Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A MOOC teacher must communicate in an unmisunderstandable way

"unmisunderstandable" it is a joke word, a double negative within a single word.
But, a double negative is not necessarily the same as the original positive.

I have always tried to communicate in an understandable way.
I am usually understood by others.
In a mooc, "usually" is not enough.
"Usually" leaves "some" behind.
In a mooc, "some" is hundreds.
In a mooc, if there is a way to be misunderstood it will be misunderstood.
So, for a mooc teacher "understandable" is not enough.
Instead, we must strive to not be misunderstood.
We must strive to communicate in an "unmisunderstandable" way.

The human capability to misunderstand is quite astounding.
This has been a unintentional running theme in the few past posts.
In a traditional class the teacher is there to correct these misunderstandings.

In a mooc it needs to be avoided instead of corrected.

Responding to a misunderstanding usually means sending a note out to the entire population.
Sending a note out to 20,000 because 100 misunderstand makes the misunderstanding seem widespread.
Sending a note out to the entire population is a chance for further misunderstanding.

How is striving to be understood different than striving not to be misunderstood?
I see it as a matter of focus.
In striving to not be misunderstood I start looking for ways that the content or form could possibly be misunderstood.

Let me point out the example that this inspired this post.

For projects the students are encouraged to create youtube videos and post a link to them for peers to review.

It is stated in the assignment that youtube videos must be made public or unlisted for their peers to be able to view the assignment.

Many students missed that fact and a thread regarding private youtube videos started, to point out the issue.

The fix is easy, if the student has their video private they just need to go into Youtube and switch it to "unlisted".

I sent out an announcement to the entire class and put it on the front of the class site:

Make sure all impmooc assignment Youtube videos are Public or Unlisted
A private youtube video is viewable only by the creator so it will not be able to be graded. If you do not want your video public I suggest you put it "unlisted" that gives you a link to the video that anyone can use, but the video will not show up in any searches. You are free to take the video down from Youtube after the assessment period is over.
Thank you,

I would think, because the wording of the title says "all ... videos" that it would be obvious that this is a general announcement for everyone in the class.
Unfortunately some students thought I was sending the video directly to them. These students were confused because their videos were already "unlisted".

Why did they think the message was personal? some possibilities:
-They may not read subject lines. People often miss important information when it is placed in subject lines and only focus on the body. Without reading the subject the message does seem much more personal.

-Poor translation. I see now that the only clues that the message is public is a function of small gramatical specifics of the english language. After being run through google translate that subtlety could easily have been lost.

-The use of "you" in my language. I tend to try to make notes personal and write as if I were addressing the reader individually. This may make announcements seem personal instead of general.

How can I avoid this misunderstanding in the future?
-At the end of the announcement state explicitly that the announcement is going out to all students.
-At the beginning of the e-mail add in a salutation like "Dear impmooc students," I had left a salutation out because the Coursera system automatically puts one in when announcements are e-mailed to students. I thought it would be strange to have two salutations.
-Explain the situation more thoroughly.

Here would be a better way to do the announcement:

This is a reminder going out to all students in the introduction to music production class. If you have submitted a youtube video for your first assignment please make sure that it is set to "public" or "unlisted" on the Youtube website. Some reviewers found private Youtube videos that they could not assess. It would be unfortunate to receive a failing grade just because a youtube video was configured incorrectly.

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