I have just completed my first ever MOOC! It was “Professional Practices for English Langauge Teachers” offered by the British Council on FutureLearn.com. The topic is not really important for this blog post, apart from the fact that one of the professional practices that was preached was reflection. So here it is, my reflection on participating in my first ever MOOC!
Actually, the “Professional Practices for ELT” turned out to be something different from what I was expecting. A lot of the points were very basic, almost like an initial training course for people interested in becoming ELT teachers, but the title and course description had led me to expect something else – professional practices in terms of activities to keep up professional development after having trained as a teacher and already working in the field. In the end, these CPD activities were touched on in just one week at the end of the course. I think this could have been made clearer in the title and course descriptions. Or maybe I need to get better at reading between the lines when it comes to interpreting course descriptions!
Not one to give up on things, I decided to continue anyway, and my perserverence paid off! Although a lot of things weren’t new to me, I did come to enjoy the opportunity to refresh my knowledge and get re-inspired as a teacher! The comments (“discussions” – more on that later!) also encouraged me to think about teachers working in other contexts, which often brought new insight, and sometimes I was able to give advice and tips to other teachers, which also gave me a good feeling of satisfaction at helping others. Also, the course and ‘instructors’ provided me with a lot of references and ideas for further reading (though mainly British Coundil, and not published research, which i would have preferred), as well as some links and concrete tips for classroom activities etc. So I can extend my learning beyond this course, which is always a bonus! For me, these are two of the biggest benefits of such enormous MOOCs – being inspired by colleagues that I would normally have no contact to, and collecting ideas, links and materials!
One other thing that I found hard to deal with was the lack of real discussion in the discussion forum. Early on I refelcted on my feelings towards the course, and I have to say I found it a bit de-motivating that so many people had already zoomed ahead and were commenting and discussing sections that were planned for weeks ahead, so by the time I got there (I kept up the suggested pace of the course), I felt like everything had already been said and I couldn’t really add much. I still left my comments, but there was very little discussion then, as people had apparently already moved on and didn’t reply to what I posted. In general, the ‘discussions’ mainly consisted of individual comments, where each person shared their thoughts, but didn’t necessarily spend time engaging with others’ ideas and what had already been posted. This meant that comments were often repetitive, and for my liking rather too superficial.
I did manage, with the ‘follow’ function to find and get involved in a few discussions that went a little deeper, but considering the number of participants (around 16,000 who added a marker on the interactive map, so probably more over all), it was rather limited, I thought. Sadly, if I’m self-evaluating here, I think I ended up tending to be more superficial myself, and only reading some of the comments that had been made, ‘liking’ a few, but not bothering to write long responses as I felt they wouldn’t be read or responded to anyway. I think it would have been good if the weeks’ tasks were ‘unlocked’ as the course progressed, so that everyone would have proceeded at the same pace, and then participants could have been encouraged more to actually engage with each others’ comments and discuss, rather than simply posting what they think and moving on. Also, on reflection, perhaps the number of participants is just too high to enable good discussion and community feeling within the forums.
One thing that was interesting, at times amusing, and needed some getting used to, was the different way people wrote their comments and posts. Generally, the tone was friendly, using first names and trying to be constructive. Some posts were slightly more informal than I would expect in an “educational” setting, but maybe that has something to do with it being online and free…? (Discuss!). And so many participants from all around the world means that people are adhering to different cultural and social norms when they post comments online; some of the comments were, from a British perspective, overly adoring and flowery, and one or two seemed plagiarised/simply copied from someone else – apparently this is a sign of respect or agreement in some cultures (I learnt that from this MOOC!), but it caused a bit of a hoo-hah as you can imagine! Still, though it just served as a reminder of cultural diversity on the internet and intercultural communication strategies.
So what would I do differently next time?
– Read the course description in detail, try to read between the lines, perhaps contact the course provider about the target audience if unclear.
– Take a course on a topic I know nothing about, to see how it feels to be a real learner again. Even if the topic itself is not part of my CPD, the whole experience of being a learner is definitely an enriching one for developing as a teacher.
– Set myself clear times for different tasks or aims, for example 20 mins for doing a task myself, and then 20 mins to respond to others’ posts and comments. (In attempt to lead by example, and not be part of the problem I’m complaining about! 🙂 )
– Ask more questions (and more directly – so that participants from different cultures perceive them as such) in my posts and comments to prompt discussion.
– Ask a colleague or two to join the course with me and set up times for us to discuss the points off-line, so that we can go into more depth. Alternatively: Try to make contact with a couple of people from the course who seem to be working at the same pace as me and find a way to discuss the week’s points outside of the MOOC’s forum, in a smaller group.
Actually, as I read these points of what I intend to do differently next time, i feel like I’ve actually written a list of points to bear in mind for people who are about to take their first MOOC! If you like, those are my tips for making the most of your MOOC experience!