xMOOC infrastructure

I felt reluctant this morning to tie myself to cloud-based animation services (though some, like GoAnimate, VideoScribe etc. are very good and sufficiently intuitive)…instead I drew the little diagram below (Fig. 1) on “Game structure” and now I’m playing with Twine, an open source storytelling tool. No, I don’t want to make all drawings myself but perhaps there is a more creative and easier, cheaper way to do this? I have a test project: creation of an animation-based information film, or a moving infographic for prospective students of my “Problem Solving 2.0” class next summer. More about Twine & my Twine experiment in the next post!


Fig. 1 – elements of game structures – note how a game contains story elements (29-Nov-14)

MOOC Infrastructure

I am doing this not because I’m made of time — but because I’m still not 100% decided which tools I’m going to use for content creation. Otherwise the infrastructure decision has been made: largely because all the tools on the left-hand side of Fig. 2 (YouTube, SoundCloud, Wikiversity) are freely accessible and comfortable to use — also, I will not lose any time if I use them.

This is not so for the 2nd level tools both on the content creation and on the evaluation side (right hand side of the figure). For corporate creation, I pursued a few tools (see this and this write up) and I had a lot of fun doing it, but time is beginning to be of the essence and I need to focus on tools that scale — which means that I need to be able to use a tool to build 10×10 animations or animated slideshows.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 18.26.59

Fig. 2 planned IT infrastructure for “Research Methods for Androids” (HWR=Berlin School of Economics and Law).

Why this infrastructure?

Put simply: a video makes no MOOC. Hundreds of videos still don’t make a (good) MOOC. Especially if the individual videos are too long — this is the case for a few providers: especially when the lecturers I used to sending, or if they are trainers who like to hold the floor… at least that’s my explanation why some people like to switch on the camera or the slide projector and just keep talking. I am in great danger myself (I love to hear myself talk) but I also get bored really quickly with audio or video longer than 4-5 minutes.

Quizzes also don’t make a MOOC. They provide a sense of interactivity but they are not very immersive. As I argued in my previous post (in German, alas), for a successful MOOC we need instruction, interaction and immersion. Videos that are part of a “tour” as provider Zaption calls them, where the quizzes or challenges are seamlessly built into the video sequence, are obviously more immersive than standalone quizzes: any change of platform breaks the immersive trance.

Over the past few months, I’ve tested quite a few platforms for MOOCs — a range of good, bad and ugly. Providers included: Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, Diplomero, Iversity, Coursmos, edX, FutureStep, openHPI, EMMA and a few less known others. I’m mostly interested in xMOOCs, i.e. massive open online courses that are focused on instruction rather than connection. Think of them as online spaces for lectures which are immersive and interactive. The other prominent type is cMOOC: here, community creation is the key; cMOOCs are automatically immersive (there is a sense of belonging if the communities take off) and interactive (relating to others is common in these MOOCs). The challenge for xMOOCs is to make them immersive and interactive, the challenge for cMOOCs is to make them instructive.

Elements of successful MOOCs (IMHO)

After testing, experiencing, looking at a sufficient number of examples (obviously, I may have missed some great ones and some really terrible ones — please tell me if I did?) I am fairly confident that the following is a list of minimum requirements for a successful xMOOC:

No. Element Instruction Interaction Immersion
1 Wiki to serve materials
2 Forum for discussion
3 Peer review of participant results
4 Quizzes and tests (w/feedback)
5 Videos with short lectures
6 Video/audio w/expert (inter)views
7 Gamification – game elements

Not any simpler or easier than classroom teaching – quite the opposite actually when you consider sensory deprivation, IT constraints etc. (Btw: it doesn’t have to be  a Wiki in No. 1 but many MOOCs seem to use a wiki clone as the central course venue: document-centered, version controlled, but mostly non-collaborative. Unfortunately – that’s a weakness! – most providers are not in the habit of discussing their methods and means at a meta level, so I can’t be sure.)

Looking back at Fig. 2, an integrated LMS like Moodle is (especially if you already have it at your school) the best basis for items 1 through 4. Especially No. 3 sounds more difficult than it is: turns out that Moodle has an integrated learning application (“Workshop”) that delivers exactly what we need for anonymized peer review.

Animation software can help make videos (5) more interesting and perhaps more immersive — for example, if the animation tells the story rather than parade or illustrate the facts.

Gamification as “learning by teaching”

No. 7, Gamification is a fancy word for the introduction of game elements in the course. In some MOOCs this is only implemented through a leaderboard — different activities are (automatically) evaluated and added up to represent the position of a participant in the course. In Coursera courses this seems to be the standard but only forum posts and forum post likes are evaluated. None of the other elements indicated in Fig. 1 (“game structure”) are usually part of MOOCs.

In one case that I came across, I was impressed that participants of the course tried to introduce gaming elements themselves (using an external wiki) — however, since the MOOC was quite demanding and since the MOOC creators did not respond to this phenomenon, the attempt died. The MOOC design was inflexible. But I thought it was an interesting indicator: these participants wanted to learn, found the material (instruction) interesting but were obviously lusting for a little more immersion and interaction.

I hope that I’ll be able to keep developing my own MOOC in such a way as to identify, absorb integrate participant ideas. This strikes me as an important Web 2.0 habit which traditional educational settings do not allow: content creation by the learners is also part of “Learning by Teaching” (Lernen durch Lehren, LdL, founded by Prof. Jean-Pol Martin), one of the most powerful learning/teaching methodologies I have come across. I’ve written about this method in past posts (in German, alas).

The ability to adapt to learner’s needs seems to me one of the key advantages of the xMOOC now. The cMOOC has participant-based content creation built into its DNA, of course, but…how to use it as part of an instruction-led teaching approach is not clear (to me yet).

Now I must get on with the MOOC!


I am indebted to my colleagues Lennart Bolduan, Stefanie Quade, Madini Liebscher and Philipp Scheffler for discussions on “gamified MOOCs”.

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