In my previous post about decorating the virtual classroom, I promised a post about content creation and curation (yeah, I thought I would do it sooner, but too much interesting conversation at Google+ intervened, ha ha). In the meantime, though, someone posted an item at the Coursera discussion board about using Zotero, which really enthused me, since Zotero would be an excellent tool for the professor to use in curating and sharing bibliography and for interested students to do likewise. Heck, Zotero even gives people public profile pages (here's mine)... which is more than I can say for the poor Coursera discussion board.
Alas, the poor Coursera discussion board. I keep coming back to this problem over and over again simply because Coursera is expecting (wrongly) for the discussion board to accomplish curation purposes, something it is just not capable of. Various good-hearted souls are sharing links to online resources in the discussion board forums (some of them are even trying to make good use of tags, albeit inconsistently and with zero guidance from the instructor or course staff), but their helpful information is getting drowned out, irrecoverably, in the chaos that reigns at the discussion boards basically all the time (and our class is small compared to some others at Coursera; we are probably right at the 10,000 enrollment limit that represents a kind of dividing line in how Coursera itself classifies its own courses as defined in its Michigan contract).
My vision of a MOOC is that it would be an incredible opportunity for CREATING content collaboratively as well as CURATING existing content along with the content that we ourselves are creating. Instead, though, we are throwing everything into the virtual trash can. What a loss! In real classrooms, of course, there is only so much room on the real walls to put stuff, only so much room on the real bookshelves (and only so much money to use to buy the books), etc. But in a virtual classroom, there is no limit to the amount of content we can create and share together (8000 essays have been submitted for this class in just two weeks), as well as the content curation efforts we could engage in collaboratively.
Admittedly, I am disappointed that the instructor has not gotten things started for us by sharing lists of links to recommended resources online, and I am really surprised that the Coursera staff does not have a ready-made library of links to help people with writing and research that they can deploy in all the classes that involve writing and research as this class does (people's eagerness to do research is kind of surprising but also very invigorating, too, of course!). One of my main tasks as an online instructor, at least as I see it, is to prepare libraries of online resources for my students to use as they get started on their work for the course (see the Online Books Sidebar here as just one example), and I am very happy curating the amazing content produced by my students every semester; more about their class projects in this earlier blog post: Goals, Persistence, and Projects: The Value of Making Things.
But okay: let's say we just have to do this ourselves as students. Could we do this on our own? YES, WE COULD. Absolutely. But we need a better tool than the discussion board with which to do it. Luckily, there are free tools out there to help us, like Zotero, Diigo, Twitter, etc. All we would need are organizational getting-started tips from the folks at Coursera (generic tips, which they could use for all their classes, so it's a good investment on their part), along with some course-specific tags provided by the course instructor or staff, based both on the weekly content and also the recurring themes that the instructor wants to emphasize. Of course, students could start creating tags of their own, and we would need a way to have a dynamic library of tags to reflect what emerges - but a basic tag directory from the instructor could go a long way.
And hey, they've got all those programmers and millions of dollars at Coursera. Could they build on the APIs of services like Google, Twitter, etc., and collaborate with software developers like the great folks at Zotero, in order to really integrate these kinds of activities into the course itself...? Yes, obviously they could do that.
Instead, all we've got is an incredibly primitive and clunky discussion board, thousands of essays going into the virtual trash can, and a "participation grade" in the class that recognizes ONLY one kind of participation: providing grading and feedback on the essays that are all going into the virtual trash can anyway. Surely there are all kinds of valuable, lasting contributions to the class that could be recognized as part of the participation grade, right?
Argh! Well, before I totally run out of steam today (and I really am running out of steam...), I will end this post for now (although there is so much more to say here about the joys of content creation and curation), and instead move on to a seriously important and related topic: what's up with the student feedback system...?