From April to May 2016, I was the teacher of the MOOC « Digital Library in principle and practice« , delivered in the European platform EMMA. The European Multiple MOOC Aggregator, called EMMA for short, is a pilot action supported by the European Union. EMMA provides a system for the delivery of free, open, online courses in multiple languages from different European universities.
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have two characteristics:
- The number of participants is greater than the number of Robin Dunbar (<150), however the workload of the staff (teachers and tutors) does not increase in proportion to the increase in participants;
- The pedagogical models are 1) cMOOCs’ (broadly, a connectivist, social learning approach that focuses on communication among participants online), 2) xMOOCs (courses that focus more on content transmission and knowledge acquisition through repetition and testing.)
MOOCs are therefore to be understood as innovative educational experiences and not to be confused with a technology platform or an aggregator. I have decided to avoid a MOOC broadcast-based (video lecture and automated quiz) but to build a c-MOOC (with a connectivist didactic approach) stimulating an active participation of the participants. It was therefore a priority to build a learning community of the MOOC.
The MOOC learning community was primarily intended for:
- K-12 teachers at all levels, including elementary, middle, and high school teachers;
- Continuing education or in-service facilitators supporting teachers and faculty;
- Educators interested in educational technology and/or online instruction;
- Cultural heritage professionals wishing to be involved in participatory educational activities;
- Anyone with an interest in digital libraries.
The MOOC participants have been more than 800, with a clear majority of teachers (46%) and other educators as « digital activists » and professional trainers (15%) in training companies. A small percentage (only 13%) was made up of professionals and students of LIS and cultural heritage. The rest of the participants were simply interested people in digital libraries.
How have I managed to put teachers and students « into » the digital library ? How to create a learning community with participants so heterogeneous ? How I have applied a connectivist teaching approach ? My choice has been to overturn some stereotypes of my previous teaching experience on digital library, addressed to university students and professionals. I have had first to analyse the context of the digital library for learning and later adapting the prototype to the challenge of a heterogeneous learning community. In this post I share my evaluations and reflections on this experience, highlighting what I learned, what I would do differently.
Digital Library roles for learning
Digital resources are increasingly important in the curriculum of schools of all levels and teachers spend much of their time to retrieve the Internet resources that may be of interest to their course. Yet few teachers and students know and use digital libraries ! The MOOC gave me the opportunity to present to the participants the digital libraries, defined as organisations centred on learning. I have described three possible roles of the digital library for improving learning and continuous development of teachers :
- for accessing curated digital resources,
- as virtual spaces ouside of the class (flipped classroom),
- as internal laboratories into the class (makerplaces).
In developing a digital library, there are two opposite philosophies : the first is collection centered and states : « build the collection (or the digital library) and then user will come »; the second is user centered and says « design the digital library centered on users » or « engage users into the digital library”. I have always adopted the second approach, user centered, introducing the module “User & usage of digital library” to the students of the International Master Digital Library learning DILL. The experience of the MOOC allowed me to realize that the solemn declarations to put users at the center are likely to remain « slogan » if you do not represent a real change of philosophy and practice. Putting users at the center could be confused with a kind of customization, a personalisation of the interface ! Instead the active participation of the users to the digital library in the creation of content and tools should start from the education and training.
We are all victims of stereotypes from which we risk not to go out : one of this for the teacher is to transmit concepts to those who are completely unaware of a topic, such as academic courses for students. Instead in the lifelong learning framework, a community of users has to understand how they could take advantage of tools such as a digital library. The challenge of preparing the MOOC for a heterogeneous mass of participants let me realize this fundamental difference of approach. Learning should not take place in a separate step, and in a separate place such as the classroom or a digital library, but must be integrated into the lives of people, allowing themselves to build solutions to their problems.
The first paradigm shift or « reversal » of the MOOC has been to start from users considered as active co-creators of digital content : the idea is such as the « prosumers » (producer consumer), how they were called the first time by Alvin Toffler (1981) in his book The Third Wave. Toffler defines the prosumer as people who produce some of the products and services they need, rather than simply consume the market offerings such as passive consumers. Jenkins (2006) took over the concept of « prosumer » describing the “participatory culture”, where learning is not limited to acquire « concepts » available to be accumulated in a shopping cart. The direct use of the new knowledge must be obvious to dramatically improve professionals problematic situations, because the time and effort invested in training are immediately useful for the task to be solved – not only for a certain investment that could be useful in the future.
This concept of prosumers has not yet been studied in educational literature, also if it is very close to the pedagogical connectivist approach. The concept of prosumer has been applied instead in the literature on digital library. In the MOOC I have included two Units: one on Digital reading and one on the Enrichment of metadata, where social aspect of reading and crowdsourcing have been applied.
The MOOC pedagogical approach has been inspired by the disciplinar needs of the digital library course and stimulated by the opportunities of the platform EMMA.
To create the MOOC prosumers community, I followed some trajectories from communication and pedagogical approaches.
Structure of the MOOC
From the communication point of view, the MOOC has tried to give the opportunity to each participant to build their own individual paths of learning and at the same time be part of a community. The structure of the MOOC has been built around some problematic situation : What are digital libraries ? How can I take advantage of them ? How can I become a creator ? How can I improve learning ?
First of all, all the possibilities of the EMMA platform have been instrumental in stimulating conversations, especially the blog and the forum at the end of each Unit. From the pedagogical point of view, I have tried to be a visible teacher with frequent input, which included daily blog posts and preparing a weekly newsletters synthesising the course activity and the conversations of the week. Each lesson is divided into UNIT that carry the content and put it into practice, doing the exercises. Many of the main contents have been proposed as a debate between opposite approaches, rather than as the lesson text.
The result has been a hypertextual and interactive content, in which each block of text can be used by participants for customization and annotation (participants can prepare their Coursebook, which remains in their space also when the MOOC has been closed). This characteristic is a change in the traditional way of academic lecture teacher centered which transmits content with video and power point presentations. Each lesson begins with a video (less than 7 minutes) summarizing the main concepts. I have tried to encourage participants to collaboratively build new resources (such as list of digital libraries, Web APP register for learning, etc.) consulted and usable over time.
For example we tried to understand the concept of digital library of the participants, while prospecting the most used definitions as a starting point. This choice proved to be suitable, because it allowed me then to summarize the responses from participants evidencing their knowledge of digital libraries and clarifying misinterpretations.
Social networks have also been used. I thought that the participants could enjoy the conversations with the international digital library community, from which everyone could learn something. In practice, I have tried to bring together the MOOC community with that of the DILLers, the alumni of the International Master Digital Library Learning to stimulate a conversation between digital library experts and experts in education.
The MOOC tutor has launched periodically polls or questions that would invite participants to share their significant experiences. It has been also prepared a Newsletter of the MOOC on a weekly basis. At first we thought of a sort of ‘Orientation message’ to sum up the activities of the past week, and introduce the following week. Then it became much more! Participants provided much of the content of the newsletter, and this encouraged them: it is important for participants to feel involved and receive confirmation of having brought a contribution to the community.
The idea of the Newsletter was connected to the objective of building the learning community involving the outside community of digital librarians. So in each Newsletter issue an external expert was involved, bringing the practical experience relevant to the topic of the week, indicated by the subtitle: Explorers, Researchers, Readers and creators, Digital librarians. We have also summarized each week the most interesting conversations (and more animated) of the week, trying to bring the results to the principles set out in the summary of the lesson.
The idea of the Newsletter was also born from the need to create a communication device, such as a weekly message, that would help the participants not to lose the thread of the course, stimulated them to follow the development of lectures and discussion. Participants instead of being overwhelmed by the volume of content and conversation, could comments on the content being generated and most of them participated in the discussion forums.
Assessment and certification
For the MOOC three alumni of DILL who completed their doctorate and are now teaching in foreign universities were involved as co-authors :
Getaneh Alemu, Southampton Solent University, UK
Liliana Melgar, Universidad Carlos III Madrid
Eric Boamah, Wellington University, New Zealand
In the Unit for the digital library and digital skills has been involved Alessia Zanin Yost Penn State University.
This choice of co-teaching has helped to increase the interest in the MOOC, widening the knowledge base that one teacher can bring and in the case of the MOOC Digital Library in Principle and Practice expanding the international horizon of participants from other continents. This choice has also strengthened ties with existing communities of DILLers.
EMMA platform has facilitated the evaluation of learning both formative (during the course) and summative (the end of the course) and qualitative (based upon the judgment of teachers and peers) and quantitative (through the quiz).
The peer assessment evaluation of learning has been the most innovative part of the MOOC experimentation. The peer review assessment is to consider itself a learning exercise. For the first time I experienced the peer review assessment to correct the mass of the home tasks that were performed at the end of each week. The peer review assessment of EMMA is based on the automatic procedure forming groups with two or three assessors who assess the work.
The teacher establishes the evaluation criteria. This has, however, resulted in the first three weeks in heterogeneity of the evaluation, with opposite judgement by different evaluators. In the final fourth week, to correct this inconsistency, the evaluation criteria were decided together with the participants, through conversation in the Forum. This has encouraged uniformity and standardization in the evaluation.
What participation in a MOOC actually means ? how it should be measured? and consequently, what metrics of success are appropriate for these massive courses ?
The profile of the MOOC participants were categorized into three levels:
Registered : they visited the educational material less than 70%
Observer: they have visited at least 70% the teaching materials
Contributor : they have interacted with the content and co-created content
The notion that people might sign up for a course not intending to complete the assessments is one that is unfamiliar to fee-charging institutions, but it is extremely common in free courses. To get the certificate of MOOC they must have completed 70% of the course. Also the certification process is automatic and is based on visits to pages on MOOC, interactive activities and teacher and peer assessment.
What I would like to do differently
In my opinion, the role of teacher and how he can be supported by the platform is of primary importance for the MOOC. The MOOC teacher is often necessary to perform multiple roles : teacher, designer, mentor, institutional marketing, etc. in a highly visible environment and therefore highly risky.
MOOC pedagogy is not something that has just incorporated the online platform but teaching in a MOOC is different from teaching in a classroom.
A role more important could have been given by me to participants in the evaluation criteria of the MOOC. I would like to have been established in a participatory way the evaluation criteria since the first lesson of the MOOC.