting the job done better (whatever ‘the job’ is) but we need to protect humans against technology that could be used for disturbing, negative purposes. This short video is a brilliant reminder that in many ways the future is already here and technology is already an integral part of being human.

 10 Future Technologies That Already Exist

#EDCMOOC Week 2 – Looking to the future

This week we continued to explore the theme of utopias and dystopias, attention was turned to exploring representations and metaphors of the future in digital culture and in online education, including the MOOC itself. The concept of metaphors to explain and understand what we don’t know is fascinating.

This week I watched five short films and a summary of each follows.

1. A Day Made of Glass
This is a gentle, slightly cheesey, happy, rosy future film with alluring music. Technology is shown as a natural extension of humans to most surfaces – windows, wardrobes, car stereos, roofs, classroom walls, tables, operating theatres and outdoors.

It portrays an extremely utopian view presented with positive imagery involving highly engineered, technology infused glass. There is an inference of the importance of touch as the interface with technology.

I’m left wondering what happens if the wifi breaks or if you can’t afford the latest tablet. Education is shown to be a very happy place, unconfined to the classroom.

2. Productivity Future Vision
This short film is Microsoft’s depiction of how future technology will help people make better use of their time, focus their attention, and strengthen relationships while getting things done at work, home, and on the go. Examples of the technology included are interactive, intelligent spectacles and an impressive use of smart phone type technology to manage time and arrangements seamlessly.

Might people be encouraged to become more lazy and think for themselves less? Will this be affordable or elitist?

Education is visualised as technology-reliant, easy and happy, free from the constraints of the classroom. There is minimal, actual face to face communication in this world.

This is clearly utopian in outlook but I’m left asking if we are on course to become slaves to technology. Will it be only those who can afford technology who are able to prosper?

3. Sight
Sight explores how the ubiquity of data and the increasingly blurry line between the digital and the material might play out in the sphere of human relationships. The focus on the emerging social and educational use of game-based ‘badging’ is particularly interesting.
This film shows augmented reality in action and the gradually-fading privacy at the expense of over-involvement in technology.
Although seemingly utopian, on face value, this film depicts humanity having a dystopian future. The ending is very strong – the protagonist hacks the brain of his date and rewinds her thought processes to change her perception of her reality. The ultimate ending could be rape. Ultimately, this is extremely dystopian and indicates a dehumanisation of personal relationships.

4. Charlie 13
In this film, a young boy is about to reach the age where, in his society, he will be permanently ‘tagged’ by having a tracking device implanted in his body. Prior to this he has a good look at adulthood and doesn’t like what he sees and disagrees with the requirements of his society. Charlie represents a future with a ray of hope for those who don’t want to conform.

Whilst the majority of humans have given up natural law for technology, Charlie finds salvation with the minority of ‘searchers’ who are looking for the way things used to be. Charlie finds a way to take control of his own destiny.

5. Plurality
This film has a broad theme of surveillance, throws some time travel into the mix and asks us to imagine a future where the population is monitored through their DNA, and resistance takes the shape of attempting to ‘jam’ the surveillance systems by inserting multiple selves into the grid. The grid can only function if absolute visibility of the movements and identities of the city’s inhabitants is maintained, and therefore practices of hacking become the ultimate threat.

In this film freedom has been replaced with the illusion of safety. It explores the liberty Vs safety binary.

There are interesting messages around power and how it works. In terms of education, it draws parallels with the close-to-surveillance opportunities made easy with contemporary VLEs.

There were four other key resources this week and a summary of each follows.

1. Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday, 14(4).

Johnston draws from the key work of Lakoff and Johnson to highlight the important work that metaphors do in shaping our thinking. She identifies two broad categories of metaphors drawn from the titles of editorials about the internet in late 2008 – those that take a utopian perspective (salvation – transformative and revolutionary) and those that are dystopian (destruction – attacking and supplanting). Noticing the sorts of metaphors that are used to draw comparisons between the unfamiliar and the familiar, or the abstract and the concrete, can be a very useful way of understanding the assumptions that people are making about e- learning (the ‘native’ and the ‘immigrant’, for example).

The primary (or conceptual) metaphors that were used repeatedly in the editorials were those of physical space, physical speed, destruction, and salvation.

2. Newitz, A. (2011): Social media is science fiction. Google I/O conference, 10-11 May 2011, San Francisco.
(7 mins in)

In this video Annalee Newitz describes four common stories that science fiction tells us about the future of social media. The stories are around:
1. artificial intelligence will rise out of social media
2. social media will invade every part of our lives including our minds – surveillance etc. privacy will need to be negotiated
3. social media will lead to mind control – all individual thoughts will match corporate thoughts. Brains crash and can get viruses
4. social media will lead to instant social revolution – journalists will continue to do their work even better

3. Shirky – Napster, Udacity, and the Academy
Shirky uses the MP3 as a metaphor for MOOCs and explores how higher education is being unbundled and disrupted. There is an unbundling of learning , teaching and assessment. There are issues around academic integrity and the value of what people will learn: ‘will anyone learn anything?’

Shirky has an extreme view that does not acknowledge the value and benefit of humans engaging with each other. He concludes that there will always be an elite but MOOCs will work for the majority.

4. Bady – Questioning Shirky
Bady presents a counter argument to Shirky that is from an academic’s perspective.

These two pieces fit together as an initial opinion piece (Shirky) and a critical response (Bady). Together, they provide a good overview of current debates about MOOCs, expressing hopes and fears about what a digital revolution in higher education might be like.

Shirky embraces the perspective that higher education is broken (expensive, limiting, elitist), and suggests that the MP3 (the most common file format for digital music) is a good metaphor for the MOOC. Telling a story of the music industry as surprised, then overcome by the emergence of the MP3, Shirky frames the narrative of higher education in similar terms, warning that institutions are not prepared for the revolution that MOOCs will bring. Dismissing one MOOC critic’s focus on quality, Shirky argues that openness will lead to improved quality: ‘open courses, even in their nascent state, will be able to raise quality and improve certification faster than traditional institutions can lower cost or increase enrollment’.

Bady (along with claiming that Shirky sets up his argument so that academics cannot respond without looking defensive) wonders whether the music metaphor, and Shirky’s emphasis on openness, obscure a massive, profit-driven business underpinning MOOC development. He argues that ‘open vs. closed is a useful conceptual distinction, but when it comes down to specific cases, these kinds of grand narratives can mislead us’. He asks, of Shirky’s claim that most higher education is expensive and mediocre, ‘would it be any less mediocre if it were free?’.

Personal Reflection
On reflection I am convinced that higher education is experiencing massive disruption (Christensen, 2011) and that MOOCs are playing a role. The changing landscape of higher education is evidenced not only by disruption but by unbundling, sector scenarios emerging and differentiation becoming paramount. Critical factors in this ‘perfect storm’ include:

• demographics / expectations of students;
• the economic climate;
• technology;
• competition from the private sector;
• fees;
• availability and quality of Open Educational Resources (OER) and
• collaboration, alliances and mergers.

In the context of e-learning and digital culture, I think metaphors are a really useful way to familiarise the unfamiliar despite the connotations associated (Johnston, 2009).

The following thoughts are in response to these questions: ‘Is it possible for MOOCs to be ‘education of the very best sort’? Is this their mission? If not, what is?’

This needs to be prefaced by acknowledging the plethora of learning styles. People are individual and there is one a one size fits all option. That said, I consider that MOOCs have their place and I am sure that employers will soon begin to take notice of CVs with MOOC references, especially those with MOOC provider relationships in place such as Udacity and Coursera (Forbes, 2013).

Doubtless there are many flaws in the MOOC model, not least with issues around the financial model, academic integrity, assessment and accreditation. In an online environment, however, issues are more transparent than when wrapped up in the complexity of a classroom scenario. In an online environment evaluation and improvement is par for the course. It is often better to get something there quick than to get it right. MOOCs will improve as a result of their openness and evaluation and they will continue to destabilise traditional higher education. Nowhere will this have more impact than in emerging economies where a university education is seen as the luxury of the chosen few only. With an internet connection and a laptop/tablet, MOOCs can, and will, reach a massive population.


Christensen, C (2011). The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out. Jossey-Bass

Forbes (2013) MOOCs: A College Education Online? [accessed 05 February 2013]

Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: Metaphors of the internet 14(4). [accessed 05 February 2013]

#EDC MOOC Week 1 – Looking to the past


The theme this week is framed by digital culture and digital education often being described as either utopian (creating highly desirable social, educational, or cultural effects) or dystopian (creating extremely negative effects for society, education or culture).  Whether digital culture enables democratisation or is anti-democratic in nature is intertwined with this utopian/dystopian view (Hand, M. and B. Sandywell, B. 2002).  

There are many strongly utopian and dystopian arguments seeking to explain social, cultural or educational change in primarily technological terms.  These arguments are known as ‘technological determinism’.

Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that presumes that a society’s technology drives the development of its social structure and cultural values. This perspective says that technology is not a ‘tool’ – it actually drives change and creates society, not the other way around.

There is much literature concerning the concept and history of technological determinism.  One definition for technological determinism is: ‘seek[ing] to explain social and historical phenomena in terms of one principal or determining factor’ – technology (Chandler, D. 2002).  Chandler points out that as a way of understanding social phenomena, reductionism is often criticised as being overly simplistic. This is especially the case when determinists become ‘technocentric’ – ‘trying to account for almost everything in terms of technology’. He introduces concepts such as ‘reification’; ‘autonomy’; and ‘universalism’, as elements of technological determinism. Importantly for our purposes in this MOOC, he also indicates how we can identify when a determinist position is being taken, even if an author or speaker doesn’t make it explicit:

The assumptions of technological determinism can usually be easily in spotted frequent references to the ‘impact’ of technological ‘revolutions’ which ‘led to’ or ‘brought about’, ‘inevitable’, ‘far reaching’, ‘effects’, or ‘consequences’ or assertions about what ‘will be’ happening ‘sooner than we think’ ‘whether we like it or not’.


I watched five short videos this week each of which was thought provoking.

Bendito Machine is an animation that depicts a tribe worshipping technology that comes from ‘on high’.  There are parallels with Moses and Mount Sinai and interesting indications of the imperfections of technology being overlooked whilst rituals, obsession and fixation take over before the next technology emerges, again from ‘on high’ and the previous panacea is consigned to the scrap heap.  I was struck by metaphors of Apple products and the behaviours around their products and product launches in particular.

Inbox shows an Indian couple drawn together through the chance purchase of twin paper bags with magical properties that link them and allow artefacts to be morphed from one to the other. It is better than it sounds from my summary, honest.  The video is very gentle and shows how interaction with a person can be magical.  I found a slightly black side to it as it illustrates that technology allows us to think we know people and have emotional connections with them when in reality we know very little about them.

Thursday is another animation.  This was the least engaging for me but I enjoyed it’s theme around humans getting caught between technology and nature. It gives clarity around the impact of nature on society and it shows how humans work around technology.  I was left pondering whether technology works for humans or vice versa.

Newmedia was the shortest video with a rather sinister tone. It was verging on scary yet beautifully captivating and underpinned with a haunting soundtrack.  It led me to think about the end of world as we know it and a new world dominated by technology that has supremacy over humanity.

I really enjoyed the animation: The machine is us/ing us (Wesch, M. 2007) and its overview of Web 2.0 in less than five minutes.  It is clear that Web 2.0 is a re-defining of the meaning of how we use the web and all the predictions shown and hinted at in 2007 have in fact materialised.

Personal Reflection

On reflection I am left with the overwhelming sense that it is connection that gives purpose and meaning to life.  Digital technologies offer a plethora of opportunities to enable multiple and multifaceted connections to be made and nurtured.  Complexity plays a hand in determining how effective and useful ones connections are as the depth and meaning of digital connections are very hard to unravel.  For many, it is easier to talk about disconnection than connection, evidenced through shame and the fear of disconnection (Brown, B. 2010).

In the context of e-learning and digital culture, I have tried to consider whether ‘technological determinism’ is evident in each of the resources considered and in the general landscape of digital culture and e-learning.

I am still pondering whether and how each resource considered represents a relationship between utopian/dystopian-ism, technological determinism and a its stance towards issues of democracy, access and resistance.

I conclude, in an overtly cowardly manner, acknowledging my vulnerability in this arena: there is no black and white.  It is complicated…


Brown, B. (2010) The power of vulnerability, TedX Talks [WWW resource] [accessed 31 January 2013]

Chandler, D. (1995): ‘Technological or Media Determinism’ [WWW document] URL [accessed 31 January 2013]

Hand, M. and B. Sandywell. (2002) E-topia as cosmopolis or citadel: On the democratizing and de-democratizing logics of the internet, or, toward a critique of the new technological fetishism. Theory, Culture & Society 19, no. 1-2: 197-225. (pp.205-6)

Wesch,M. (2007) ‘The machine is us/ing us’, [WWW resource] [accessed 31 January 2013]

Elearning and Digital Cultures MOOC #EDCMOOC

This Coursera 5 week course is being run by the University of Edinburgh, starting on Jan 27.  About 38,000 people are registered on the course, apparently.

E-learning and Digital Cultures is divided into two blocks of content, and a final assessment.  In each two-week block we will consider a key theme emerging from popular and digital culture. First we will look at ‘utopias and dystopias’ and second, we will focus on ‘being human’ in a digital age. Throughout, we will be discussing how these broad themes relate to the ways in which we think about online education.

In the final week, we will ask you to create a digital artefact that depicts or represents any of the themes you have encountered on the course, and submit it for peer assessment.  By digital artefact, we mean something that is designed to be experienced digitally, on the web.  It should therefore contain a mixture of text, image, sound, video, or links, and be easy to access and view online.’

So far, I’m quite impressed with the interaction from the course team and activity of fellow students, mainly via Twitter, for me.

My only criticism is the range of communication channels proposed: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs and more.  I think it could be more powerful to focus on just one tool – I simply cannot keep up with all the social media options. That said, I’m surprised there isn’t a group in LinkedIn – wouldn’t that be more appropriate than facebook?

SEDA Summer School – Academic Development for the Digital University, July 9-11

This was my first SEDA event and participants were from a range of roles including learning technologists, librarians or former librarians, educational developers and me.  It is fascinating to have a glimpse of this ‘other world’, its issues, challenges and opportunities.

We are each working on our own project at the Summer School and I chose to explore the opportunities for taking BPP’s scholarship and producing outputs in a variety of digital formats that will engage with a wider audience and take advantage of emerging digital technologies where appropriate.

We started the summer school by considering in some detail the outcomes and outputs of our project and how we might measure these.  What are the indicators we would use to measure success of our project?  The overall outcome for me is that the ‘world’ will perceive BPP to be academically credible and worthy of university college status.  No more booing at awards events!

During the first afternoon and into the early evening we worked in small groups using action learning sets ( to discuss our projects.  Using this technique you have a set amount of time to talk about your project, then a set amount of time for the group to question you, you to reflect on the discussions and with one person observing the process and feeding back at the end.  There were lots of overlaps and similar themes running through our projects and it was a really enjoyable session facilitated by Carole Baume (Board Member of Regents College and former OU faculty).

Lawrie Phipps from JISC spoke about what is different about digital, playing devil’s advocate that there is nothing that different.  His presentation is on his blog ( although he spoke without slides. He also talked about MOOCs, whether there is anything different you can do with digital and about the visitor and residents ideas of Dave White ( and

Day two sessions were on digital identities, personal learning networks, open practice (by Lindsey Jordan from the University of the Arts and a session on workshop planning facilitated by David Baume.   A theme emerging for me is whether digital literacy is a helpful term or whether digital fluency or digitals skills (or meta-skills) would be more apt.  I also now realise that many workshops end without a clear understanding of what will happen as a result of them: the outcomes lack clarity.

I am left with a long list of things to explore but in particular I will ensure that I become familiar with TEDx, WordPress, open publishing and ISSNs in order that I can advise and support faculty.  I also will ensure that our videos and MP3s are published online.  I will become familiar with Slideshare, Digio and Linoit in case we could be using them to make life easier…

The best outcome of the summer school was that there are now 23 HEIs who understand BPP better.  Several folk told me it was good to find out first hand what we are about and they were surprised that their perceptions were previously misplaced.

Here’s the poster I developed to articulate my project: