Participation statistics of CSCL intro

June 20, 2011, [MD]

The course

During the past eight weeks, Monica Resendes and I facilitated a course called "Introduction to the field of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning" on P2PU. We are both interested in developing a research agenda around open courses, although this first course did not have an explicit research design or research questions. We approached it as a "baseline", to get an idea of how it is to facilitate courses on P2PU, and also to try out some ideas regarding design and organization.

I can certainly say that I learnt a huge amount from the course, both from the actual content of course (all the course participants were scarily brilliant, lot's of great insights in the blog posts and discussions!), and from the experience of facilitating the course in itself. Having been so close to the runnings of P2PU from the very beginning, and having worked closely with many course organizers, I was actually surprised at how much I learnt - but I did. Being a course organizer yourself is a whole different experience.

Part of it is the change of focus. Earlier, I thought of technical changes in terms of all the different courses, how much support it would need, how much in demand a feature was etc. But when you are a course organizer, you have laser-focus on your own course, and what it needs. And you've spent a lot of time developing the ideas, imagining a vision of how the course will go, etc. (Of course, it becomes interesting when this vision is not the same as the students' vision of how the course should run, which I will blog about later).

Lessons learnt

Anyway, last week the course ended, and now we are thinking about what we have learnt. We posted five simple questions for all the active participants:

and we've got some great answers in this thread, and Martin also replied on his blog.


Monica and I are planning to do more analysis of the participation patterns etc, and we are currently preparing a survey to send out to "followers", but I did a quick count of participation statistics for the people who signed up to "participate" in the course.

Of 13 participants (plus Monica and I, who also participated actively in all activities, but whom I have not included in these statistics), there were two whom we never heard from again after they were admitted to the course (one of whom has not done anything else on P2PU either, the single item in their activity feed is being admitted to the course). Apart from those two, a further five students "left us" during the first few weeks (one actually posted a message stating that she was not able to keep up due to other commitments, the others just "faded away").

That left us with six students who were fairly active, and committed to the very end. Together with the course organizers, the eight of us have become a pretty tight-knit community, and really enjoyed the ride together. We've participated in different ways, one was never able to make the Saturday group chats, whereas most of the others did, some have used the forums on P2PU actively, others preferred their own blog, one never blogged, but made every single group meeting, etc. But they were all fairly active almost every week of the course, from the start to the end.

I know this is a very simplified analysis, but it also correlates with what I experienced (although going back to look at the data was useful - some of the people who signed up but never showed up, I had kind of forgotten about, but I had also forgotten about some of the people that were active during week one or two, but then faded out).

I am really grateful that we were able to finish strong (almost everyone made it to an amazing meeting in week 7 with guest speaker Sandy McAuley, and again to the last meeting this weekend, and every single person of those eight has posted a reflection on the five questions we asked them). I really didn't want this course to slowly fade out. While we are all discussing interesting ways of carrying the course community forwards, including creating a sort of CSCL "book-club", it's valuable to have some kind of "closure" for our experience together these eight weeks.

However, I would of course have loved to see more of the about 50% of people who didn't "complete" the course engage more actively. I myself was absent from the course for almost two weeks due to travel and an eye infection, and experienced how hard it was to "reinsert myself" into the community. At that time, I wrote to several students who had not been active, and encouraged them in a non-judgmental way to "get back on the train". I received several positive responses to that message, but nobody actually did.

I've also written to all the participants who have yet to post reflections, and asked them to do so - even for people who were not active at all, I'd love to hear their thoughts. Or - if someone was reading a lot, but never posted, that's also very valuable information.

The future?

Any lessons for the future? Well, although I did make it quite explicit what kind of participation I expected of "core participants", there was no way of linking to this from the sign-up page, when the course was getting started, so I had no guarantee of students having read it.  (I really hope this will be fixed before I run another course). I'm also thinking that perhaps next time, I will make the sign-up question a bit "harder" - not in terms of difficulty, but in terms of engagement. For example, by asking students to read one article, and post some thoughts about it on their blog. That way, they have to do something a lot more active than just clicking "subscribe", and two sentences about their interest, and I'll already have their blog URLs.

On the other hand, there were 7 people who applied to the course and did not provide enough information. I asked them to do so, but they never responded. (It's possible that they did not receive the notification). Perhaps if I had let some of them in, they would have gotten interested, and would have participated more than some of the people who did get in... Given that participation beyond week 1 was such a strong measure of completion, perhaps we should do like undergraduate classes, which let almost anyone sign up for the first two weeks, and then kick people out who are not active enough.

Of course, I could just open enrolment to anyone - and indeed, maybe the active group had settled on being exactly the same. I still think there is a value to having a small group of people who make an explicit commitment to learning together over a certain period of time, but I certainly don't think it's the only way to do things.


Stian Håklev June 20, 2011 Toronto, Canada
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