Interview with a CSCL Intro follower/lurker

August 4, 2011, [MD]

What is a follower?

P2PU courses have always been entirely transparent, even without logging in, a visitor would be able to see not only the course outline and the links to all the freely accessible course resources (often linked from other websites), but also all the interactions and discussions between the course members.

On the new P2PU platform, we decided to formally enable people to "follow" courses. This would function similar to Twitter, where you can follow anyone without needing their permission (different from Facebook, where friending is reciprocal), and receive their updates.

Thus, when we launched our course called "Introduction to Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning" on P2PU this spring, we explicitly offered two different modes of participation. You could apply to be a core member, and be expected to do the readings every week, post on your own blog and participate in the weekly meetings. I have blogged about the participation statistics of the core members earlier.

How did following work in our course?

However, many people might be interested in the course topic, yet not have enough time (or inclination) to commit to being an active member. These people could "follow" the course. People added themselves as followers throughout the course, and currently we have about 50 people signed up. We were very curious about their experience of the course. Our course launched at the same time as the new platform, so it is natural to assume that some of the followers were just trying out new functionality. Others might have used it as an internal bookmark, reminding themselves to go back in the future. Did anyone actually actively follow along and get something meaningful out of the course?

(Part of the problem with evaluating this, is that the website was under rapid development, and a lot of new functionality was added as the course was running. Initially, followers did not receive any e-mail updates. About mid-ways, they began receiving updates that course organizers marked as "important" (typically the bi-weekly updates). In the future, followers will probably have the same choices of e-mail notifications as course participants, which might significantly change how they interact with courses they follow).

Survey of followers

We had hoped to see our course "amplified" through our followers, with retweets and blogs about topics they found interesting. There was, however, very little evidence of this. There was some retweeting and mentioning in blogs, but this was mainly along existing individual social networks. Thus, hearing nothing from the followers, it was hard to guess whether they were getting anything out of the course. So we decided to design a simple survey (see the questions we asked).

We got about 10 answers, which was more than I had hoped for, given that the followers were by definition not very active (some of them might even have left the P2PU platform altogether). Some said they had signed up, but never had time to look, some were planning to go back and review the material later, and some said they had popped in once in a while, and gotten a bit out of it. But one person stood out, professing a lot of enthusiasm, and answering "10", where we asked students to rate how much they'd learnt from 1-10. I was very intrigued and e-mailed him, to see if I could ask him some more questions. He gracefully agreed to let me do a short e-mail interview, and post it here.

This is interesting not only to get a novel perspective on "following", which is a rather new feature on the P2PU website, but also because the subject of "lurking" has caused quite a bit of debate in the MOOCosphere (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 for a random selection).

One of the things that especially struck me by his answers was how the concept of "eight weeks" for the course has little meaning to a follower. I do believe that having a cohort (like Mike Caulfield talks about) moving through a set learning trajectory together can be very powerful, but that doesn't mean that the course materials (the initial ones, and the generated discussion) is worthless once the course is "over"... And one of the things I am thinking about right now, is to how to better present all the great resources that were generated during the course to new visitors - currently you need to dig around a bit to find the gems.


Who are you? Where do you live, what do you do?

****My name is Daniel Marcell Góngora Flores, I live in La Paz, Bolivia, I am an Electronics Engineering student at Universidad Mayor de San Andrés.

Currently, I am working on my undergraduate thesis project, a Virtual Control Systems Laboratory based on the Furuta pendulum for experimentation under the Computer Supported Collaborative Learning approach.

How did you first hear about P2PU, how long have you been involved, what has your experience been, have you taken any other courses, etc.

Since I found MIT’s OpenCourseWare, I started looking for open educational resources in order to be a competitive student today and a competitive professional tomorrow.

I remember reading a blog post about a “School of Webcraft” that somehow was related to Mozilla. That was enough for me to look for more information, and that is how I arrived at the P2PU web site.

I first took a course called “Algoritmos y estructuras de datos”(Algorithms and Data Structures). I quited after 4 or 5 weeks. Then, I took a course called “Getting started with Scilab”, I did not quit this time just because I couldn’t find a way to do it. Why I quit? Despite the course organizers effort, I was not really comfortable with the teacher-student method and I didn’t have much time to do the tasks due to work in the first course (there was not a “follower” type of student at that time), in the second one I felt that I was reading another Scilab tutorial, nothing new, no activities to encourage discussion nor active participation.

I was not happy with the courses, but how to organize a course so that the participants become real participants and not only receivers?

How did you hear about the CSCL course

With the arrival of the new P2PU web site, I started browsing the courses almost every week. One day I found a course called “Introduction to the field of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning”. At that time, I didn’t knew anything about CSCL. Nevertheless, it being such an active course, I decided to follow it.

What made you interested?

Once I started reading the course material, I realized that CSCL was about learning through social interaction. Reading about that simple idea was such an eye opening experience to me, because I was used to learning by myself. Thanks to the Open Educational Resources, I was able to fill the spaces and connect the dots in my head without needing a teacher neither a partner. Now, it seems there is another way, a very interesting one.

Why did you decide to follow the course instead of participating

So, participating is the way to go. Being an active participant is how I will learn more. However, there was a problem: my English level. I am still building my English skills, the language barrier was stopping me from participating in this course because I was not able to participate in the chat rooms nor to write weekly blog posts in English, Spanish being my mother tongue. That’s why I became a peripheral learner.

What did you expect when you chose to follow the course - what did you think it meant?

I did not expect to find the topic of my undergraduate thesis project by just following the course, but I did (at least in some sense). Given that this was the first time I “heard” this term, my very first reaction was to look for CSCL in Wikipedia to try to understand what was this about.

How was your experience of following the course? During the eight weeks, what was your involvement - what part of the material or conversation did you look at, how much time did you spend, what was useful or interesting to you?

Being a follower, a peripheral learner, to talk about “the eight weeks” doesn’t make much sense because I am/was free to read the material (papers, wiki entries, blog posts, chat logs, etc.) at my own pace, whenever I wanted to. In fact, I’m still reading the material from week 4.

This is important to me because I am a engineering student, and even if I had read some papers related to education, I don’t have the background necessary in some cases to understand the material.

I could not say exactly how many hours I spend reading the course materials. However, the amount of time I spend reading the material is increasing significantly every week.

That being said, I always find it interesting reading wiki entries because of the references. Also, I found the blog posts and the chat logs very valuable because reading those made me feel part of the group, a group of people hungry for knowledge. I must admit that I’m a little bit jealous, because for me it’s hard to find people willing to learn and share their opinions in my “environment”. I think that this is a direct consequence of the commercialization of education here in Bolivia. A large number of friends of mine, students and professionals, think that what really matters is to have a really big CV filled with “n’importe quoi” instead of looking for opportunities to grow up. Filling the wallet is their final goal.

To me, the only way to improve education in Bolivia is applying collaborative learning and using open educational resources. Specially when the University teachers in particular and the educational institutions in general are not committed with this important role.

Stian Håklev August 4, 2011 Toronto, Canada
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