How I improved my CS50x problem set 0 game

I was quite pleased with the game I made for problem set 0. The one thing I wasn’t happy with was the player movement, which was very fiddly and certainly not smooth.

I shared the game on twitter, and midway through this afternoon I got a message from @ArsenaliansCom saying thanking me for the game, but suggesting that the movement should be improved.

    1. ArsenaliansCom
      @martinlugton Nice program, but the movement could be made easier. That would help, a lot.
      Mon, Oct 22 2012 07:34:29
    2. martinlugton
      @arsenalianscom Agreed! Any tips on how I could do this? I tried allowing multiple key presses at once, but this didn’t really work 😦
      Mon, Oct 22 2012 08:17:01
    3. ArsenaliansCom
      @martinlugton Allow multiple key presses, in an if-else if-else if-else if construct. I will send you a sample in a bit.
      Mon, Oct 22 2012 08:19:10
    4. ArsenaliansCom
      @martinlugton Sorry – if-if-if-if construct. Can’t have multiple keys in an if-else. Sorry about that.
      Mon, Oct 22 2012 08:20:18

I liked the suggestion that a series of ‘if’ statements could allow for smoother movement.

I got home and thought about how I could rework my code on this basis, converting my existing movement code into something using a single looping if statement structure.

The Academic Honesty agreement for this course states that “you may not share code”, so I won’t show you a ‘before and after’.

Whilst this restricts what I can write about here somewhat, I don’t actually think this is a bad thing. I would hate to ever use code that I hadn’t created or understood fully. So in implementing these improvements, I was very careful to only use the overarching advice – that using a set of if statements together could be helpful. Academic Honesty agreements aside, I want to figure out things  for myself, and to craft them myself, because that is how learning happens.

After introducing the initial change to the movement I had to change a few other things:

Player movement was a bit too fast, so I decreased sped and rotation speed.

It was hard to get the ghosts chasing at the right speed – there’s a fine balance between almost inevitably being caught and having an easy time of escaping. I got this as close as I could, and then added in another semi-randomly moving and bouncing mouth ghost. I found that having two of bouncing ghosts made things much trickier, so I had to increase player movement a bit to give them a fighting chance.

I’m pleased with the results of these improvements – the game is now much smoother:

Scratch Project

What improvements have the rest of you made to your games?

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Week 0 of edX’s CS50X – what I learned and my thoughts on the experience

I’m keeping a record of my experiences on CS50x – a free, online class on the edXplatform, teaching basic computer science. I have some basic programming experience (I’ve completed coursera’s CS101, am 6/7 through udacity’s CS101, and did a few problem sets from MITOCW 6.00 early in the year.) I’m going to try and share my learning on the course, and my thoughts on the experience.

This week’s lectures were mostly videos of lectures delivered directly to the CS50 students at  Harvard. There were two main lectures, each an hour long. I watched the videos on my tablet, to and from work, and didn’t feel that I was interrupting the flow too much by doing this. I’m not sure if this will be the case later on, when the topics become more involved.

The videos didn’t have interactive quiz elements (although the platform does seem capable of these). There were a few questions to get you thinking along the way, but these were just a part of the video – for example, I stopped the video to check my understanding of the binary to decimal conversion.

The explanations were good. I enjoyed the content, and found it to be quite effective in introducing new ideas. I liked the way that algorithms and complexity were introduced right from the start with the example of finding numbers in a phone book. The explanation of binary notation was clear, and after replaying it once and working through the examples, I had understood the concept.

Watching these videos did make me think that we can we can take the usefulness of online educational video a step further. People always mention the advantage of being able to pause and repeat educational video. But whilst this is useful, it can only go so far – what if the explanation was just not very helpful in the first place?

One way of improving this might be to have ‘alternative explanation’ videos for each concept. This could be using a different example to explain something, or could use different vocabulary, or break down the explanatory steps a little more.

Alternatively, we could crowd-source additional explanations. If a user thinks they can suggest a helpful alternative explanation, or a web link to somewhere with another good explanation, they could annotate the video with this. If someone’s having trouble with a section, they could select to view these annotations for the section in question.

This course is a neat insight into the culture around CS50 and Harvard. The musical interlude in the first lecture took me by surprise -pop culture and fun weren’t a feature of my own undergraduate lectures. I felt quite British and uncomfortable during the dance routine – being exposed to a different culture us good for me.

The apparent strength of feeling around the course, and the CS50 brand, was also something new to me. Let’s see if I end up wearing a CS50 t shirt! I was also interested to see how the on-campus experience uses technology, for example to allocate teaching assistants during office hours.

The user experience on was smooth in some areas and a bit rough in others. Downloading the videos was nice and easy – so I watched the lectures on the train to and from work on my tablet. The navigation of the course is a little clunky – it doesn’t initially feel very easy to get an overview of the course and to move between the different areas of interactivity. But I’m sure I’ll get used to this soon.

I submitted my assignment, and received a confirmation message, but can’t easily see how to go back and review this. Similarly, if I go to the course progress page, the meaning of the messages isn’t very clear: “No problem scores in this section” – is this because there’s nothing to submit, because I haven’t been graded yet but will be soon, or because I haven’t submitted anything. The backend of the system could do with being a little more integrated to reassure users.

How did I get on with the assignment? I really enjoyed creating an interactive game. I think this tactile assignment was a good way to empower people. Scratch is nice and straightforward, and quite powerful with it. I did find programming player movement in response to keypresses a bit fiddly, and I’m not entirely happy with the results here.

Here’s my game – Nightmare:

Scratch Project

The concept of my game:

The player has to survive for 60 seconds. Avoid the ghosts, eat the stars for more points.

The player and enemy starting locations are randomised within certain constraints.

Enemies move around – two of them seek the player, and the third just bounces around, in a random fashion. Later on, two more enemies appear.

If the player survives, they escape the nightmare. If they get eaten, they stay there forever (unless they hit the reset button… ;))

Enemy behaviour:

The three main different enemy sprites all behave differently, and I’m quite pleased with the effect of this.

The red ghost has a forever loop – point towards the player, move 14 steps, then wait 0.6 seconds. This allows it to home in pretty well, but without being unavoidable.

The big face with teeth has a forever loop telling it to bounce on edges, move a step, and then with a 1% chance of turning a random direction between -90 and 90 degrees.
This gives it enough randomness to be scary, but not so much as to be completely unpredictable.

The purple face has a forever loop, gliding for four seconds to the position of the player. This gives the player just enough time to move away, but ensures that if the player doesn’t move – or moves badly – they’ll be caught.

These three enemy behaviours combine nicely, and they are my favourite part of the programme. I find the game quite hard to play!

New enemies, following slightly modified version of the red ghost movement, are spawned after events at 30 and 10 seconds remaining, to add to the tension. Their sounds and costumes are different, and the final one is slower than the rest, but other than that their tracking behaviour is not new.

It is not possible for an enemy to spawn on top of the player. Enemies have to spawn at least 50 pixels away – there’s a check for this before spawning. If it is failed, another spawn location is generated. I’m quite pleased with this feature.

An ‘artistic’ experience:

I enjoyed drawing my own graphics and sounds – it felt very playful. I’m not a confident drawer, but I really enjoyed making my own sprites, and then doing the sound effects.

I took inspiration from Psychonauts, from the sounds in Minecraft, and the Worker and Parasite clip from the Simpsons

What I’m hoping to achieve with CS50x

I’ve had really positive experiences when online education is a communal and creative activity. So I recorded a quick video introducing myself:

I’m hoping to learn about computer science, online learning, and to connect with others people. I’m looking forward to creating things and learning with new people.

I’d love to find out how the rest of you found the first week.

What did you learn? How did you find the lectures? How did you find the assignment?

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Why I went on Slutwalk

Last week I took part in London’s Slutwalk. The movement started back in 2011 in response to the comments of a Toronto police officer who suggested that to stay safe, “women should avoid dressing like sluts.” Here’s my attempt to understand and explain what the movement is about.

The Slutwalk movement is predicated on “The radical notion that no one deserves to get raped.” It seeks to reverse a cultural and legal system whose first instinct is to pin blame on the victim.  By interrogating their clothing and behaviour – rather than focusing on the perpetrator – this is a system that presumes to judge and infer consent on their behalf. Another attempt to own, know and control women’s bodies.

Some of the best placards I saw were: “My clothing is not my consent”, “My human rights don’t end where my body begins”, (Which highlights the point that discourse around rights is very different to the practice of encountering an embodied human.) “My body, my rules” and “I’ll tell you when I’m asking for it.”

The best chant was probably “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no.” (I guess the final line of the chant would ideally be “an absence of positive consent means no”, but that wouldn’t be as catchy.)

Anastasia, the lead organiser of the London event, explained why the term “slut”, and the surrounding mental and cultural processes,  perpetuate rape. “We are divided by the myth that some of us are worthy of protection and some of us are not.”

There’s a division between people who “have it coming” and people who are legitimate victims. I reject the idea that anyone “deserves” to be raped. And I don’t understand how anyone is asking to be raped. The idea that some people “have it coming” is just an excuse that we accept by social convention.

Even if you don’t see yourself as someone who “has it coming”, the label is easily applied after it’s happened to you. You become a “slut” and are outside the pale of protection – in fact, you had it coming all along. If there is a problem, you are the cause and embodiment of it. You are Eve/Pandora and you bring rape into the world and upon yourself.

This bogus reasoning leads to inquisition and vilification of the victim, attempting to determine whether (s)he’s a slut or not rather than on prosecuting the attacker.

If this system is to change, we all need to become sluts. By claiming this label, there will be no gradations from “asking for it” to “not asking for it” and no judgement and vilification. I’m not sure how easy it will be to achieve this aim, but I’m in agreement with the analysis of the problem and what needs to be done, so I hope the movement continues to build momentum.

Whilst there are some good challenges to the attempt to break down the worthy of protection – slut dichotomy through reappropriation of the word “slut”, noted on Wikipedia, my current thinking is that the movement has to go to the indecorous, indecent, “undeserving” places if it is to break down the harmful binary.

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Open source and open access learning resources – 14 September 2012 #digped discussion

  1. What exactly does “open” mean?

  2. rogerwhitson
    IMO, OA refers only to the ability to access the article, open source is more comprehensive, b/c you can do stuff w/ code/text. #digped
  3. khomotso
    The ‘open’ of open source facilitates collaboration, the ‘open’ of open access does not, necessarily #digped
  4. slamteacher
    I like the idea that open access means that content/material becomes flexible – copyable, changeable, operable. #digped
  5. Is “open” about an absence of explicit barriers to entry (eg. paywalls)? Or is “open” an active effort to facilitate different people’s engagement with the material? Or is it about what use can be made of the material, and the different ways that it can be appropriated and drawn upon?
  6. What are the implications of “open” in an academic context?

  7. Jessifer
    @andrewstaroscik @readywriting @rswharton Should we have more writing (academic or other) that lets us look under the hood & modify? #digped
  8. Jessifer
    @woodpainter Nice example. Are notions of “intellectual property” and “open access” fundamentally at odds? #digped
  9. How does “open” sit in a practical/economic context? and what does “open” mean for people’s livelihoods?
  10. andrewstaroscik
    @jessifer I agree and as an adjunct with no hope of TT I embrace it! Mix things up. Lot’s of uncertainty though. #digped
  11. readywriting
    @Jessifer @andrewstaroscik I’m all for open, but I do worry about being able to live off of the open (or something!) #digped
  12. Jessifer
    @readywriting @andrewstaroscik Yeah, how do we “monetize” open? What kinds of new livelihoods can we make? #highered needs some. 🙂 #digped
  13. andrewstaroscik
    @readywriting @rswharton @carriepadian This is important, we need to really talk about what subsidizes what in higher ed. #digped
  14. Jessifer
    @HybridPed I like to start with what works for learning & then figuring out how to deal with the economic & political remifications. #digped
  15. andrewstaroscik
    @jessifer here is a late shot: Economics is central because the structure will determine who contributes and how #digped
  16. The conversation then stepped back to consider the pedagogical questions posed by “open”.
  17. The pedagogy of “open” and “open” spaces

  18. Jessifer
    What is the pedagogical value in openness: encourages collaboration and play, disrupts power dynamics of education. #digped
  19. afamiglietti
    @jessifer except when it doesn’t. Open also means “surveillance.” Sometimes play needs darkness. Sometimes. #digped
  20. rswharton
    @HybridPed Open pedagogy is one in which students are empowered to make responsible choices re intellectual property, privacy. #digped
  21. khomotso
    @Jessifer Also, how do we balance openness with privacy, or safe spaces for learning? Need nuanced, contextualized choices like CC #digped
  22. JRRockwall
    @afamiglietti @jessifer must be critical when deciding what to have open. Ensuring the “classroom” is safe learning environment #digped
  23. So what is a “safe” space for learning?
  24. rogerwhitson
    I wonder what a safe space for learning means when so much content is available online? #digped Not that it isn’t a concern.
  25. khomotso
    @rogerwhitson On its simplest level, the freedom to ask ‘dumb’ questions and not have them come back to you in another context #digped
  26. Jessifer
    @rogerwhitson I’m not sure these “safe spaces” really exist anymore. Maybe, they are purely nostalgic? Maybe learning isn’t safe. #digped
  27. rswharton
    @khomotso @rogerwhitson @Jessifer Do we make classrooms safer by walling them off or encouraging social values that make them safe. #digped
  28. Jessifer
    @vrobin1000 @rogerwhitson Isn’t there always risk of personal attack? I try to advocate for my students rather than sheltering them. #digped
  29. rswharton
    @Jessifer @khomotso @rogerwhitson But focusing on access to info w/o also considering how we interpret/use it is wrong approach. 2/2 #digped
  30. vrobin1000
    @Jessifer @rogerwhitson #digped I don’t know that teaching them not to attack each other in a discussion means they’re being sheltered.
  31. readywriting
    Can we talk about “safe spaces” for (open) learning when for many of us, we don’t have a “safe space” for (open) teaching? #digped
  32. Reading over this discussion left me wondering what an open ecosystem might look like, both in terms of access/accessibility and sustainability/resourcing. I’m uncertain about funding models and wonder how much space there is for “open” within current funding models and structures.
    Will the initiative for change come from pedagogy or economics?

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I’m trying to plan my next MOOC but all this learning gets in the way. Reflections on the MOOCMOOC and where I go next

Since taking this month’s MOOCMOOC, I’ve been trying to plan my next online course; but all the learning that has emerged from the network I created during that week has changed my focus.

The MOOCMOOC was my first taste of online connective learning. It took a while to begin to understand how to engage, but soon I learned to stop worrying and love the MOOC. Since graduating with my history BA in 2010 I’ve sorely missed social-exploratory learning experiences. I’ve wanted to learn and discover new ideas and engage with new people. But until the MOOCMOOC I wasn’t clear on how to make this happen, and have felt comparatively disconnected, lonely, limited and dull.

This cMOOC was just the ticket. (For the differences between this type of course and those offered on udacity and coursera, see my attempt at a summary of the main differences between the so-called cMOOCs and the larger xMOOCs; see also this excellent nuancing of attempts to delimit the features of the MOOC landscape). It felt like active exploration with a group of peers. The group moved forward through blog posts, videos, and discussion. Each person contributed from their own perspective, and engaged with what interested them most, in the way that they felt most suitable.

This course wasn’t just about absorbing content, it was about knowledge creation. Each day’s suggested readings and questions for reflection were a springboard for the group’s engagement. From this frame the ecosystem grew, with ideas and comments spreading like vines. New clusters of thought emerged in blog posts, back-and-forth in comments on blog posts, and through discussion on twitter. This meant that each individual’s contribution was informed by – and part of – an emerging and lively networked discourse. This made learning, discovery, reflection, discussion and creation part of the same process. This was thrilling, scary, unpredictable, and fun. So I emerged from the MOOCMOOC a fan of connectivism.

How has this MOOC changed my learning priorities? Before taking this one-week course, I had envisioned metaphorically packing my bags at the end of the week and returning to my solitary work on my xMOOCs. But this course sent me in a different direction:

1) I want to carry on with this more chaotic, emergent, connected learning. It felt ‘right’, and I think it’s the learning I’ve been yearning for.

I was touched by Rosemary’s reflections on the MOOCMOOC experience:
“What MOOCMOOC gave me, and what I think I was missing, was the excitement of spontaneously forging new friendships. It was the ‘Joy of Learning’. It’s those moments chatting to complete strangers, giggling, feeling like you’ve known them for years. It was the interaction with people that made all the difference, coupled with the excitement that comes from learning/conquering new things that were too scary before.”

The network encouraged me over the course of the week, spurring me on to contribute as best I could. I was surprised to find myself articulating thoughts on institutional and connectivist pedagogies and sharing them via video for anyone to see on the Tuesday. I was really excited to participate in the collaborative creation of a course outline for a MOOC on digital history – Discovering, Exploring and Preserving our Digital Data. This wasn’t the kind of learning I’d have done on my own.

2) I still want to use xMOOCs to obtain specific learning outcomes. Working in digital communications, I have many specific competencies that I would like to acquire. I want to learn programming, and would like to have a decent working knowledge of Python, Javascript and PHP in the next year or so. For my professional development it’ll be useful to walk out of that process with some certification behind me.

As I’m in full time work, I have to think carefully about how I spend my other waking hours. So I’ve been weighing up how to spend my online learning time, and deciding on my priorities. My plans are now as follows:

1) I want to continue to grow connections and participate actively in the network I started to build during MOOCMOOC. This will require me to engage with the discourse and actively participate in the creation of knowledge. I’m slightly scared about this responsibility – to myself and to the others – but hope I can make a good go of it. They’ve already encouraged me to raise my game through participation.

I hope to continue learning and participating connectively, and to engage with whatever my network is grappling with.

2) I’ve limited myself to one xMOOC at a time. It’s hard to walk away from so much free learning, but I have to be realistic.

Whilst attempting to step back and formulate my plans, I’ve found that connective learning doesn’t stop at the end of the course. This has disrupted any attempts for me to package the learning or impact of the course, or even to say when it is going to finish. Since the MOOCMOOC formally concluded, the network has carried on:

New participants have come along, and I’ve further expanded my blog subscriptions and the size of my online learning twitter list.

There’s been some discussion on the spaces in which activity took place during the course, and on how well the course worked. Martin Hawksey has contributed some great visualisations of activity on the #moocmooc #tag, and we’ve discussed what might be done with the initial results.

I’ve been introduced to yahoo pipes, and have started to think about the various uses I could make of it. (For starters I’m thinking of using it to aggregate my online publishings on twitter and wordpress into one record. I do worry about being able to trace back all the things I’ve said to draw together thoughts in future.).

There’s been discussion on the sustainability/economics of cMOOCs. It was quiet for a few days, but has sprung back in to life earlier today.

Whilst I’ve been reflecting on what course(s) to take next, the discourse has continued, and I’ve stayed engaged. So learning has disrupted my MOOC plans – what a great outcome!

What am I going to do now?

My learning plan is to:

1) Continue engaging with the #moocmooc network, whatever ‘engaging’ turns out to mean. (Whilst recognising that I cannot engage with everything.)

2) Take the HarvardX CS50X Computer Science course, starting 15 October.

3) And to keep thinking and writing and talking about it as I go.

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What is a MOOC? What are the different types of MOOC? xMOOCs and cMOOCs

The acronym “MOOC” has been in vogue recently, with lots of discussion about organisations like udacitycoursera and edX. The acronym stands for “Massive Open Online Course.”

These organisations provide one interpretation of the MOOC model. They focus on concise, targeted video content – with short videos rather than full-length lectures to wade through – and use automated testing to check students’ understanding as they work through the content.

These MOOCS have been dubbed “xMOOCs”. Whilst they include discussion forums, and allow people to bounce ideas around and discuss learning together, the centre of the course is the instructor-guided lesson. Each student’s journey/trajectory through the course is linear and based on the absorption and understanding of fixed competencies. Learning is seen as something that can be tested and certified.

I’ve taken and completed a couple of xMOOCS so far. I took coursera’s CS101 and Human-Computer Interaction courses, and am part-way through udacity’s CS101 (more focused and programming-oriented than the coursera offering). In both programming courses, the mechanistic nature of the tasks has lent itself nicely to automated validation of my answers. This doesn’t work so well for conceptual problems, but generally the ‘answer’  videos do a good job of pre-empting and dealing with these issues.

I’ve found the video lectures to be an improvement on the traditional lecture format. The smaller units of consumption and testing of comprehension as you go make the experience much more engaging than the one-sided broadcast that constitutes most lectures. These in-lecture comprehension tests – which at present don’t do anything other than help the learner absorb the material – could be used to inform the automated testing process further on, adapting to the needs of the individual learner.

But, of course, the one-on-one interaction and easy back-and-forth questioning that can happen at the end of a formal lecture cannot take place in an xMOOC. Questions can – and do – find their way to the professor through the course’s forum – if enough people deem them to be important and a teaching assistant is looking in the right direction – but this is a much more formal and less spontaneous process than you’d get in person. So not a great arena for free and easy discussion with the person ostensibly leading the learning.

Coursera recently implemented a system for crowd-sourcing peer assessment. (The Human Computer Interaction course saw students marking each other’s work to a clear rubric, having been themselves evaluated to be an adequately accurate assessor. (Evaluation was based on one’s ability to grade a set of papers to a similar mark as the professor.)) The HCI course seemed to do a good job of peer assessing more creative contributions – the rubrics were generally clear and helpful. They did certainly constrain one’s output, but this seemed a fair compromise for getting others to mark your work to an accepted and uniform standard. Initially there wasn’t much in the way of feedback from peers – just numbers. But the peer feedback element was bulked up towards the end of the course.


So what is the other type of MOOC, and how is it different?

The other type of MOOC is based on connectivism. These are the cMOOCS.

The connected aspect of learning is brought to the fore in a cMOOC. It’s a chaotic experience (as @RosemarySewart put it) and is inherently personal and subjective, as participants create their meaning and build and navigate their own web of connections.

cMOOCs are not proscriptive, and participants set their own learning goals and type of engagement. They won’t necessarily walk away with a fixed and tested set of specific skills or competencies, or knowledge of a set body of content. This makes cMOOCs tricky to grade or assess or certify. This, combined with the fact that the platform is totally open, means that they probably aren’t very easy to make any money from.

cMOOCs are discursive communities creating knowledge together. Based on my experience in the MOOCMOOC, I’m a big fan, and I’d love to see them get a bit more attention.

The best way to understand a connectivist course is to participate in one. It may be a bit of a culture shock at first, but you’ll soon find your feet and begin to enjoy the thrill of the experience.

Rory McGreal and George Siemens are leading a cMOOC on openness in education, starting on 10 September 2012. I’d recommend joining in and seeing what connectivism has to offer.

As a springboard for more on MOOCs, check out the readings from Sunday and Monday of this month’s MOOCMOOC, and have a look at this piece on the MOOC Misnomer which does a nice job of dismantling lazy use of the term.

Update: I’ve now created a list of cMOOCs in an attempt to help people keep track of the different courses that are going on.

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My assessment of my experience of the MOOCMOOC so far. Or “How I learned to stop worrying and love the MOOC”

As a voluntary, non-certified, individual (yet massively networked!) learning experience, I feel that I’m probably the only person in a position to assess how I’m getting on in the MOOCMOOC so far. In this post I reflect on how I’ve spent my time, and also explain a big emotional/conceptual shift that has taken place in how I relate to this course.


How have I spent my time so far?

Sunday: I thought about my aims in taking this meta-MOOC, and read as much as I could on the underlying pedagogy. I followed the suggested readings and followed up links within those articles, and to a few related youtube videos.

Monday: I was hosting guests, so just kept up with the reading. I attempted to draft a response on the train home from work, but it really just turned into me playing around with basic connectivist vs institutitional/broadcast MOOC ideas. I was a little disappointed at not being able to contribute to the group activity – by the time my guests left, there were only ten minutes left of the collaboration exercise – but my thinking and writing and attempts to respond certainly got me thinking.

Tuesday: I produced a video in which I tried to see how the institutional and connectivist models could flow into each other. I spent several hours working on the ideas for this, and was quite pleased with what I came up with. I’m not sure how novel or useful my thoughts were, but I enjoyed jumping into a little conversation on youtube with a great video on context and learning.

Wednesday: A combination of a tiring day at work and the previous evening’s efforts meant that I didn’t have much energy. So I followed the core reading, but spent the evening hanging out with my brother. Part way through I felt inspired to respond to the ‘where learning happens’ question from Tuesday. I created a video on communal eating and learning and why MOOCs might struggle with this. I posted it on twitter but it didn’t really get many views – maybe because it was a day late and had a slightly odd title?

Thursday: I participated in the google doc on online tools as best I could during the working day. I asked peers for Personal Learning Environment and aggregation tools advice. Having read the notification about Friday’s task, I jumped in with a couple of ideas on the clean slate google doc. After a while someone else jumped in and I helped out with their suggestion, adding a few questions to think about. So far the broad headings are: “A MOOC survival skills MOOC – a MOOC that teaches people to mooc, or, if we’re going to think of this like responsible connectivists, gets them to start MOOCing like MOOCers.”; “A perpetual MOOC – a MOOC that keeps moving forward on the wave of knowledge it creates – and comes into contact with as it goes.” and the other person’s suggestion “MOOC’hing — the art of teaching MOOCs”. I’m looking forward to seeing where people go with this. Will any of this be recognisable tomorrow?


How have I felt taking this MOOC? What have I learned about MOOCs?

I’ve been trying hard to keep up with the #tag #MOOCMOOC over breakfast, during the working day, and into the evening. A combination of being in full time work and living in the UK makes things a bit trickier, and I can feel overwhelmed with the amount of content; but I feel that learning to engage with this is exactly what I’m here to do. I’m going to start using favourite posts in twitter, and will look into storify to help this process. I’ll also think about how I manage blog content, and my ‘to read’ list. (Maybe a Personal Learning Environment is the answer. I must find out what these are! Or perhaps a custom dashboard of some sort.) But I think I face a bigger challenge than just a technical or design one – it’s an emotional and conceptual one.

I got a bit stressed out at first. I’ve been out of higher education for a while, and whilst I kept up a high pace when studying as a Cambridge undergrad, this experience has felt like going from 0 to 60 very quickly. Actually it’s been much faster paced than my history degree, with an incredible rate of thinking, commentary and criticism. The sedate pace of the expansion of knowledge in medieval history has been thrown into very stark relief. I never had to deal with hundreds of tweets whilst reading dusty tomes in a Cambridge University Library. So I’ve needed to learn as a learner:

I think that chilling out and engaging with what’s most exciting to me at any given moment is the biggest big lesson I’ve learnt so far.

I begin to see what Stephen Downes was saying about the huge torrents of information and how it’s not possible to read everything. Whilst I hope to improve my ability to manage this flow of information, and to engage with more of it, I begin to understand that my own perspective is important, that I’m subject to my own learning desires, and that this is a positive thing. So it’s okay for me to blog on the topic that is most interesting me. Today’s ‘assignment’ talks about using storify, but I’m not going to stress about using that medium because I’ve felt that I’d gain most from writing this blog post.

This all feels like good learning to me. Loving the MOOC so far!


How am I doing so far in terms of achieving my aims with this MOOC?

1) Gain a deeper appreciation of the pedagogy at play in MOOCs.

I’ve gained lots of raw conceptual material, largely on Sunday, and started thinking about it. The following days have allowed me to start actively reflecting on this in the community.
As I’m a humanities graduate with no formal teaching background – just a love of learning and teaching – I think there’s much more work for me to do in terms of understanding pedagogy as a craft/discipline/art. But I do feel that I’m starting to understand connectivism by becoming a connective learner.

2) Think about the design and platform creation issues involved in MOOCs.
I’m actually less focused on this than I’d expected to be.
As a connectivist MOOC, so much happens out in the wild, with a #tag or helpful aggregation dashboard to mark out the terrain. I’m not yet sure that I’m good at navigating through quite so much information. This presents me with a quite different design question to the one I thought I’d be thinking about, which was ‘how do we design a good platform’. I’d really been focused on the design of a single place to hold and delimit a learning experience.

My learning objective has now changed: Whilst I’d like to know more about the tools that can be used to improve this aggregation – particularly malleable ones that each user can customise and own – my priority now is a personal question of engaging with a large flow of information. I’m thinking about this both from a technical/tools perspective and as a connected learner who must learn to pick out the most exciting morsels from the stream and not feel guilty for choosing what I want in my learning.

3) Forge a network that will allow me to properly engage with the medium as it develops into the future.

I’ve loved watching the exchanges on #moocmooc and in comments on blogs and videos, and have tried to add people who have interested me to my twitter list of online learning. I now feel that I’ve found a good group of people and blogs to follow – I think the next step for me as a learner is to more confidently engage with them.


How have the rest of you found the MOOCMOOC so far? Have you been satisfied with your learning? (How) have you been assessing your experience?

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Moving from institutional pedagogy to connectivist learning

I’d like to suggest that the institutional and connectivist models could flow in to each other, perhaps as part of a larger online learning ecosystem.

I do think that there are times when a more institutional model make sense. I think a more regimented, instructor-led experience is appropriate when the desired learning outcome is something like a clear set of knowledge, or a specific discrete mastery.

This approach probably works best when the main body of knowledge is not contentious – for example, learning basic mathematics – or when the body of knowledge is totally alien to the learner, and they don’t know how to begin approaching it.

A connectivist criticism would say that an institutional approach runs the risk of taking the learning out of learning. As the instructor takes the role of curating and guiding, the learner is more subservient.

But I do think that institutional pedagogy does have an important part to play: It can provide a starter pack of critical tools needed to engage in a community of knowledge. It can have a kind of springboard effect, and from there it’s not always certain where the learning will end up.

Perhaps we can think of institutional pedagogy as a sort of agar plate – a careful, nurturing
environment where the fundamentals of life can be absorbed, and an organism built up to adolescence. Once it’s matured enough to fend to itself, it’s time to grow and struggle in the realm of connective learning.

To my mind, an interesting question is how we support learners arriving in a new area of knowledge. Some of them will have most of the skills required to orient themselves as independent, connective learners in this new space; others will have very few. Certainly there are underlying learning competencies, but there will also be skills that are specific to different areas of knowledge. How do we develop both of these?

In other words, how can we make every learning community truly accessible?

This video was produced as part of the August 2012 #MOOCMOOC. I’ve posted it here with a transcription for accessibility. With apologies for any liberties I’ve taken over the theories involved.

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Why I’m taking the MOOC MOOC and what I hope to achieve

Today is the start of a particularly exciting massive open online course. Distinct from other ‘mooc’s, this course focuses on consideration of the medium itself. So the course is a meta-mooc: a week-long exploration of open online learning. I think it’s going to be a great week.

I’m fascinated by online learning and accessible lifelong learning. Last year I worked for the East Kent NHS Trust in an online learning role, and it’s wonderful to see how this space has opened up in the last twelve months. I wasn’t aware of moocs or mooc theory at the time – it would probably have been a big help!

In taking this course, I’m hoping to:

1) Gain a deeper appreciation of the pedagogy at play in moocs.

2) Think about the design and platform creation issues involved in moocs.

3) Forge a network that will allow me to properly engage with the medium as it develops into the future.

The moocs  I’ve taken so far have been broadcast-focused: Coursera’s CS101 and Human-Computer Interaction were my first wo. One track of the HCI course centred round a creative project, but the experience was instructor-led and the learning was overwhelmingly imparted through lectures. I had a great time on this course, and I wrote a review of the Coursera Human-Computer Interaction Course on this blog to explore my reflections in more detail.

I recently took the Power Searching with Google course, but didn’t make use of the discussion features offered. Spanning the course of two weeks, the course imparted some neat nuggets of information – some helpful procedural knowledge that has improved how I use Google search. But I felt no particular compulsion to supplement this by engaging in discussion with others. The course felt geared towards imparting specific units of knowledge each week, obtained by walking through the videos and exercises. This meant that the discussion forum felt somewhat unnecessary, as the learning objectives had already been met. The path was mapped out, leaving no real space for emergent knowledge creation through discussion.

At present I’m taking Udacity’s CS101 course, and have a few more courses lined up for the rest of the year. So far I’ve found these online courses to be a great opportunity to pick up technical skills that I didn’t obtain from my humanities degree. But there’s a whole lot more that this medium can do. I’m ready to talk to people, to learn by creating content and networks.

What am I expecting from this week’s meta-mooc? I really enjoyed watching this mooc interview with George Siemens earlier today. He makes a good point about how graduates are cut off from a community of learning when they leave university – this definitely resonates with my experience (I graduated in 2010). I’m working to create new communities of intellectual discussion, learning and practice. Some of these are offline, others online. I hope that this course is an opportunity to become part of such a community and to learn about how such communities can be created.

The interview with George Siemens did a great job of articulating what I’m most excited about – the focus of learning in the network, and the emergent creation of knowledge. I’m really looking forward to the discourses and connections that this week will bring. Let’s see what happens! Why are you taking the meta mooc?

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Review of the Coursera Human Computer Interaction Course

I’ve now finished the Coursera Human Computer Interaction Course. As I await my final grade, I reflect on my experience, on the statistics on student numbers, and on how the platform can develop.

It’s been a wonderfully wide-ranging course, spanning the whole design process. Participants have learned needfinding and observation techniques, how to carry out rapid prototyping, principles for effective interface and visual design, and a repertoire of strategies for evaluating interfaces. The scope has been a real delight and Scott Klemmer’s lectures have been brilliant.


Today Scott Klemmer, in his concluding message to class participants, shared some statistics on how people have been engaging with the course:

  • 29,105 students watched video(s)
  • 6,853 submitted quiz(zes)
  • 2,470 completed an assignment
  • 791 completed all 5 assignments

(Assuming that anyone who submitted a quiz or assignment also watched videos:)
Of the number of people who watched video(s):

23.55% submitted one or more quizzes

8.48% submitted one or more assignments

2.72% completed all 5 assignments (and presumably all quizzes as well, as the final course grade for people doing assignments is also determined in part by their quiz score.)


The course offered two different levels of accomplishment – you could either watch the videos and do the weekly review quiz (short multiple choice exercises), or you could do this and work on a design project. The former was the ‘basic’ track; the latter was the ‘studio’ track. I chose the latter, as I wanted to learn as much as I could. We now know that 2.72% of those who watched one or more lectures took the time-intensive design assignments through to completion.

I admire the way that the course tried to accommodate for people who could only commit to following the lectures, whilst allowing those with the time and inclination to get stuck in to a full project.


The quizzes were quite easy and quick to complete. I would be interested to find out how many people watched and submitted all videos and quizzes – in other words, how many people followed the ‘basic’ track through to completion. Was the provision of this less time-hungry option a success? What was the attrition rate over the course of the class for people on the ‘basic’ track?


Whilst Scott’s videos were excellent, the assignments were the highlight of the course. The assignments allowed participants to put into practice what was discussed in the lectures and tested in the quizzes each week. They were very time consuming (I spent in the region of 15-20 hours a week on mine) but absolutely worthwhile. I liked the way that each of us worked on a project for the duration of the course, going through the entire design process and coming out with a completed prototype.


Online peer assessment was essential in making the assignments work – it would have been impractical to grade them in any other way, given the scale of the course (not to mention the fact that it was not paid for by participants). And being involved in peer assessment enhanced the learning experience. (The pedagogy section of the Coursera website outlines the literature on peer assessment.) As I noted in a comment on a blog on peer grading in online classes, it was highly educative to see other people’s assignments, as this has been such a creative course.

The assessment rubrics were mostly very clear, and they were improved a few weeks into the course when ‘in-between’ marks were introduced. This allowed markers to accommodate for people who were better than one standard, but who had not yet reached the next level of accomplishment. eg:

No performance – 0
Poor performance – 1
Basic performance – 2
Good performance – 3

No performance – 0
Poor performance – 1
Basic performance – 3
Good performance – 5

There were many other tweaks to the platform over the course, as we all got to grips with this experiment.


This course was a first foray into mass online peer assessment. Whilst other online courses have used computer grading to deliver scalable assessment, this wasn’t suitable here. Computer science and mathematics lend themselves to more mechanistic grading processes. One can quite easily devise a method to test whether a given program processes input correctly. But assessing design requires a more holistic,  subjective and qualitative evaluation method. So the course drew upon the grading rubric used in Scott’s Stanford class and utilised peer evaulation. Scott confesses that “we had no idea how this would work online.”

The peer grading process was certainly not anarchic. Before being let loose on your peers, you had to evaluate some control pieces of work. You’d then see how close you were to Scott Klemmer’s own assessment of that work. Once you got good enough (I think you were deemed to be ready when you’d performed 3 good evaluations) you were set to grade 5 of your peers. This trial grading system felt quite effective.

By grading other people’s work before you went back to grade your own, you were encouraged to take a more humble view, and hopefully one that was more objective. But Scott did note that “there was a real variation in the effort, standards and interpretation or rubric.” I wonder if the quality of a user’s evaluations could be monitored by comparing them to the mean grade given to a given piece of work by other evaluators. In reflecting on the assessment process, Scott observed that we need to figure out how to give people richer qualitative feedback. I think that these issues could be addressed hand-in-hand with measures to improve the timings of the course (and reduce attrition and dropouts) and the discussion element of the course.


I do think that the weekly workload could be improved. For those doing the studio track, the workload was quite punishing – particularly for those with work and/or family commitments. I spent around 20-25 hours a week on the course.

In any given week in the HCI course, learners had to carry out peer assessment and work on their own assignment (in addition to viewing the lectures and doing the week’s quiz). This meant that assessment and assignment competed with each other for attention. And there was no real formal incentive to lavish attention on the peer assessment. In his concluding remarks, Scott Klemmer stated that in future there would be more time between assignments.

I would also want to see a way of rewarding good evaluators. Good feedback could be incentivised. Perhaps each participant could state which feedback they found most helpful after each round of assessment, and the person who provided it could receive a little extra credit.

I think the course experience could be improved if there were alternating weeks of creation and assessment. This could encourage deeper reflection – and could be used to drive reflective peer discussion. This would also target criticism that Coursera’s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have not been sufficiently discursive, and that they are still more like one-way lectures. The creation, sharing and discussion of project work in this course has, of course, already undermined this criticism.

Scott was impressed by the way that the community drove much of the learning, with people sharing interesting interfaces, articles and other resources. (For example, some participants collated a reading list, drawing upon all the resources mentioned in the lectures; many set up study groups; others performed extra peer assessments voluntarily, and many more articulated or answered people’s questions and concerns in the forums.)

Doing more to foster the communal learning aspect of the course in a more targeted and deliberate fashion would further enhance the experience.


The clarity of assignments is ripe for improvement. Assignment requirements were not always initially clear, and the overall development of the course and destination of the design project was not clear at the start. (Maybe this helped avoid putting some people off by concealing the workload!) Over the course, these details have been hammered out, ensuring that next time through there will be more clarity in the assignment wording, with explanatory examples, and a clear roadmap of project work and deadlines.

Whilst sometimes the confusion was frustrating, it never dampened my excitement at being in the first cohort to try out this course. It felt like everyone involved in the process  was learning, including the teachers, so I didn’t mind the rough edges (particularly as the course was so good, and completely free). That was pretty cool.


This has been a fantastic course, and I’m still in awe of the fact that it was available for free. I’ll finish by mirroring Scott’s observation: “seeing the online education space really blossom gives me a lot of hope for the future.” I’m excited by the online educational space that has been emerging in force over the last year, and am already plotting my next courses. I’m half-way through Power Searching with Google, and have signed up for Udacity’s CS101.

I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks to Scott Klemmer and the team at Stanford and Coursera who made this course happen. I’ll do my best to use what I’ve learned, to continue improving, and to help others do the same.

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