Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Discussion forums in MOOCs are counter-productive...well, sort of...

The other day I was reading this blog post on why MOOC forums are counter-productive.  I was really thinking hard about this and my initial inclination is to agree. Forums, in MOOCs, are counter-productive. But, as with most things in life, there is a big asterisk here.

If we look at how MOOCs are setup, and by MOOC here I mean xMOOC since that's what most people think of, the discussion board is one big crazy mess. Coursera has done something interesting in crowdsourcing thread relevancy by allowing people to up-vote or down-vote threads, but at their core these discussions are setup like every other discussion forum out there in traditional education: There usually is a prompt that people will answer, and answers can be repetitive as well, so when you are the 1000th poster to a question prompt and you see that others have answered something similar to your answers, what is the motivation to wade through many, many, many similar answers in order to find the subtle contextual variations?

I do remember one MOOC's discussion forum that was pretty awesome - and that was MobiMOOC 2011 (a cMOOC).  What made the discussion forum awesome was that people were able to use it an an incubator to ask questions and engage with the materials with few prompts. This way, when people responded to the prompts, they weren't all answering the same question (thus not that much repetition), and for the most past alike threads stayed together, instead of having a lot of similar threads all over the place and displacing the discussion in many different spots.

I remember CFHE12 where they used Desire2Learn as their Open LMS.  This was a disaster, as far as I am concerned.  The "introduce" yourself thread was unnecessary, a hold over from traditional online education meant to build community became a crazy gargantuan thread where people spoke out-loud about who they were with few people bothering to read other people's intros.  The community building aspect of the introductory thread needs reconceptualization in the MOOC world.  I think, for the most part, we've dealt with this issue over the last year, but I still see "introduce yourself" threads in MOOCs that make me cringe :)

As I am thinking about the engagement elements of #eslmooc I am thinking about the discussion forum and what role it can or will play in the MOOC. I don't like the LMS discussion forums, they are not built for scale, and they fall short on many elements needed to engage large audiences.  If your MOOC suddenly becomes a Massive Mostly-Lurkers Online Course traditional discussions forums can work, but not if you plan on engaging many of your signed up participants.  My initial thought is that the discussion forum can be an agora where people can share learning tips, tips for writing, pronunciation and being a successful learner.  I think that language production, will most likely, be not in a discussion forum.

Your ideas?
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