Reflections on #ModPo

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Al Filreis and graduate students in a ModPo video.

The Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC has drawn to a close. Papers are in, last discussions have ended, and the organizers have surveyed the participants. Time for a little reflection on the experience. As background, I enrolled in ModPo – a massively open online course (MOOC) offered by Coursera and taught be Dr. Al Filreis (University of Pennsylvania) in the fall. Here is the blog entry I wrote at the start of the course.

Overall, it was a positive experience. I learned a lot about American poetry. The content was rich, the course was extremely well-organized and executed, and the organizers made the most of participatory media tools they selected (video, discussion boards, Twitter, Google Hangouts, podcasts, and blogs) to draw us in and get us thinking. Here’s a (rather shaky, sorry) home video, shot by Al Filreis, at the end-of-course party held at the Kelly Writer House (where he is based) on campus at Penn. Apparently, participants who lived within driving distance came for the event to join Filreis and his graduate students to raise a glass and reflect on the course. Some real love here.

Falling by the wayside.

Falling by the wayside.

So, that’s the good part. The not so good part? Well, first off, I didn’t finish the course. My bad – but that fact deserves some examination. Like many who enroll in these massive online courses, I fell by the wayside. I was struck by the figures mapped out in this bark from CogDog. In his post, Alan Levine recounts his experience taking a Social Network Analysis MOOC. Two tenths of a percent of those originally registered in his course completed it.  I don’t know what the ModPo numbers are, but it’s probably close.  From where I sit, the drop-off problem has two roots.  First, there are no repercussions for the participant if s/he falls behind – I haven’t paid anything for the course, since I’m not working toward a degree I don’t have that fire in my belly, there’s no one there to notice if I don’t show up, and I don’t disappoint anyone (but me) when I don’t keep up.  Of course, all of that is a personal thing with the learner.  The more intractable problem, and the one that Alan focused on in his post, is that the course proceeds along at its own rate – not at my pace. There is no wiggle room for me and the rest of my life.  My ModPo completion problem began with an extended trip in the middle of the ten-week course.  Even though I had internet access on my trip, travel being what it is, I fell behind.  And once I fell behind, it was a downward spiral.  I couldn’t submit the assignments.  The live synchronous sessions were impossible to follow without the readings.  My pals in the Facebook group and on Twitter were referencing things I didn’t understand.  As Alan points out, surely one of the primo affordances of online learning is the ability to flex time and make it work for busy lives.

The ModPo-ers who submitted the four required writing assignments, peer reviews, and completed the quizzes will all receive a Coursera certificate of completion. There were no grades in this course – the focus was on effort, peer review, and discussion. I’m not sure how many certificates were awarded, but as soon as I find out, I’ll post it here.

But here’s the other thing. The amount and level of participant interaction.  What George Siemens refers to as a distinction between xMOOCs and cMOOCs.  The former, xMOOCs, mimic the structure, cadence, and methods of a traditional course (lecture, quizzes, etc) whereas the later, the cMOOC, leverages the connectedness of the participants (see one of many meaty posts on George Siemen’s blog).  While the ModPo organizers did a very good job with video [particularly in the live synchronous sessions where the Twitter steam and an 800 number (!) were used to foster participation] and there were discussion boards (unwieldy and unmanageable) and assignments, the main elements of the course – where the action took place – were familiar territory for a college course: read, listen, watch.  The most effective (for me) community elements sprung up on Facebook and with a friend who was also taking the course. That action sprouted up organically, outside of the course’s formal structure.



What George Siemens (and others) encourage is a more connected experience. An emphasis on knowledge creation, rather than knowledge transmission.  Courses that emphasize authentic assessment models where students demonstrate their understanding and skills through the products they produce and courses with distributed, multi-spaced interactions. ModPo was a fabulous beginning.  I swoon over the impact that it will have as the incredible Al Filreis and his creative team evolve the pedagogy, leverage newer and better tools, and tap into the vision of a more connected model.

It’s amazing, when you think on it, how far we’ve come.  Afterall, MOOCs have only been a thing since 2008 – with the Siemens and Downs first MOOC – CCK08.  And now we have many major universities offering MOOCs, two new companies (Coursera and Udacity in 2011) providing 100’s of MOOCS for all, and enough press coverage to choke a horse. I completely agree with Ryan Tracey on his well done blog post on the Future of MOOCs  – MOOCs are here to stay and their impact on education will be felt by all.


Filed under Reflections

7 responses to “Reflections on #ModPo

  1. It’s good to read your experiences, Robin. I do want to say that I really don’t think the completion numbers are the important thing– my point is that if promoters of this model just tout the entry numbers they need to own the other side of it.

    Also, I would disagree a tad about the cadence of the cMOOCs — the cadence of CCK08, PLENK are pretty regular too- new topics each week, elluminate sessions on a given day. That too may not be a bad thing. The xMOOCs I have tried have all been ones where missing any bit along the way pretty much put you off base for the rest of the class.

    The observation of students forming their own connections in other places is also no difference from a “regular” course, where students may form their own study groups. Frankly I think that is something that out to happen and be encouraged; it is not always the courses or the professors responsibility to manage all aspects of the learning.

    Yet to not use the affordances of a distributed network of the internet beyond a broadcast system is to be, not much of a grand step forward.

    That is looming ahead. It will happen.

    • rheyden

      Good points, Alan. Thanks for clarifying. The people who express such rabid enthusiasm over the MOOC enrollment numbers really must share the drop off numbers as well, in order to be balanced. As for the cadence, yes, if the course aims to delve into a body of knowledge, you’re going to be out of sync with the trajectory if you disappear, as I did, for two weeks in the middle. It would be nice if a route/onramp could be devised (as part of the course’s instructional design?) for those who do fall off, if they’re willing to scramble, to get back on.
      I’d be interested to hear your suggestions for the ModPo organizers, Alan. From looking at the course web site, what leaps out at you as the best opportunities for them to leverage a distributed network and pump up the “c” in this MOOC the next time around?

  2. Al Filreis

    Robin, thanks for being part of ModPo. Seems that you made it almost to the very end of chapter 9. Hope you’ll finish up and stay in touch.

    • rheyden

      Thanks, Al. It really was a fabulous experience and my hat’s off to you for the incredible work you did to pull it all together. ModPo succeeded in reinvigorating my interest and appetite for poetry, regardless of the fact that I was a drop out 😉 When next you offer it, I will re-enroll. Could you share the number of students who completed the course (and obtained the Coursera certificate)? Would also love to hear any highlights from the survey you collected.

  3. nheyden

    Not to be too cute about it, but knowledge transmission can create knowledge too; the traditional model works better for some, and almost always offers a little for everyone, often a starting place upon which knowledge creation can build. So maybe knowledge creation as a bigger complementary component to knowledge transmission?

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