It’s Raining Tweets…Hallelujah?

foschatLast week I went to one of Jisc’s ‘Connect more’ events where, amongst other things, I tried to get back into the swing of networking (I turn into Alan Partridge when having to make professional small talk ) and delivered a short presentation looking at good, not so good and downright dreadful examples of elearning content development. I’m not going to spend time here talking about it, but you can see the presentation in all its glory by clicking here.

On the way to the event, an invite to a group called FOS on Google+ from a peer piqued my interest, so at the end of the day, and feeling buoyed from a very enjoyable event, I logged into Google+ for the first time in months.

It turns out that the invitation was not just for a group, but for a MOOC-or, as the course designers described it- an open learning event for professionals who teach in higher education.  Whatever the title, it was an intense but exhilirating 5 day experience.

Rules of participation were simple: drop in and out and complete as many activities as you want to. Participants were encouraged to set up an ePortfolio using any platform or format they wanted and to share their work with peers  Separate conversation threads were set up on Google+ and as a result, concepts and discussions never crossed streams or became difficult to navigate.

Facilitating the course were Chrissi Nerantzi and Sue Beckingham from Manchester Metropolitan and Sheffield Hallam Universities respectively. Here’s their presentation giving a clear overview of the course and its methodology:

Activities, chat rooms and posts to social networks were easy enough to manage, but much tougher to navigate were the Twitter showers held every evening. The format was simple enough: a recommended reading was uploaded to WordPress and participants invited to ask, and in turn offer answers based around the theme of each reading.

Log in from the start and these frenetic tweet downpours (‘shower’ suggests an altogether more sedate experience) were manageable, though, like the head of a hydra, by the time I had sent a tweet response to one question, three more questions had been asked by other participants.

Taking a more casual approach and dipping in and out of showers made the flow of conversation impossible to follow. Without TweetDeck or Storify to hand to manage everything (I was in the living room with an iPad.  That sounds like the denoument of a game of Cluedo.  I can confidently state her that I did not kill anyone), tweets were arriving quicker than I could read them.  A few participants admitted on Goggle+ that they had stood on the sidelines during these Tweet downpours and felt that everything was perhaps a bit too fast-paced and in turn, intimidating, for them to be able to contribute.  So how to fix the one element of the course that maybe didn’t work as well as the rest?

Had the hour long sessions been split into 3 or 4 segments, with one question posed at the start of each segment, everything would have felt more coherent and cohesive. Instead, there developed a community of people answering one another’s questions, posing alternative viewpoints and offering links to further information but at such a speed there was no time for ideas or knowledge to germinate or develop. To a casual observer, these splintering threads – hard enough to keep up with if concentrating from the start – became impossible to dip into.

Now, this all sounds a bit negative.  I really did enjoy the course – and am going to do my best to complete the 3.5 out of 5 activities that I didn’t have the time or energy to get to.  (I believe I have until September to do these). As the Tweet pasted on Sue and Chrissie’s first slide says:

“Enjoying #FOS4L and how a bunch of people, most of whom have never met, just get down to serious fun and learning with no fuss or nonsense.”

The experience was exhilirating and fun, all participants were very supportive of one another, and the readings that were uploaded to the FOS site relevant, clearly written and, in the case of Napier University’s ‘Benchmark for the use of Technology in Modules’ document, about to be stolen by me for use in my institution. Should FOS run again, I would say to any interested party (and will be telling my staff) to log in and have a go.  However, I’d also suggest the format of those Twitter Showers should be tweaked a little before that.

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