The MOOC Research Conference has just taken place at University of Texas, Arlington, December 5-6, 2013. I was fortunate to be on board of one research project – “Hatch, Match, and Dispatch: Examining the relationship between student intent, expectations, behaviours and outcomes in six Coursera MOOCs at the University of Toronto” – which was among the 20+ MRI projects participating in this MOOC Research Conference. Chris Teplovs, Stian Håklev and Laurie Harrison from our team attended the conference in person, and they were surprised by an Icepocalyse in that area. Some people said it might be because too many Canadians were present at the conference (which is quite convincing :-P).

Although I was not able to attend the conference, I had a lot of fun following its “backchannel” on Twitter. The discussion took off one day before the conference (there were pre-conference workshops) and climbed to its peak during the first day, featured by the Jim Groom’s keynote. The backchannel produced a total of 1894 tweets, with 394 contributors.


Here, I am pulling together a list of top URLs (up until now) shared in this discussion, just to highlight a few things I think that might be interesting to think of. This is by no means to say there links represent the key messages of the conference, but by reviewing them we may get a glimpse of main issues discussed during the conference. These top links are organized into a few themes below.

General debates around MOOCs

1. MOOCs as Neocolonialism: Who Controls Knowledge? [33 hits]

2. Siemens’ take on “The ‘failure’ of MOOCs” [32 hits]

Siemens astutely compares the MOOC conversation to the Web 2.0 explosion [7 hits]

3. How media and practitioners differ in their view of MOOCs [10 + 9 hits]

4. The Battle for Open - an article by Weller [11 hits]

5. What MOOCs have provided us? [14 hits]

6. Voices saying that “MOOCs kinda suck”

To MOOC or not to MOOC?- a blog post by Jonathan Rees [11 hits]

  • As a history professor from Colorado State University and a guy who thinks “MOOCs kinda suck”, Rees said, ”Yet it turns out that when you put a bunch of MOOC enthusiasts in a conference together, whatever orthodoxy that exists isn’t really all that far from mine… That said, what does set me apart from the rest of this conference I think is a difference in priorities. Most of the conversations were about the pitfalls of producing MOOCs. I wanted to talk more about how universities that may use other schools’ MOOCs might consume them. Most of the people here are from disciplines outside of the humanities, so I tried to explain that what works in math or CS will not necessarily work for history, especially history survey classes. While everyone seemed interested in improving pedagogy, there was a kind of disturbing assumption underlying all my discussions that any class that doesn’t use technology is somehow broken by definition.

What problem do MOOCs solve? - another blog post by Jonathan Rees [7 hits]

  • Rees contended that, “MOOCs threaten this kind of learning [afforded by a very interactive and personalized teaching he has been doing]. Yes, I know that we professors are supposed to use MOOCs to flip our classrooms so that we can spend more time doing exactly what I’m describing, but what will other students do all class period when I’m providing personalized learning? When will they have time to do the reading I assign if they’re watching all those videos for homework? And, most importantly, how can I be sure that my administration won’t just fire me and force students to fend through a lot of taped lectures all by themselves?
  • He also described his view about how MOOCs should work: “In an ideal world, MOOCs would supplement modern higher education rather than replace it. We do not live in an ideal world. I’m not suggesting that people with better motives stop innovating. What I am suggesting is that they cannot innovate in a bubble. There is a political economy of MOOCs that matters just as much as their technological structure, especially for those of us who will never teach in or learn from a MOOC over the course of their academic careers.

MOOCs and learning analytics

1. Certifying the Hard Stuff (and the role of learning analytics), by Simon Buckingham Shum [9 hits]

2. Group Discussion Summaries during the conference - Google Docs  [8 hits]

  • Besides Simon’s post, this file contains links to breakout group discussion around learning analytics in MOOCs, which was identified as one of the key challenges to be addressed. This file also contains links to discussion summaries of the other two challenges: Organizational challenges to MOOC development and delivery; and Systemic challenges with MOOCs: competency-based learning, credit & credentialing. (It’s pretty neat to have such a file, although some notes may not make sense to you.)
  • I’m personally glad to see people from the learning analytics community present in the discussion.

MOOC platforms

1. What should the next LMS look like? [20 hits]

2. MOOC Platforms : a primer - biggies, newbies & freebooters, a blog post by Donald Clark [7 hits]

  • A nice review of those “MOOC platforms” out there.

3. Learning and Performance Support Systems [5 hits]

  • A blog post by Stephen Downes describing an initiative he will be leading

4. Learning2014 - UTS - YouTube [6 hits]

  • A video describing UTS’ (what is UTS by the way?) vision of learning environments

Hatch, Match and Dispatch

Finally, our group’s presentation about Hatch, Match and Dispatch was also among the list of top links (7 hits). Like other projects, our work shared at the conference was still in progress. And I am really excited about our next steps to move this research project forward.

If you wish to explore the Twitter archive by yourself, you can use the web app here. You can filter tweets by keywords or people you’re interested in. You can explore people’s sentiments of MOOCs by checking out the “happiest” and “saddest” tweets. You can also find and follow the “talkers” in this backchannel conversation…

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Bodong Chen, University of Minnesota

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