Most online courses are leaning more towards a discussion forum as the central feature. Nine times out of ten it is the only interaction students will receive in an online class. However, it is extremely difficult to produce a real discussion with some people only giving ‘I agree’ or nothing at all. You either come across too few participants making the discussion impossible, or too many and it becomes muddled.
If forums in normal online courses are difficult to run effectively they prove almost impossible in a MOOC where there is a potentially tens of thousands of participants. However, MOOCs still attempt the interaction with these forums. In most cases MOOC forums become very overwhelming very fast with lots of fluff and little substance. They have hundreds of unrelated threads and the vast majority of participants take one look and never come back. An article in Campus Technology, Building a Sense of Community in MOOCs, reinforces this impression that forums are actually counter-productive:
“Ironically, the biggest obstacle preventing MOOC students from forming relationships is the feature most relied on to encourage them.”
The best type of forum is like gathering people in a room and simply asking them to discuss. A normal class of 30 will divide into smaller groups, which makes switching groups easier. There is a clear structure to the exchanges and it’s easy to get a basic overview. But if you take a couple hundred strangers and add them to the class it makes everything complicated and the effective communication is likely to fall apart. During some forums you run into your “supper posters” who are usually responsible for around 25% of the post on the forums. Their excitement might inspire some to post more but it may also discourage others who are less confident. One of the biggest factors related to the inactivity is that most people are not used to online discussion and see learning as an information transfer from teacher to student. Media literacy is a clear issue with online learning.
Another problem with MOOC forums is the presence of expert participants. Many teachers and researchers are using MOOCs out of curiosity and to expand their networks. The danger of having over qualified participants is that their contributions could set an impossibly high standard that can intimidate younger students. There are also MOOCs, which are also regular for credit courses mixing full time students with thousands of MOOCers. The regular students, in this situation, will set the tone for the discussion. These two groups should be kept separate somehow because of the vast difference in motives for taking the course.
Mobius SLIP has the answer to these problems. They have groups with the same motives for taking the course and are in small enough sections to have meaningful interactions. Mobius also allows students to be free with their responses since the groups are anonymous. The layout to Mobius SLIP gives students an opportunity to learn how to give and receive feedback that will be very helpful once they enter the workforce.
How do you think Mobius SLIP helps the MOOC generation?