Many Will Register, Few Will Complete

robot inventing answers
Image by chrisjtse. CC:BY:ND

MLibrary Study Group : Coursera E-learning and Digital Cultures

It probably went pretty much as we would have predicted.  A dozen Library staff showed up for our first study group in late January and, six weeks later, exactly two of us turned in the final course project.  That mirrors the 10% completion rate posted by the major MOOCs last year (Check out researcher Katy Jordan's interactive data visualization).

Coursera's "E-learning and Digital Cultures" class was offered by the University of Edinburgh, and was promoted as an exploration on "how digital cultures intersect with learning cultures online, and how our ideas about online education are shaped through “narratives”, or big stories, about the relationship between people and technology."  It sounded like a great topic for the Instructor College, and the Steering Committee decided to organize an in-person study group for anyone interested in following or enrolling in the class.  Our plan was to meet at least three times over the course of the five-week course. Our initial face-to-face meeting included participants with a variety of library affiliations.  North, medical, and central campus were all represented, as were public services and tech services.  About half were mostly just curious -- about the topic of the course;  about others' experiences and expectations;  about whether and how we might study together with such divergent goals for participation.  In that regard, I hope our first meeting was a success for all.

The course was designed with just one creative final project, and that wasn't due until the last week of class.  Between Week 1 and Week 5, Coursera students were expected to engage in the material and with other students as appropriate.  At scale, that seemed to mean that, like water, we would seek our own level. Courserans (that's what they call 'em) with like-minded expectations, learning styles, and social media preferences would find each other in the Discussion board, on Twitter, Pintrest, Flickr, Google+, etc.. There/where-ever, they shared stories, opinions, and predictions about the impact of digital technology on civilization. 

MOOCs and education theory were common threads, but no more common than personal rants and creative license. Graduate students from University of Edinburgh (presumably, tuition-paying souls) were simultaneously enrolled in the class.  Carl Berger style, they were tasked with designing the curriculum and meta-cognating on the course experience.  Each was responsible for monitoring multiple interaction channels, synthesizing our collective experience, and presenting their interpretation via new-media to the world. 

My personal favorite captures the sense of commotion through a collection of text snippets posted by course participants: Meanwhile in the brick and mortar of Harlan Hatcher, a handful of us met every week or so to watch the assigned videos and discuss the readings.  The videos were short and provocative, exploring the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Technology as sinister and savior. A sampling:

Our last few study groups focused on the progress a few of us were making on our final projects* and the progress the rest of us had abandoned due to more pressing commitments and a nasty flu bug. 

Conversation turned to our complex feelings about failure and success in this unique learning environment.  How might our feelings (and actions) have changed if we had paid tuition?  What if the final project wasn't peer-graded, or creative and exploratory?  To what extent did we stretch ourselves, to what extent did we learn -- independently or from each other -- regardless? Speaking of learning from the experience, I recently stumbled upon the Edinburgh teaching team's blog ( 

If you're interested in instructional design, you may find it informative.  Their most recent post is rather technical, but others are more pedagogically reflective. Instructor College is considering another MOOC study group if we can identify another course on a topic of general interest to MLibrary staff.  Let us know if you have any suggestions.

What experience do you have with MOOCs?  If you've ever actually completed one, let us know your secret!

*Over 500 available at Flickr, search for #EDCMOOC