‘Where are’ vs. ‘who are’ the professors. Thoughts on Google Hangouts and #edcmooc

I am catching up on some of the readings and work associated with E-Learning and Digital Cultures and just viewed the recorded version of the end-of-the-week Google Hangout (below) hosted by the organizers of this Coursera course. I wanted to take a moment to comment on my experience – and my aha’s about Hangouts as part of MOOC design. (Thoughts on course content to come in another post).

Two things struck me about the Hangout:

  • I have a much more interesting view of “who” is behind this course (the team from the University of Edinburgh). The course moved from an abstraction – activities, assignments, tools – to something more personal and, perhaps, connected.
  • There was a moment – a challenge to define reification in 140 characters or less in the Twitter chat associated with the Hangout – that to me exemplifies the most exciting aspects of massive-scale learning projects like this.

Who are?

On the first point, kudos to the Edinburgh team – Jeremy Knox, Dr Sian Bayne, Dr Hamish Macleod, Dr Jen Ross and Dr Christine Sinclair – for modeling an effective use of Google Hangouts.

In the Hangout, Christine Sinclair responds to questions that have come up about “where are the professors?” I found the Hangout to address a more interesting question: Who are the professors? The Hangout was a well-organized walk-through of topics in the allotted one-hour time, but I was most struck by the personalities that came through. I say the following with great admiration: This was not a “produced” experience. It was organized but also came across as if I were looking in on a dialogue among the team that probably happens similarly when they are in person.

I know that the question of who are the “professors” certainly raises up the instructor-student power dynamic that underlies much of the conversation about the value of different approaches to MOOCs (cMOOC vs xMOOC). This is a topic of real interest to me. See my post on rhizomatic learning from #etmooc, for example. But if we are going to use digital technologies to create a more connected type of learning – something that goes beyond sharing “content” – how do we best get at personalities, passion about topics, and the human-ness of those we connect with to learn? The Hangout provides an example of how to do that. It was certainly a much richer experience than simply reading the teaching team’s biographies. And clearly – Hangouts like this could be done by participants as well as the instructional team. But I do think the teaching team modeled the technology in a highly effective fashion.

I also noted a bit of language that helped me feel a little more connected with the team on a geeky, learning-design level. Both Sian and Jeremy used the word “intention” when talking about some of the content and content choices. As in: “Our intention was to have dialogue about…” Hamish added to this tone in his explanation of the final assignment – carefully describing the intentions behind an assignment in a course that is designed around an ill-structured problem. Jen and Sian also chatted about the difficulty in finding videos that could potentially represent a utopian perspective on technology – distopian views tend to produce more compelling stories and hence, there are more such stories.

All of this leads, to me, to a very productive type of humility in teaching. This team is open about the thinking behind the course design – about choices made and about intentions that could potentially be off the mark (my interpretation). And I think this is especially important the more I look at the learning potential provided by MOOCs.


The second highlight for me was the moment where the Hangout and the backchannel communications came together in an unplanned example of networked, connected learning. Jen asked Sian to respond to questions about the meaning of reification. Again, there was a bit of lightheartedness to the exchange as the two smiled about handing off an assignment that obviously has some difficulty to it. After Sian explained her way of thinking about the concept, the two noted that someone had posted a Twitter challenge: Define reification in 140 characters or less.

I was not there for the live event but suspect this is the tweet:

What a great example of spontaneous engagement in a large-scale event – only possible because of the mix of technologies used at that moment. You could see the reaction of the Edinburgh team at the moment that they noted the tweet (through their comments and facial expressions). And I’ve looked a bit at the Twitter stream after the challenge was posed – a wonderful combination of word play and meaning-making. “Reification = thingify” seemed to be the most popular short answer.

7 thoughts on “‘Where are’ vs. ‘who are’ the professors. Thoughts on Google Hangouts and #edcmooc

  1. dpedeva says:

    I also liked the professors’ hangout and thought that it was much more effective than a pre-recorded lecture as many of the other Coursera courses feature. There was an element of spontaneity and immediacy that draws in the viewer and makes her feel as a part of a conversation. This is ne of the reasons I like round-table conversations, such as Charlie Rose’ shows, because they have an element of improvisation and capture well the human moment. I can definitely see this as a model that can be implemented in education.


  2. Osvaldo says:

    Certainly the hangout added to the human component of this extremely technified course. It was at the same time funny and touching to see Hamish feeling uncomfortable because he could not shake his hands when speaking. I also enjoyed to look at the expressions of the others when one was giving opinions. I wish it was really simple to arrange such meetings for education, especially in (medium) developed countries like mine. Thanks for posting!


    1. Jeff Merrell says:

      I hear from other people that they really enjoyed the spontaneous interactions — such as you point out. More enjoyable than a talking-head lectures. At the same time they were very focused on sharing important content. A great mix. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Where are you from?


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