Self-Organization in the #EDCMOOC

Keeley Sorokti just wrote up some really excellent thinking on the ideas of scaffolding as it relates to the recent eLearning and Digital Cultures MOOC offered up by the University of Edinburgh on Coursera.  Given that my background isn’t in education, I tend to think of these things in relation to engagement, participation and community building.  Opportunities, access, motivation, connection, belonging and collective action are often the terms that guide my thinking about how environments, both virtual and real, make for a successful public sphere.

For a couple of years I’ve been thinking about self-organizing systems as they apply to community-based organizations.  Recently ideas such as connectivism and networked learning environments have entered into my thinking.  So, I thought it might help for me to pull out the features of self-organizing projects and map them against the EDCMOOC.

Feature Description / Importance / Role
Plateaus / Frameworks / Boundaries Organizing spaces or defined scope that shapes the problem space.   Can be a physical, virtual or conceptual space or goal.  Keeps the actors in a focused area.

The EDCMOOC did this through the construct of a class with defined content blocks and activities.  The MOOC was the container for this system.

Heterogeneity / Differentiation Variance in the systems of actors, ideas, roles.  Too much similarity will not create the tension or conflict necessary to move the system forward.

The EDCMOOC provided multiple platforms for communication and engagement (e.g. Coursera forums, Google G+ community, Twitter, Facebook) and presented content in a broad and open enough manner to appeal to a variety of interests.  By reaching a global community and engaging thousands of individuals there was more diversity than in a traditional class, although there were gaps or lack of certain perspectives (e.g. those without access, those in more disenfranchised settings, etc).

Ambiguity Some amount of non-definition that leaves room for questions, exploration and introduction of new ideas or pathways that were not planned for or expected.

Content in the EDCMOOC was presented in thematic blocks.  There were choices and avenues for exploration.  The main assignment was intentionally vague to invite a myriad of interpretations.

Boundary Objects A set of tools or concepts that are “plastic” enough to be bent and used by different actors in different ways, but still can act as a “glue” of sorts.

The EDCMOOC boundary objects were the electronic communications — emails, tweets, fb posts,  blog entries and collection of additional creative tools that allowed for a range of expressions.

Connections / Mulit-level / Polycentric Importance of many connections between actors both vertical and horizontal as well as multiple actions and centers of activity.  Lends to robustness and resilience.

The EDCMOOC probably succeeded most in this arena.  By de-centering the instructors, creating relatively open thematic blocks and proposing multiple communication blocks, the MOOC was able to allow for leaders and passionate users to emerge and connect across multiple platforms.  Many of the participants mapped these interactions to demonstrate the broad network.

Feedback / Learning / Adaptation The system should allow for new information and lessons learned to move throughout the system and adapt accordingly.

The EDCMOOC had enough structured interactions (e.g. Google Hangout, Twitter Chats, defined meeting spaces) that individuals interested in engaging could collective share and discuss.  The open, self-directed nature of the environment also allowed for individuals to find new pathways and thinking on new resources in relation to the proposed themes and ongoing discussion of participatns.

Coordination / Influence / Control Not a command and control style, but rather will maintain the system by which information gets integrated and moved throughout the system.  May play a categorization or prioritization role or facilitate such processes happening.

Clearly the instructional team for the EDCMOOC at the University of Edinburgh played a critical role in defining the  the content, orchestrating the release of that content, and providing top level information and communication.  Addiitonally, multiple node of coordination emerged throughout from participants themselves from the core group who created resources prior to the start of class, to organizers of the Twitter chats, to folks like Keeley who scheduled real-time gatherings and interactions.


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