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Engaging in MOOC Discussion Forums – The Perks of Not Being a Wallflower

So you have just enrolled in your first online course. You step into the course and are asked to introduce yourself in the MOOC discussion forum.  You open the forum page and . . . .

OH. EM. GEEEEE. People are everywhere. Everyone (it seems) has already arrived. No wonder they call it a massive open online course. You wonder who they are and what you should say about yourself, and you are suddenly struck with that awful self-conscious feeling you get when you arrive late to a cocktail party and everyone is already talking. Quietly and quickly, you read a couple of posts written by people who seem to be much more knowledgeable about the subject matter than yourself. (Aren’t people who don’t know about this subject supposed to sign up?)

And then, just as you are about to close the tab and go back check to Facebook (for just a minute, of course), you see a post that catches your interest. The person seems to have an interesting background, and their knowledge seems to be similar to yours. Maybe you can write something after all. Maybe you do have something to share.

So begins those first anxious moments of stepping into an open discussion forum involving several hundred people. You flounder, you gasp, at the sheer amount of typing/videoing/uploading that is being done, and then you become a part of it. At first it is overwhelming (like whitewater rafting, as I said in a previous article), but, just like with anyone who didn’t want to go to a party and then was glad they had afterwards, it takes a little bit of guts — of seeing the larger picture. If you keep going, you will learn something.

MOOC discussion forum crowd

Susan Sermoneta via Flickr

Engaging in MOOC discussion forums takes some skill. In the class I am currently facilitating, Hybrid Courses: The Best of Both Worlds, a student, Randy Orwin, saw some of the confusion starting and very graciously wrote a blog post titled “MOOC Overload!” on how to navigate a discussion on the Canvas Network platform. (This is the kind of great stuff that happens in MOOCs.) Knowing how to search, find and decipher the discussions of any given MOOC is important.

To Randy’s excellent advice, I would add that, in any MOOC, there are three things to realize:

1. You will NOT have a chance to read every post or talk to everyone. Release yourself from trying; unlike smaller online courses, this is not required. When you go to a party and talk to some very interesting people and learn two or three new things in the space of an hour, you don’t go home regretting that you didn’t talk to someone else, right? Appreciate the serendipity of MOOCs.  It is alright not to read every discussion forum post, as long as you are reading posts that are helping you learn.

2. Therefore, if you are reading posts that don’t interest you, then skip them. And when you find an especially intelligent post, make note of who wrote it. Then you can search for the names of people you find most relevant and interesting throughout the course. If you are having trouble finding posts that interest you, skip to the next page, look at every other post, or search for names that start with a certain letter and see what you find.

3. Lastly, take care with your own posts. Others are watching for good information too. If you have insights or resources that help others, share them. You will get more out of any course that you have contributed to in a meaningful way. You will find that thoughtful posts beget thoughtful posts.

With a little practice, you will be navigating your MOOCs with ease and enjoying the pure energy that any great gathering offers!


Liz Falconer (5 Posts)

I am an educator and lifelong learner, currently in a love-hate relationship with the internet and much of the virtual world around me. My background includes work in storytelling, music performance and composition, newspaper and magazine writing, and exotic things like studying Japanese and living in Japan. I earned an MA Japanese Pedagogy and a doctorate in International Education at the University of Iowa. I have taught in a wide variety of classroom environments, both online and traditional. I am currently RTC’s Curriculum and Technology Specialist. I am fascinated with the challenges and opportunities our internet world is providing.