MOOC Week 0, Going Into Week 1 (#Bonkopen)

I am currently taking an online course, or rather a MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) this month. Full disclosure, I know the instructor, and have blogged about Curt before.

The course (Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success, taught by Curtis Bonk) has just started, and each week we are invited to blog about our experiences. This is my first post and covers Week 0, running into Week 1.

Reasons For Enjoyment

I am enjoying the course, and that is due to a couple of features. The primary reasons for my enjoyment to date are:

  • Week 0: The course has an introductory week, which I both admire and appreciate. Even though I have experience of Learning Management Systems (and online course design), the first time in any new course provides a degree of confusion. Like walking into a building for a first time, a quiet period for orientation is required to know exactly where to go and how to get there.
  • Effective use of video: Online courses can be a little text-heavy. I appreciate using video to communicate with students.
  • Icebreakers: There are 3000+ of us in the course. I know I won’t be able to read all of the introductions, but I feel like I am getting to know others in the course. Acceptance of Social Media. Conversation is also taking place outside of the LMS, using social media tools. Tags help aggregate the conversation (such as this one: #Bonkopen).
  • Synchronous and Asynchronous content: My preference is to asynchronous courses, which allow me to better manage my time, but the knowledge that there are (optional) synchronous elements helps push me to meeting deadlines.
  • Weekly email reminders: I am fairly organized, but regular prompts help me stay on schedule.

Reasons For Taking The Course

I am taking this course for two reasons:

  1. To improve my knowledge and level of expertise, to as to better advise faculty who are teaching online.
  2. To improve the two online courses I am teaching later this year.

Study Environment and Options

Taking this course has been very helpful in changing my perspective – merely by being an online student again. I have a plethora of devices on which I can study and collaborate, but limited windows in which I can study. The times at which I can study are:

  • Early morning: 5 – 6 a.m. (before everyone else in the house is up)
  • On the way to work: 7 – 8 a.m. (On the El)
  • On the way back from work: 5 – 6 p.m. (On the El)
  • Last thing at night: 10 – 11 p.m. (everyone else in the house has gone to sleep)

The past week was a good opportunity to experiment with how well I could study at these times, and on the devices and in the environments made available to me. Here are the devices I use:

Dual Macs

Dual Macs

Mac with dual monitors. In a quiet room at home (basement), this is the idea machine and environment in which to study and collaborate. The dual monitors allow me to place content on one screen, and write on the other screen. My home Internet connection is decent enough so as not to frustrate me whilst downloading and uploading, but this environment does not come with me…

MacBook Air

MacBook Air

MacBook Air. Carried with me near everywhere. The screen is tiny, which can be a bit of a pain, but the device is lightweight and a pleasure to use. My cellphone provides a precarious Internet connection for the laptop whilst travelling on the El. If the train is not too crowded, I can get some work done on the Air on the way to and from work.

N900

N900

Nokia N900 Cellphone. This aging device (has been my primary ‘phone for about three years) has an unlimited EDGE dataplan. Not the quickest device, but can get the job done. Has a great browser, nice screen, and keyboard. Lacks a spellchecker…

iPod Touch

iPod Touch

iPod Touch. Second generation. Essentially an iPhone without the Phone. Again, my cellphone provides a precarious Internet connection whilst travelling on the El.

iPad

iPad

iPad. First generation. Essentially a super-sized iPod Touch. Again, my cellphone provides a precarious Internet connection whilst travelling on the El. Works best for consuming content rather than creating content. I don’t take it with me as often as the MacBook Air.

My Bold Plan

My bold plan was to see how well I could operate as a mobile student – accessing the CourseSites course whilst on the move. So far this has not worked as well as I might have hoped, but this is good. Mild frustration helps point out things that I could change in future courses (or at least prepare students for).

Mild Frustrations and Observations

Here are the issues I ran into along the way (sometimes just because I was looking for things to break):

1: Reading PDFs

Reading PDF on the iPod Touch Kindle did not work for me

Reading PDF on the iPod Touch Kindle did not work for me

My first day of class I downloaded the PDF reading assignments to my laptop. I knew I was going to be travelling home on a packed train, so iPad and laptop use were not an option. Instead I thought I would use my iPod Touch to read the PDFs, so I sent them to the device via Amazon’s Send To Kindle service before leaving work’s WiFi cloud. This approach did not work for me, as the PDFs were too small to read on the screen (and I could not rotate the screen to read in landscape mode).

Reading PDF on the cellphone – not fun, but it worked

Reading PDF on the cellphone – not fun, but it worked

Reading PDF on the cellphone – not fun, but it worked

My fallback was to open the PDF with the cellphone – this worked, but reminded me how PDFs can sometimes be a pain to work with.

Lessons Learnt (for future courses)

When providing PDF handouts, provide the content in other formats that can be read more easily on mobile devices. HTML or epubs would have let me scale up the content to be legible on a device with a small screen. The issues here is whether this can be legally done, or if the content in the PDF can be easily converted.

2: CourseSites Navigation

I found the layout and the organization of the course to be logical and efficient, but there is one aspect of Blackboard CourseSites that I found frustration – that is navigation to components of the course. One of the first assignments is to introduce yourself via the discussion board, but the directions to do that are less than ideal:

Use the link above to introduce yourself and share your expectations for the course.

Use the link above to introduce yourself and share your expectations for the course.

Where the link is the heading (Discussion: Let’s Get to Know One Another). My frustration here is that the link is not apparent (no visual cues, beyond the mouse pointer changing form when hovering above the link). A better solution would be contextual links within the body of the text, for example:

Introduce yourself and share your expectations for the course through the discussion board.

(where discussion board is the linked text)

I think this is a constraint imposed by CourseSites, rather than a design decision.

Lessons Learnt (for future courses)

Ensure that navigation is contextual.

3: Mobile Applications

Using CourseSites on the iPod Touch

Using CourseSites on the iPod Touch

I did experiment with the Mobile Learn iOS app, but ultimately found using the browser on my cellphone to be an easier approach. Interaction did not work well on the mobile apps.

Lessons Learnt (for future courses)

Review online courses on a mobile device, and decide whether the app/LMS affords easy navigation and collaboration

4: Video Content

Lastly, there is one suggestion for improvement that I would suggest. I really enjoyed the video content, and that it was hosted on YouTube. This allowed for some collaboration and commentary to take place outside of the MOOC (which is a great idea). What I did not like was that I had to open a separate window to view the video outside of the LMS, my suggestion would be to embed the YouTube video in the LMS and provide a link to the YouTube page (for those who wanted to comment interact with the video directly from YouTube)

Lessons Learnt (for future courses)

Embed video.

Time For Bed…

Anyway, that is me for this post. This was more my thoughts and reactions to the LMS and instructional design. My next blog post will be about the actual reading and reflection (i.e. learning) that I am following in this course.