MOOC's Anatomy. Microblogging as the MOOC's Control Center


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Paper for the 9th eLearning and Software for Education Conference - eLSE 2013 - organized by the Romanian Advanced Distributed Learning Association in Bucharest, April 25th - 26th, 2013.

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MOOC's Anatomy. Microblogging as the MOOC's Control Center

  1. 1. The 9th International Scientific Conference eLearning and software for Education Bucharest, April 25-26, 2013MOOCS ANATOMY: MICROBLOGGING AS THE MOOCS CONTROL CENTER Carmen Holotescu Politehnica University, Department of Computer Science, 2 Bd. V. Pârvan, 300223 Timi șoara, Romania Gabriela Grosseck West University of Timișoara, 4 Bd. V. Pârvan, 300223 Timișoara, Romania Vladimir Crețu Politehnica University, Department of Computer Science, 2 Bd. V. Pârvan, 300223 Timi șoara, Romania Abstract: During the last five years, MOOC, the acronym for “Massive Open Online Courses”, has become a trend that evolved at an unprecedented pace, accelerated by high profile entrants like top ranked universities and open platforms. The paper explores the most important MOOC projects, with a particular emphasizes on dimensions such as: social media and microblogging platforms for content distribution, facilitators activities, participants interactions, and relations with mobile learning and Open Educational Resources (OERs). The authors also present the design framework of the first Romanian MOOC (roMOOC), which will be run in the summer of 2013, for teachers and practitioners from universities and schools. The roMOOC topics are related to social media and OER integration in the teaching and learning process, while the control center for connecting the distributed participants, facilitators/experts, content and interactions will be, a Romanian educational microblogging platform. Keywords: MOOC, microblogging, social media, higher education I. INTRODUCTION The term MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) was coined by Downes [5] and Siemens[24], who facilitated the first such online course with hundreds of participants distributedgeographically, while the content, communication and collaboration were hosted by a large typologyof social media platforms. The central topic of the course was “Connectivism and ConnectiveKnowledge” – CCK08 [6], [5]. In 2012, which can be considered the year of MOOC, this trend has evolved at anunprecedented pace, accelerated by high profile entrants like top ranked universities and openplatforms. The three leading providers are: Coursera (Stanford University, 33 academic partners, for-profit), Udacity (Stanford roots / no university affiliation / for profit) and edX (M.I.T., Harvard;University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas, non-profit) [6]. MOOC is also listed in the Higher Education Edition of NMC Horizon Project 2013, with atime to adoption of one year or less, even if “challenges remain to be resolved in supporting learningat scale” [20]. This year the portal FutureLearn, the first initiative launched outside of USA [8], is expectedto open a MOOC platform, which is supported by Open University and other UK universities, and alsoby the British Council and the BBC: "students will have opportunities to connect beyond the
  2. 2. immediate course to a world of open educational resources, including The Open University’sOpenLearn” ( 1.1 MOOC IN HIGHER EDUCATION According to [25], MOOC brings a new “model for delivering learning content online tovirtually any person - and as many of them - who wants to take the course” having as centralcharacteristics the learner-centered, open access and scalability approach. Thus, in the online space,the global appetite for global learning becomes a powerful force, with a growing number ofuniversities that try to redefine the idea of education through MOOC [19], [8]. Originally conceived as ICT interactive "events", in 2012 MOOCs make their first appearanceas a teaching activity. Surprisingly, the demand for courses became enormous and growing. Thisapproach allows higher education institutions to offer online courses to millions of students andteachers to have audiences of tens and even hundreds of thousands. Currently courses cover a widerange of disciplines, from Computer Science, Physics or Mathematics to Medicine, Humanities andSocial Sciences [8]. The main reason for supporting MOOCs by academic community lies precisely in thispossibility - to provide access to a high class education at which only a limited number of individualshave had access until now. Even though the courses are not equivalent with those offered byuniversities, they are similarly taught by experienced teachers from the best universities in the worldand the exams are in front of the computer. However MOOC is not „an educational panacea” [1], it is a supplement for traditional courses/ a recipe for educational reform which “has the potential to become a global higher education gamechanger” [3]. II. EXPLORING NOTABLE MOOC PROJECTS. CLASSIFICATION In order to understand the challenges in prototyping a successful MOOC and in organizing thefirst Romanian MOOC (roMOOC), we have explored and evaluated some representative projects,classified by literature in the following categories: a) Network-based: cMOOC – Constructivist MOOC. The explored courses - CCK08, CCK09, CCK11, mobiMOOC, etMOOC and eduMOOC - are flexible, with the content co-created, shared and discussed by participants on a large area of social media platforms. “They are based on the explicit principles of connectivism (autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity) and on the activities of aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward the resources and learning.” [23]; b) Content-based: xMOOC – "x" represents "extension", "experimental" or "multiplied" up. The explored courses – on the platforms MITx, edX, Coursera, Udacity - are usually offered by universities or their spin-offs and are structured around fixed content and assessment [17]. c) Task-based: pMOOC – project-based or task-based MOOC is a new category represented by two courses that were explored: OLDS-MOOC, that "combines a constructivist pedagogical orientation with a practical and authentic outcome" [21] and DS106 (, designed as a storytelling workshop, in which the participants had to create digital stories. Based on literature and courses reviews and on direct participation in a few courses (CCK08,etMOOC, HTML5 Game Development on Udacity), our study compares a number of 14characteristics of MOOCs: institution that offers the course, course advertising / mode of subscription,topics, central platform for content/activities/interaction, social media platforms, microblogging usage,connection with OER, mobile learning features, duration, facilitators/guest lectures, number ofparticipants/completion rate, facilitation for sense of community/ learning community nurture/pedagogy, feedback/assessment and certification. Due to the limited space of this paper, only one representative course from each category willbe described here, while the entire study is presented as a spicynodes mindmap at
  3. 3. a) Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK08), the cMOOC that started the MOOC movement, was organized by the Learning Technologies Centre and Extended Education at the University of Manitoba for 12 weeks, starting with September 9, 2008. It had as topics connectivism, openess and new roles of teachers [4]. The facilitators were George Siemens and Stephen Downes, while other very well known experts such as Terry Anderson, Alec Couros, Howard Rheingold and Nancy White acted as guest lectures. The central platform was CCK08 blog/wiki, with readings, resources, activities and assignments, each course topic being presented in an audio/video clip or document. Each day the participants received a newsletter, this contributing to the community nurturing and motivation. The central wiki was translated by participants in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Hungarian and Chinese. Meanwhile a lot of social media platforms were used, suggested by facilitators or by participants: Elluminate for guest lectures, Pageflakes aggregated participants contributions tagged cck08 on personal blogs, Delicious, Flickr and Slideshare, Moodle forums used for users interactions, Twitter, Facebook (CCK08 group), seesmic for video messages sent by participants, uStream, Google Maps with participants locations, Second Life, Google Groups, Twine, Wordle, Google Reader and Yahoo pipes for content aggregation, etc. Most of the course resources were CC materials and little OERs (resources on different social networks) [27]. The microblogging technology was used for participants interaction, but not in an extended way: the central Twitter account for this course @cck08 has 44 tweets and 146 followers, and the participants sent approx. 600 tweets tagged #cck08. 25 students from University of Manitoba were for credit participants and were assessed by the facilitators for activities such as: weekly reflections on blogs, participation in Moodle forums and commenting on blogs by peer learners in the course, three short reflective papers (500-750 words), also a final project as a video, podcast or presentation addressing issues like: "What is the quality of my learning networks - diversity, depth? How connected am I? How has this course influence my view of the process of learning?" etc. There were also 2200 external/informal participants “who self-organize their participation according to learning goals, prior knowledge and skills, and common interests" [18]. However, only 84% of the formal participants and 6% of the informal participants completed the course [7]. “It is not the first large course offered on the Internet. What makes this course unique is the combination of these elements: its large size, its openness, and its for-credit status. It is the first course explicitly designed according to the principles of connectivism” [5]. CCK08 was offered again by the same facilitators as CCK09 and CCK11, with a refreshed vision on how to better involve and motivate the participants, and as PLENK2010 (Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge) in a larger facilitation team.b) The first xMOOC was “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence”, with the first run on the online space at, organized in partnership with Stanford Engineering, during October 10 to December 18, 2011. The course was taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, who considered it “a bold experiment in distributed education”. The curriculum of the Stanfords introductory Artificial Intelligence course, also similar materials, assignments and exams were used. There were 160,000 registered participants from over 190 countries. Based on automatically-graded assignments a percentage of 16% completed all the tasks. The participants informally shared on Twitter (central account @StanfordAIClass with 200 tweets) and on the Stanford AI Class Google group. The video lectures were published on youtube (, being translated by volunteers in 40 languages. The course was then moved on Udacity, a for profit platform/organization offering free courses in Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science, for “democratizing education”. Only for-credit courses are paid and they are run together with San Jose State University. The business model considers also the partnership with Pearson VUE for testing centers and a “job placement program” (
  4. 4. c) The course that defines the pMOOC category, “Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum” (OLDS-MOOC), was recently run for 9 weeks by JISC, starting with January 10, 2013 and had as topic “Curriculum design with OERs”. Professor Gráinne Conole and a group of UK professors/experts facilitated this free course for 1200 registered participants, the content and interaction being hosted by Google groups for announcements and open discussions, Google hangouts for user guide, Project blog, Design Cloudscape in Cloudworks, YouTube, Slideshare, Twitter, Facebook,, collection and Google Calendar for Study planner. The central Twitter account is @oldsmooc, with 900 tweets and over 220 followers. The participants had to design a learning activity or curricular resource. It is worthy to mention the innovative OLDS MOOC Badge Strategy for MOOC Badging and Learning Arc ( there were 9 types of badges displayed on the Cloudworks profile, that attest the participation level (the badges also support Mozilla Open Badges) [2]. III. AUTHORS’ EXPERIENCE IN RUNNING OPEN ONLINE COURSES (OOC) In this section we present our experience in implementing and facilitating online / blendedcourses with tens / hundreds of participants geographically distributed, and with content andinteractions hosted by different social media platforms: • OOC – open online courses: “Web2.0 and OER in Education” [13] and “Using Blogs and RSS in Education” [11, 14] were hosted by Moodle and Timsoft virtual environments. The courses were free and more than 100 teachers, Master and PhD students, and trainers interested in the courses topics have participated. The first course started with a f2f meeting, while the second one was fully online. The materials were published on the central platform, being enlarged with little OERs published on Youtube, Slideshare, Scribd and on facilitators blogs. Also the interaction was spread across the facilitators/participants blogs and platforms where collaborative projects were created: Delicious collections, wikis, Google Map mash-ups, Flickr sets, DotSub translated clips, etc. The participants received a participation certificate granted by the National/European projects which organized the courses. The characteristic of MOOC that these courses missed is “Massive”, even if the participants were numerous (100), more than is recommended for an ordinary online course (30-40). • m3OOC – mobile multimedia microblogging Open Online Courses: During the last 5 years the authors facilitated an important number of formal and informal courses on the microblogging platform, some with more than 200 participants, with multimedia content collaboratively created on different social media platforms, accessed using mobile devices and with interactions including external learners and experts [12]. The most close to MOOC was the learning Cirip group ( using the method “Learning from the stream” [9], in which tens of users, some being students formally enrolled in university courses and others being teachers/practitioners, have learned about social media and Personal Learning Environments (PLE) using a constructivist approach. They had a set of collaborative activities based on the observation and interaction with the “Masive” content stream produced by hundreds of internauts interested about/participating in the first PLE Conference in Barcelona (2010). The PLE microblogging group was the center of interaction and of aggregation for the content stream distributed on Twitter, blogs and other social media platforms. This learning group has the “Massive” dimension for the content and for the number of creators, but not for the participants who formally interacted with this stream.
  5. 5. IV. LESSONS LEARNED TOWARDS DESIGNING A SUCCESSFULL MOOC We present below some advantages to be considered for setting up an academic roMOOCtemplate (it is a simple overview, not an exhaustive list, based on the lessons learned from the MOOCstudy and from our previous open online courses): • fading away the traditional educational barrier, eliminating not only the compulsory presence in the classroom, but also unsustainable costs • developing/improving digital skills • always connected to real-life situations • experiencing a more fundamental form of self–education and open-education • access to latest technology: social media platforms, connection with OERs, mobile learning facilities, etc. • learning in activities such as homeworks, completing online surveys, writing mini-essays, give and receive feedback to and from other course participants • it is not boring (in most cases) • learning from the stream: there are thousands of colleagues/practitioners/experts from all over the world to interact with • there are some forms of assessment/certification (the credits / certificates could be given by the higher education institution that run the course, but also by the participants’ own institutions which can assess the activities; certification could take the form of badges or skill endorsements on LinkedIn/Skillpages) • have a certain learning pace • duration: definite start and end date with the same activities proposed to all participants, "carrousel" MOOCs (users can "get on, get off" at any point) or "Mini-MOOCs" (2-week intensive courses). The authors conclude also that for designing a MOOC, the following possible limits should beconsidered: • eliminating the confusion with distance education: universities that already have implemented this model, use information technology as a support for education, and not as an alternative • for MOOC facilitators, prior experience in designing and running online courses is needed • a strategy for assessment to be implemented: auto grading, peer grading or some combinations [15]. The grading system is in fact one of the most interesting aspects of MOOCs in which each student is evaluated by peers. But what happens if those who evaluate are not sufficiently prepared? Or are too demanding? Or simply do not allocate enough time for this activity? • a strategy for credit points to be implemented • due to a huge audience, the teachers cannot answer to individual student’s questions, so new methods to motivate participation and to consolidate the learning community are needed • usually such courses attract thousands of participants because the facilitators/organizers are very well known experts and/or because the course is offered by a high ranked university. As [16] noted: "sustained and personal engagement on the part of tutors with course participants is impossible in such a context, and Coursera themselves recommend an approach that borders on course automation. Within this scenario, the persona of the course tutor can become more that of a celebrity with an almost talismanic status than a present, real teacher." • the biggest challenge is to make students feel they have a direct relationship with the teacher, fact which is almost impossible, due to the huge number of students
  6. 6. • how to prevent cheating / plagiarism [22] and how to respect copyright and intellectual property [26]? • ethnocentrism, the imperialism of American lectures [22] • another major disadvantage is that, many times, students are not prepared for didactical activities at university level or are not enough motivated. Some courses may be the subject of prior accumulation of knowledge and theoretical concepts. For Coursera MOOCs "the completion rates can approach 20%, although most MOOCs have completion rates of less than 10%." [15] [10]. What factors might affect the completion rate? o Assessment Type: [15] concludes that the completion rates of courses which use automatic grading range (4.6-19.2%) is greater than the one with peer grading (0.7-10.7%). o Duration: "there does not appear to be a negative correlation between course length and completion rate, which is interesting as you might expect fewer students to keep going and complete longer courses" [15] • finally, there is something paradoxically conservatory about most of the MOOCs: the need to register, online tests, digital documents and institutional notices. V. roMOOC DESIGN The authors plan to run roMOOC - the first Romanian MOOC – this summer, with topicsrelated to social media and OER integration in the teaching and learning process. The course will bealso the first having as central space a microblogging platform: a Cirip public group; the course will bea m3MOOC (mobile multimedia microblogging Massive Open Online Course), an extension of them3OOCs we have facilitated for teachers and students. The expected number of teachers, trainers, and Master and PhD student expected to register is500, the advertising will be realized on Cirip, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and on academicgroups and mailing lists. The registration will be open/free, the specific group could be joined usingthe Cirip or Twitter account or just sending an SMS with the name of the group. In perspective, if suchcourses will be offered in partnership with universities, the payment of for credit courses could berealized by SMS, a feature already offered by Cirip. The multimedia materials will be published by the facilitators/guest lectures in the specificsection of the Cirip group, and will be enlarged with OER distributed on the numerous social networksconnected with the microblogging platform [9]. The core part of the course will be the multimediamessages posted by participants/facilitators in the group; the group will aggregate also theparticipants interactions/ (collaborative) content spread across blogs, Twitter and other platforms,contributing to the consolidation of participants portfolios on Cirip. The content/interaction could becreated/monitored using mobile devices, the participation will be possible anywhere, anytime. A duration of 3-4 weeks is envisioned for this course in which mainly collaborative activitieswill be planned. Some tips of facilitation will be: prompt and positive feedback from facilitators fortechnical issues and for the most interesting/poor activities, news sent by facilitators by e-mail/SMS,encourage participants to give feedback to at least one colleague for each activity. The course will be a task-based MOOC, in the sense that the activities have as aim to build astrategy for improving the own courses taught by participants; each participant will publish thelearning scenario as a Cirip Learning Design object. A badge system will be used for different levels of completion, determined using the specificassessment features of Cirip. The participants who will complete all tasks will receive a participationcertificate. The roMOOC experiment will give us the possibility to evaluate issues related to: • a better understanding of the MOOC phenomenon and opportunities by teachers and decision/policy makers • do the existing Cirip features support a MOOC or other features are needed to be implemented
  7. 7. • how to improve a MOOC facilitation • how to assess the quality of such a course • the opportunity to organize future MOOCs in partnership with universities/training companies • possible MOOC accreditation at national level • possible business models, etc. VI. CONCLUSIONS The MOOC movement is an emerging theme of reflections, debates and stategies for theeducational systems worlwide. This paper and roMOOC, also articles in Romanian media are signsthat solutions should be searched by the Romanian educational actors too. Will MOOCs reshape the higher and continous education? Which are the new roles ofteachers? Which is the new mission of universities? In particular, could be a microblogging platform a performant center to control/support avaluable MOOC? In this paper we studied some successful MOOC formats and presented the design of a futureproject-based MOOC, for which microblogging will be the central technology. Many questions and aspects remain open and need to be addressed in future research. References[1] Creed-Dikeogu, G. & Clark, C. 2013. Are You MOOC-ing Yet? A Review for Academic Libraries. Kansas Library Association College And University Libraries Section Proceedings, 3, 9-13. doi:10.4148/culs.v1i0.1830.[2] Cross, S. & Galley, R. 2013. The OLDS MOOC Evaluation Plan and an Experiment in Recognising Learning using Badges. Presentation at[3] Dennis, M. 2012. The impact of MOOCs in Higher Education, College and University, v88 n2 pp. 24-30.[4] Downes, S. 2012. Connectivism and Connective Knowledge. Ebook at[5] Downes, S. 2008. Places to go: Connectivism & Connective Knowledge. Innovate 5 (1). (accessed April 04, 2013).[6] Downes, S. et al. 2011. The MOOC Guide. Online at[7] Fini, A. 2009. The Technological Dimension of a Massive Open Online Course: The Case of the CCK08 Course Tools. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 10(5).[8] Gaebel, M. 2013. MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses, EUA occasional papers, European University Association, Brussels,[9] Grosseck, G., & Holotescu, C. (2010). Learning from the Stream. An" M" Case Study: M for microblogging, m (y)-conference/m (y)-event, and micro/m (y)-learning. ICVL 2010, The 5th International Conference on Virtual Learning, Available online at[10] Hill, P. 2013. The Most Thorough Summary (to date) of MOOC Completion Rates. E-Literate Blog note at[11] Holotescu, C., & Grosseck, G. (2007). RSS and Blogs in Education, OBELFA online course.[12] Holotescu, C., & Grosseck, G. (2009). Using microblogging to deliver online courses. Case-study: Cirip. ro. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, New Trends and Issues in Educational Sciences, Edited by Huseyin Uzunboylu and Nadire Cavus, 91(1), pp. 495-501, Elsevier.[13] Holotescu, C., & Tella, S. (2007). Web2.0 and OER in education, KEP blended course. Knowledge Economy Project "Development of Education Policy Concerning the Integration of Information Technology and Communications in the Pre-University Romanian Education System".[14] Holotescu, C., Karagianni, C.N., Papadakis, S., Grosseck, G. 2007. A Methodology For Developing Blended Courses Integrated With Web 2.0 Technologies, 8th European Conference E-COMM-LINE 2007, 20-22 sept., IPA Publishing House Bucureşti.[15] Jordan, K. 2013. Synthesising MOOC completion rates. MoocMoocher Blog note at
  8. 8. [16] Knox, J. et al. 2012. MOOC Pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera. ALT Online Newsletter, 28(08.08),[17] McAndrew, P., & Jones, A. 2012. Editorial: Massive Open Online Courses, a perspective paper by Sir John Daniel. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 3.[18] McAuley, A., Stewart, B., Siemens, G. & Cormier, D. 2010. The MOOC model for digital practice. In SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Grant on the Digital Economy. Retrieved from content/uploads/2011/07/MOOC_Final.pdf.[19] Mehlenbacher, B. 2012. Massive open online courses (MOOCs): educational innovation or threat to higher education? In Proceedings of the Workshop on Open Source and Design of Communication (OSDOC 12). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 99-99.[20] NMC Horizon Project Short List: 2013 Higher Education Edition. 2013. New Media Consortium. Online at[21] Open Learning Design Studios MOOC - OLDS. 2012. pMOOC pedagogical pattern. Blog note at[22] Porter, J. E. 2013. MOOCs, Courses and the Question of Faculty and Student Copyrights. The CCCC-IP Annual: Top Intellectual Property Developments of 2012, 2.[23] Rodriguez, C. O. 2012. MOOCs and the AI-Stanford like Courses: Two Successful and Distinct Course Formats for Massive Open Online Courses. EURODL European Journal of Open, Distance and E-learning.[24] Siemens, G. 2010. Managing and Learning in MOOCs (massive open online courses). Online at[25] Thompson, K. 2011. 7 Things You Should Know about MOOCs. Educause Learning Initiative. Retrieved from[26] Watters, A. 2012. Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2012: MOOCs. Online at[27] Weller, M. 2010. Big and Little OER. In Open Ed 2010 Proceedings. Barcelona: UOC, OU, BYU.