Designing a MOOC: using social media tools

As mentioned before, depending on your target audience a MOOC can look quite different in design. You have different options or tools to set up your MOOC. Depending on what you have in mind, your approach will demand different tools to reach the course architecture you are looking for. If you know your target audience, you can use those social media tools and internet options that you know your MOOC participants are already using. If you do not know your MOOC participants upfront, you might want to think about using the most accessible communication tools available. Choosing those tools that will allow the most optimal (= most fluent, easiest, low technological threshold) learning experience is essential if you want to include less tech savvy audiences as well.

In this increasingly Read and Write era, selecting tools for an online course can be demanding. Nevertheless there are some really easy one’s that you might want to consider for setting up your own MOOC. The list below is in no way exhaustive, it’s simply gives an overview of some of the options that are out there and that have been tested in previous MOOC’s.

Google groups or another, similar list-serve
Why: this type of online tool uses e-mail to keep everyone informed. With many of the list serve’s you can choose how you want your mails to be delivered (e-mail digest: e.g. immediate, once a day, once a week).
Ideal: this type of medium works very well for discussions
Extra bonus: if you use google groups, you can ‘star’ those discussions you want to follow up on. And if you use gmail, you will see that discussion threads with the same title will be grouped. This in combination with the stars offer a first filter option to keep on track with all the content that is delivered and exchanged in the MOOC.

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Twitter or another micro-blogging site
Why: twitter or similar tools allow the group to share short messages with one another. This can be of great use to share not only ideas, but also relevant content from other sources.
Ideal: this type of medium works very well for quick item and idea exchange.
Extra bonus: by using hashtags (a hashtag looks like this: #wordX , so incorporating both the # symbol and the word following it) , you can filter all the tweets on the Web and find your topic of interest. E.g. if you go to twittersearch and you fill in #mLearning, you will find a list of mLearning related tweets.
Another great bonus is that you can make use of paper.li or other tweet and hashtag based online ‘papers’. These papers will search the web e.g. #mobimooc and then add all the articles, blogposts, movies… it finds to one single page which looks like a newspaper. Other people can subscribe to this newspaper and stay up to date on everything that happens in the twitter-sphere and is linked to the hashtag or topic you are interested in.
Backchannels: tweets can also be used as backchannels (real-time online chats between participants to share ideas on synchronous events that are happening). Other possible backchannels to increase participation are skype, IMS, facebook chat… Backchannels offer an alternative way for participants to engage with one another and reflect on e.g. synchronous video sessions.

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A collaborative bookmarking tool, e.g. delicious.com
Why: to allow everyone to find bookmarked items all gathered in one place.
Ideal: for organizing online resources that would otherwise be scattered across the Web.
Extra bonus: once you make a repository, others can easily access all the resources that were exchanged during the MOOC.

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A Wiki or any accessible and editable online page
Why: wiki’s offer an easy way to build a course syllabus (e.g. wikispaces). All the facilitators and participants can be given access, and you are able to see the different versions of what is added. A wiki offers an easy to read and edit space.
Ideal: to build a course syllabus and to collaboratively built content that is durable.
Extra bonus: if you make use of wiki’s that are linked to durable, educational visions (e.g. WikiEducator or WikiVersity) you will have an opportunity to safeguard the content that was produced for later use.

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Other great tools to use:
Google docs or similar documents that are in the cloud
Why: sharing documents is made really easy through google docs.
Ideal: to collaboratively write articles, story boards… for the MOOC.
Extra bonus: by using annotations that are visible to all, it is easy for the participants to see the reasoning behind certain review suggestions.

An RSS tool (e.g. the wonderful gRSShopper developed by Stephen Downes)
Why: an RSS tool allows you to centralize all the feeds that are scattered across the web.
Ideal: to keep you updated on all that is happening in the MOOC.
Extra bonus: RSS feeds give you one click access to all the resources.

Virtual synchronous classroom (e.g. Elluminate, Wiziq or Big Blue Button)
Why: learning asynchronously does have its advantages. You can take time to reflect before answering. You can surpass time-zones. However, there is a certain specific dynamic in using synchronous events for learning. You can really connect to one another in real time.
Ideal: for putting one person/topic expert in the picture and exchanging ideas with her/him.
Extra bonus: many synchronous classrooms have a recording option, allowing the sessions to be recorded for those participants that are unable to attend the live session. Make sure you provide the correct time-zones to all the participants. This is not always easy. A good tool is event time announcer: http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/fixedform.html .

And of course also all the well-known Web2.0 tools: Google sites (putting up content in a central website), YouTube (movies), Flickr (picture sharing), netvibes or iGoogle (to put all the resources in one dashboard), Facebook (for social networking),…

Apart from these possible course resources, the participants must be free to generate content spaces of their own, allowing them to both increase their Personal Learning Environment, as well as share their experiences with both the other MOOC participants as well as their own Personal Learning Network. A MOOC is all about connecting to others to strengthen learning and knowledge creation/exchange.

Note: statistical tools should be added here, coming up.