My MOOC tech ecosystem

On my open course H817Open I use a mixture of technology, and thought it might be useful to describe these here, and also to indicate what I'd like to do beyond this.

The technologies are:

OpenLearn – This is where the bulk of the content is hosted and also forums. It is provided by the OU for OU content only, so not an open content system. It made sense to use this, but some recent changes have made the page rendering slow, and the design is suitable for a one-off visit to find an OER in that it prompts you to find other resources, it uses up too much screen real estate on this for a MOOC.

WordPress – this is the blog aggregator, based on the DS106 model. Students blog on their own spaces, but they register their blog with us. We then syndicate all the feeds using the FeedWordPress plug-in. I wanted them to use any blog they liked, so I tried using a Google Form that has a Martin Hawksey script to autodiscover the feed. This hasn't really worked as feeds are hidden all over the place and I've ended up adding most in by hand. We ask students to tag posts with #h817open and only posts with this tag are accepted (there is a setting in FeedWordPress for this), so if they blog about going shopping, that doesn't get pulled in. This has worked quite well. For next year I think I would ask learners to restrict their platforms to blogger, wordpress or tumblr as we can then write a bit of code that will automatically discover feeds in the known locations for these platforms.

Mailchimp – I send a weekly email outlining what is coming up and addressing any issues. This has been surprisingly important, and probably the key component. Mailchimp allows you to send emails to upto 2000 subscribers for free. I get a csv file from the openlearn platform and upload this, then create the weekly email. A lot of the identity and tone of the course arises from this email so it's worth investing some time in getting it right (I don't know that I have).

GMail – I set up a generic email account for the course to handle queries

Cloudworks and badges – we experimented with badges and the Cloudworks system has a very neat tool for creating a badge. However it's a bit fiddly in that you have to create a cloudworks id and then a mozilla one.

Blackboard Collaborate – I deliberately haven't scheduled many synchronous events as I wanted a more open course in terms of timings, but I did get George Siemens to give a talk and we have a discussion and review session planned. The OU has signed a contract with Blackboard so we went with this for easiness, but I think I would explore Google Hangouts next year.

Twitter – I ask people to use the #h817open hashtag, but I have to say Twitter has proven to be less significant, or less active, than I expected. I would probably make a specific activity around this next year to encourage use early on.

Google Plus – I didn't create a specific Google Plus community, but learners created one immediately and it has proven to be lively, interesting and supportive. It has beaten twitter as the forum of choice.

Blogs – as I mentioned above, most student activity is undertaken on their own blogs. They can use any platform they like (although note my reservations about this for next year). I've been trying to promote a 'collaboration-lite' model whereby you can work largely independently, but through the aggregator (or Google Plus) you can connect and share as much as you like. I think this has worked for some learners but not others.

So that is my collection of tools – a mixture of in-house and out-there technologies. I met Philipp Schmidt last week and at the same time had a twitter conversation with Martin Hawksey which has set me thinking. What I would like is an open course DIY toolkit. You come along, select which functions you want and it recommends a bunch of open technologies (although not necessarily open source) with examples of where they've been used, and hey presto, you roll your own MOOC. I may work on this soon, but if anyone wants to have a crack, let me know.

6 Comments

  1. Hi Martin, I’m also surprised that Twitter hasn’t been as integral to the MOOC experience, but I agree the Google group is proving to be a good space for the more collaboratively minded and provides the social presence element. I think your email is working well and I am glad it is not daily. (Sometimes, the daily email on Change MOOC caused periodic anxiety and guilt about not having done much).
    Sukaina Walji, H817open

  2. Even just sharing posts like this is a part of the anti xMCOC strategy (the second letter is not a typo, they are not open and should stop perverting the word).
    I’m thinking feed gathering may never be fully automated. The simplest would be requiring/asking for a dedicated blog for a class like this, as the autodiscovery is most doable. Or maybe the signup form has an advanced option, that allows people to enter feedURLs if they know what they are doing. In ETMOOC I saw everything from gibberish entered into the form, to urls to static pages, to typos (no : in the url) — of course some of the human error can be detected by running a validation for a URL, but that’s not the point.
    I processed something over 600 form submissions to register the 520 blogs to http://etmooc.org/hub it was tedious but I was able to create some spreadsheet shortcuts.
    But there is a side benefit in being a human and not a script- I would usually check the blogs quickly to verify the links (a good 10% of blogger ones submitted were set to private, and a few sleaze bags tried so sneak in unrelated sites) — but what this di was give me, as someone involved in helping run the course, an overview, although brief, of what the blogs looked like and often insights into the individual. When we automate, we often lose things like that in pursuit of efficiency.
    I can see perhaps a system that might allow people to share the same kind of information you provided into a resource database. Let’s put Martin on it 😉

  3. I haven’t got as far as a recipe but your post inspired me to publish the ocTEL ingredients card http://mashe.hawksey.info/2013/04/octel-proudly-powered-by/
    As I indicate in the post because I can fumble some code together the trap I’ve fallen in is installing plugins that almost do the job then spending hours trying to figure out how to hook it in with the general flow.
    For other feedwordpress users another useful database would be the reverse lookup eg have some of your participants started using a Google+ community? Get the RSS feed using the Feed+ app in the chrome store, or has a mendeley group been created (eg http://www.mendeley.com/groups/3241271/octel/)? Add /feed/ to the url 😉
    Still loads more to do in this area … which is nice

  4. As someone who has become a bit Twitter-addicted after my experience with ETMOOC, I, too, am somewhat surprised but more saddened that Twitter isn’t really doing much in #h817open. One thing that might have galvanized the Twitter community in ETMOOC was weekly Twitter chats, moderated, with specific topics each week. I really got to know people that way, and found quite a few people to follow (and followers too). I miss those very much, and wished there had been some in #h817open. Just a thought for the future, though it does mean adding in more synchronous elements. That’s something else I’m missing in #h817open–synchronous elements help me feel more connected to the community, when, e.g., Blackboard sessions allow chats on the side.
    Thanks for the course, though, which is otherwise very helpful!

  5. Thanks for summarizing the technologies used in this mooc. I like the idea that all students put their work on their own blogs in the mooc. When I was teaching an online course a few years back I had my students create blogs and use that to submit their coursework with their reflections. It worked really well. It also made it really easy for grading of course I had much fewer students.
    I do like the idea of “guest speakers” for adding a synchronous element to online learning. I used that idea too for extending the learning and to expose the students another point of view. Recording it makes it great for those who can’t be there because of work or time zone incapability.
    Even though I have had to take a break for a while during the course due to career related travels & ordinary life becoming complicated I have been able to keep informed with the newsletter and the google + community. I really rather the google + community than the forum, but than is my personal preference. Also have been wondering WHY more people weren’t using Twitter, but I do like Christina’s idea of using a twitter chat to get them into Twitter early on- and people can always read the twitter transcript afterwards if interested.
    I do have to say I am really impressed with how smoothly the course has run and all those involved are doing a great job. Thanks!

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