Success in MOOCs, step 3b: Networking and the Mechanical MOOC

Marching Giants

Time to connect to your new learning network!

This post is part of a series that expands on Dave Cormier’s Youtube video “Success in a MOOC” and applies his advice to the upcoming Mechanical MOOC about the Python programming language.  Cormier breaks down online learning success into five steps: Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster and Focus.

In the previous post I talked about networking in MOOCs, or engaging with other students using online tools.  Here I’ll look at the tools specific to the Mechanical MOOC.


OpenStudy gamifies the learner networking process.  Users are awarded points for asking and answering questions and can award medals for the most helpful answers.  Drawing its inspiration from Massively Multiplayer Online GamesOpenStudy calls itself a “massively multiplayer study group.”

In this “game”, achievements are not measured in terms of content mastery.  Instead, students “level up” when they attain a certain number of points in the areas of teamwork, problem solving and engagement.  Engagement points seem to be awarded for visiting the site on consecutive days and asking questions.  A certain number of problem-solving points are awarded for each question answered.  Teamwork points are awarded for bringing new users to the site, help a variety of people, and when other users write testimonials about your contributions or become your “fan”.

openstudy point system

OpenStudy awards points for teamwork, problem-solving and engagement.

I might be mistaken but, a “fan” on OpenStudy seems to analogous to a “friend” on Facebook.  There doesn’t seem to be another way to “bookmark”a user, so people are probably using the “fan” button to mark users they know or whose contributions they want to find quickly.  It’s likely that a norm of reciprocity will emerge here, with people “fanning” those who have “fanned” them, making it less useful as a measure of helpfulness… but perhaps the OpenStudy algorithms already take that into account in the scoring.

As in all social media, there seems to be the potential for harassment, trolling and other forms of inappropriate behavior on this site.  After less than 24 hours as a user, I have already received one random, contextless message – “Hi” – which I simply deleted.  I’ve also been “fanned” by a user who I’d had no previous contact with, but who helpfully (/sarcasm) identifies herself as bisexual on her user profile.  Of course, younger users might not find these contacts from strangers on a study site to be at all creepy.  I just not on that site to meet people.

Other online courses are not immune to negative behavior simply because they exist on a closed platform.  Laura Gibbs reports that in Coursera’s Science Fiction and Fantasy course, harassment was rampant on the discussion boards.   This speaks to the need for moderation by course or platform staff as well as a concerted effort to establish community norms.  OpenStudy attempts to guide users to proper netiquette through its Code of Conduct and site design.  It is possible to “block” individual users from contacting you.  There is a “report abuse” link under every posted answer, which should serve to quickly eliminate inappropriate content.  You can mark a post as the most helpful answer, but there’s no way to vote-down content that is unhelpful.

Right now, the mMOOC page on OpenStudy is pretty chaotic.  Part of the problem is that, in addition to participants in the mMOOC, some of the users are participating in the edX MIT course, which started this week.  I have proposed on the course page that we adopt a hashtag system (#mMOOC and #edX) when the question is course-specific.  Perhaps that will help.

Another source of chaos is that students aren’t very clear in asking their questions.  Some of the questions are clearly homework problems that have been pasted into the site without any context or explanation of what they’re having difficulty with.  As a former teacher, my impulse is to offer help, especially in the sparse social sciences section, but very few questions inspire me to bother.  I’ll have to see how the content and my interpretation of it changes as the mMOOC gets rolling and I have more context for what people are posting to the MIT OCW page.


CodeAcademy has a discussion board which is a mix of user support and programmer advice.  It’s not particularly geared toward learning, but may be useful for networking and advice-seeking.  The forum guidelines are helpful.

CodeAcademy has a large userbase participating in what they call “Code Year“.  The CodeYear track includes lessons in Javascript, Jquery, HTML/CSS as well as Python.  Some of the Codeyear participants are organizing face-to-face meetups and may not mind mMOOC participants joining in.

photo credit: hodge via photopin cc


About Claudia Scholz

Higher education professional in Atlanta, GA specializing in faculty development and research administration.
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