Monday, 24 January 2011

Background and initial impressions to my first MOOC

Just prior to Christmas I submitted my MSc dissertation entitled "Complexity Theory and Online Discussion Groups -Emergent Behaviours and Dynamics". The underlying premise of my dissertation rested on the idea that online discussion groups (or any discussion groups for that matter) are potentially complex adaptive systems, and with the same topic, each group can be dynamically very different from another group. Despite interventions by the tutor, some groups just seemed to take off and discuss in depth, while others got by with the bare minimum (or less) of postings. The idea that given the right conditions a discussion group can in certain respects become self-organising leads to some interesting questions, not least of which is "What are the right conditions?" My research was not without its problems, often stemming from the fundamental question of how you can measure interaction and emergent behaviours in a group that you are not part of but are studying outside and in my case in retrospect - the discussions had all taken place the previous Semester. It didn't help that my supervisor didn't know anything at all about complexity theory.

Although Connectivism, as proposed by Georg Siemens and Stephen Downes, was on my radar as something people had been talking about, I was not clear on what it really was all about and what the basis of the theory was. Just before Christmas, George Siemens was talking in Glasgow and I managed to connect to the Elluminate session - I think this is where I first heard about the potential MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that George and Stephen were going to be running in the New Year. I follow both George and Stephen on Twitter so once the course details were announced  ( I registered and here I am.

This is my first ever blog and so this course has really been the catalyst to start blogging (assuming it goes okay and I continue!) Over the first week I have been engaged with the readings and videos and managed to tune in to some of the second Elluminate session on the Friday. My first impressions of the MOOC format are that I tend to locate resources mainly through Twitter by following the #CCK11 hashtag, as opposed to looking through the blog and discussion postings - however, I think that is just my initial response to the wealth of information and I do want to try to find a way to use the discussion postings directly and links to others' blogs. Even trying to be selective can be quite a time-consuming process.

Just in the first week it has been really interesting to try and see the relationship between Connectivism and Complexity Theory. There are many overlaps but one thing that immediately struck me was how the idea of networks at the neural, conceptual and social levels is very much related to the idea of emergent levels of behaviour and learning at different nested levels - I really want to explore in detail some of the connections to complexity theory in more detail over the next few weeks and we are looking specifically at adaptive systems in Week 7. Of course, working in the Technology Enhanced Learning department, I am very interested in the relationships between technology and learning, generally and specifically.

The things I hope to get out of this MOOC are:
  • An understanding of the relationship between Connectivism and Complexity Theory (as applied to education)
  • A better understanding of Connectivism as a theory and its implications
I hope to do this by:
  • Using the readings
  • Blogging / tweeting regularly
  • Taking part in the Elluminate sessions
  • making  comments on other people's blogs
I wish us all success in expanding our understandings from whatever perspective!


  1. Congratulations on your first blog post Graeme - clear and well-written! My objectives for CCK11 seem broadly the same as yours, though with an academic background in communication engineering I start from a different and rather more lowly base. I've been tagging #CCK11 on Twitter and delicious and now I'm forming my own CCK11 collection of notes and bookmarks using (the no longer being developed!) Google Notebook. There seems to be a lack of concrete empirical research in social networks and your work on discussion groups and complexity theory certainly seems interesting and relevant.

    Great place Edinburgh! (my birth place!) - Gordon Lockhart

  2. Thanks for the comment Gordon! I've not heard of Google Notebook (and from what you're saying probably not going to now....) - I just started using Diigo which seems okay so far.

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  4. Great post, thank you. I'd be interested in hearing more about how you might be connecting the things we're discussing in CCK2011 with your interests in neuroscience and physics. I keep having this sense that there's something to a metaphor of connected learning and the behavior of receptor cells. For instance, recently I read that the receptors don't just sit back and wait for the right protein to come along--there is some kind of call and response? Rather than the lock and key metaphor previously used?

    ...but clearly I don't have the background to continue to pursue those thoughts. I'm hoping you'll continue to make those connections so I can learn, too. :)