Yesterday, a Coursera course was closed after the first week of delivery. 40,000 students were left somewhat confused. I posted a few thoughts on this on our xeducation site. The interesting stuff is in the comments and that’s what I’d like to emphasize here.
Sarah Pravitra states:
Wish they could at least have left the forums open for a limited period so we could have grabbed our group members, found a new tribe home elsewhere to keep talking and working together and been able to share [o]ur whereabouts with other groups.
I have never worked so hard in my life. Up till 4am every night. It wasn’t the course so much as the buzz from being with people in the same field with the same passion and need to know “stuff”.
I’m lucky, my group have a facebook page, we are collaborating with another refugee group on facebook and we are going to try building pur own mooc, learning by doing (:
The spark was lit and the fire still burning. But why did Coursera have to try and extinquish the networks and shared work we created by pulling the plug on the forums with no notice?
In a follow up comment she states:
But don’t ram home the message that the students are just an *inconvenient necessity* by grabbing your ball and walking off with it, while we were in mid game and didn’t know how to contact our teammates once the pitch went “pooof”.
Keith Devlin provides clarification on who likely made the decision to close the forum:
Having given a MOOC on Coursera last fall, and being right now in the throes of revising it to run again in March, I am pretty sure that the decision to cut off the course website in this case was the instructor’s. Coursera likely had no idea that was happening. Coursera provides the platform, but leaves it up to the instructor to design the course, to build the website, and to make it live or not. The instructor controls the site.
This incident is significant. MOOCs are nothing without learners. In this instance, it looks like the instructor decided to shut down the course. Faculty own the content, Coursera owns the platform. But neither should own the conversation. That belongs to the learners. The difficultly is that many learners interact in Coursera forums. Learners should own their own spaces. Sometimes, however, it’s easier to jump in and have a threaded conversation. In many courses, there is a better chance that you’ll get noticed or get a response. The grsshopper approach that we have used in our MOOCs (software developed by Stephen Downes) emphasizes distributed interaction and learner ownership of their contributions and their spaces of learning. It makes for a messier, and sometimes chaotic, course, but it mirrors the structure of the web: distributed, networked, individualized, personal.
I had a similar “screw you, we own this” experience with CCK08. After the course ended, the archives were up for about three years. Then, last year sometime, University of Manitoba (motto: the web is out of space so we have to delete archives even when they are regularly being accessed) deleted the course discussions. Fortunately, a majority of learners participated on their own blog, so they still have their own contributions. But it’s now messy and disconnected. While Moodle wasn’t the central node in CCK08, it was an important node. Some of the coherence of the course could be discovered just by reading through the blog posts.
UPDATE: Thanks to Roel in the comments. I will retract my snarky comments above. The CCK08 archives are hosted here at U of Manitoba.
The message that closing forums or shutting courses when they’ve already started is that it negates the value and role of the learner. MOOCs need learners. Even if the decision to close the forum was the instructors in the incident above, it is still a reputation concern for Coursera. Learners aren’t saying “instructor X killed the course”. They are saying “wow, this Coursera course was killed”. I’d like to know more about how course closing decisions are made and how quality is vetted early in course planning.
Unfortunately, loading things to YouTube or creating groups on Facebook just transfers ownership to someone else. Get a blog folks. Host it yourself. Download your archives.