Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The power of a vocal minority and some MOOC teaching lessons learned

So the impmooc has started and we are halfway through the first week. I am getting a crash course in large group management.

The first issue I have come across is the capability of a small misinformed group to have a large presence and spread misinformation(I must say I was warned by the Coursera staff about this). In the peer reviewed assignments within the impmooc students are required to demonstrate a topic to their fellow students. They can do this in any manner they are comfortable with some options have been to make youtube videos, pdf documents, blogs, websites, powerpoint presentations, podcasts, the options are wide open. Already there have been some amazing videos and presentations.

The problem is, a small portion of the population mis-understood the assignment. They thought that the assignment required the use of video and youtube. This led to the biggest forum post that the course has had, nearly a hundred posts and votes. A student posted a very polite note addressed to me asking why I would require video and accusing me of making them spend their time on useless tasks. This immediately started a long chain of replies and complaints. I went in and replied politely, explaining to her that video was not necessary and I gave her some pointers about some other possibilities. I also explained the benefit of the assignment and why it is a good way to structure assignments in a MOOC. This person had already posted similar comments in 3 threads on coursera and in the impmooc facebook group causing this mis-information to spread in many locations.

The next day, after reading my reply she posted apologies in all those threads and on facebook, but the damage was already done. Many people read her post and continued the spread of false information. I have been running around putting out fires, calming people down and trying to right the ship.

What caused this mis-information? I think I located the cause, and it is such a small thing that I am amazed it caused such a fervor.

When laying out the assignment page I put the description of the project first, laying out the concept of teaching as a way to learn. I point out how the lesson will be presented, that it can be text or video etc.. then there was a lengthy set of instructions on how to post video. I believe, though this is hard to prove, that students skimmed the text, saw the lengthy video submission guidelines, assumed that they must make video and went right to the forums to complain. Now, later down the page there was an example of me doing a text submission, but it seems they didn't get that far down the page. In fact, in the woman's apology she stated "I didn't scroll down."

To fix this issue I have placed the video submission guidelines further toward the bottom of the page and I focused more on the lesson format by giving more specific examples of presentation possibilities. Since making those changes, and putting out fires in the forums, the complaints have gone way down. I also started numerous forums with high visibility starting positive conversations about how fun it can be to put together a short presentation. Since then there have been numerous positive examples posted and things are going much smoother.

Lessons learned:

-Consider the possibility student misinterpretation.  If something can be confused it will be confused.

-Recognize the power of a vocal minority.
A small group, even one person, can spread misinformation or ill-will quickly. Try to create forums that put the situation in a positive light. Also, a teacher has the ability to make specific posts most visible, so when posting a clear response to a complaint, pin the post so others will be more likely read the response before posting another complaint.

-Consider the "weight" of text on a page.
When a topic takes up a large amount of space on a page it may be misinterpreted as important even though it is just long. Put the important information in a clear strong location and consider putting long explanatory sections at the end or within other linked pages.

-Search for the source of a misinterpretation and fix it immediately.
I spent some time correcting people in the forums before I went to figure out what the issue was. Honestly, this time was spent thinking "what is wrong with these people, I told them they could use text!" It was an emotional and stubborn approach. This, I now realize, was wasted time and the problem got worse as I was "putting out fires." As a MOOC teacher it doesn't matter if you stated the correct thing in a way you think is clear. If it has been misinterpreted then you have done something wrong. Troubleshoot, reword and clarify immediately.

-When there is a misinterpretation and a complaint, put the correct information in a more visible location than the complaint.
Some students thought they had to make video. So I put a "pinned" discussion that stated: "Lessons can be done in text, screenshot, video, audio, blog and what else? Lets brainstorm about the possibilities" This made the correct information clear and also started positive discussion about fun ways to create lessons. This forum is now very active and positive.

-Make the students aware of the big picture
When I explain the difficulties of creating peer reviewed assignments and how my structure works the students generally agree and see the logic. Their initial response is tempered by an understanding of the big picture. I think it is important for MOOC teachers to explain the differences between the massive open class and a traditional classroom setting. Though the differences are obvious to us, the student hasen't thought it through like we have.

-Moderate your e-mail notifications carefully
The issue was amplified in my head because I continued to get e-mails on the "complaint thread." In the large scheme of things a hundred comments isn't that huge, but since I kept getting e-mails after posting in the thread I was constantly aware of the negative. I should have turned off the e-mail subscribe on that thread after correcting the source and responding visibly.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the clarification though!
    The essential is that we finally get the right instruction. This is the case now.

    Have a good day,