CTAs – The Essential Human Element of #edcmooc


Okay. So the course is officially over, with assessments and evaluations submitted, and results awaited. But yet it’s far from over for me. There is so much to reflect upon, and so much to follow through, and so many of the course resources that I have yet to engage with. EDCMOOC was perhaps just a starting point for me. There is so much that I would like to write about, to share my experience through this journey of five weeks which forever altered the meaning of learning for me. I suppose a single blog post will hardly be sufficient for all that I would like to express, but something came up in last night’s Google hangout that got me thinking, and this is what I would like to talk about for now.

During the hangout, there was a discussion about the non-human agencies at work in the EDCMOOC and the possibility of automating some of the processes in the course.  In response to this, Maddie tweeted something to Dr Sian Bayne that caught my attention:

Of course, Dr Bayne clarified in the hangout that they had no plans to replace or remove the CTAs, but this got me thinking about how the course would have been without the CTAs.

My first thought about this is that probably I would not be sitting here writing this post – because I would probably have dropped out in the first week itself.

So why didn’t I drop out then ? I’m afraid there is no simple answer to this, and no single answer to this. But one of the major reasons that I continued with the programme AND completed it as well is because of the strong presence of the CTAs. You might be wondering why I am making this categorical statement. Please allow me to elaborate.

I’m told that the previous run of EDCMOOC had no CTA’s, and I wonder how those who finished the course, managed to do it. Sheer persistence, I suppose. And before I go on to share my views on the presence of CTA’s, I would also like to share one more thought – if the number of people who actually finish this run of the EDCMOOC is higher than the previous run, in all probability it could be attributed to the CTAs.

When I first signed up for this course, my idea of an online course was about watching video lectures, engaging with reference material and answering quizzes related to those. When the course actually started, I was in for a surprise – or a shock, perhaps. This course was nothing like any other online programme. I have done some online courses earlier, and also another MOOC from Coursera but there is absolutely no similarity between those courses and this one.

The initial feeling was one of being totally lost and overwhelmed. Yes, the directions were explicitly given in the course content, but still it was confusing, to say the least. As a starting point, I decided to visit the Coursera forums to check out on how the other participants were faring. This, unfortunately did not work well for me because Coursera’s forums are not very user-friendly and very confusing, to say the least, and this sort of compounded the confusion for me. I felt like a rudderless boat floundering for direction.

And this direction – or rudder, if you please – was then provided by the CTA’s. They were everywhere – dedicatedly following the forums, blogs and social spaces like Facebook and Twitter and what have you. Their presence had a calming effect and with their guidance I slowly started moving forward, slowly but surely. It was their encouragement and guidance that saw me through the course, especially the first week, which was critical because if I had not been able to form that connect with them, I would probably have given up and opted out of the course. BUT because they were there, and they knew precisely how overwhelming this could be to a new participant, they not only coaxed people like me to give it a shot with their valuable guidance, and also the vast wealth of experience that they brought with them from the previous run.

In a course where the engagement with the reference material is supposed to be largely self-directed, they have been our anchors – the human touch which is essential for many learners. They have been our guides, tutors, friends, mentors, sounding-boards and more – the #fraingers who took charge of us and made sure that we completed what we set out to do. And what was even more reassuring was the fact that since they were from different time-zones, someone or the other was always available when required. They have been the reassuring human element of this course – the pillars on which the huge responsibility of carrying people through the course rests. A responsibility that they have discharged admirably. It has been highly motivating to see people with such dedication, taking time out from their day to day personal schedules to monitor the activities of students, and guiding them wherever and whenever required.

For a course that has more than 22K participants enrolled, the instructors have their task cut out for them in trying to keep tabs on the goings-on in the various spaces that the participants interact in. Indeed the course reference material, the carefully selected resources and the weekly Google hangouts have been of tremendous help and over the last five weeks I have developed a strong respect for the five instructors and the fact that they have managed to move us out of our comfort zones to explore learning in this format. It has been am amazing, yet challenging, journey.

But the journey has been great fun especially because we had the CTAs along as not just fellow-travellers on this trail of learning but as active guides who are familiar with the route and all that one encounters on that route. So if I have managed to complete this course, the credit for it goes largely to the having the CTAs along for guidance.

Thanks CTAsI know that I am speaking for countless other participants who would probably share my views –  Kudos to the CTAs for a job well done, and my sincere thanks for guiding me around the “labyrinth”, for all the guidance and hand-holding. God Bless you all !

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12 thoughts on “CTAs – The Essential Human Element of #edcmooc

  1. As one of those CTAs Rajiv, thank you so much for those beautiful words! It was a wonderful experience for us as well… and strange. Especially negotiating how much of a presence we should be. We were all ‘transformed’ (I know – but it is true) by our #edcmooc experience – and we did not want to tame or dilute the experience for new #edcmoocers, but we did want to offer light touch encouragement and support.

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    • Thank you so much Sandra. In fact, I personally feel that the presence of the CTAs actually made the whole experience much better, rather than diluting it. I know now from personal experience that for a first-timer in #edcmooc the initial shock of self-directed learning can lead to a sense of bewilderment, and it is precisely for this reason that the presence of the CTAs is highly reassuring. And the encouragement and support provided by you guys was awesome. Keep up the great work, and thanks once again for being there 🙂

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  2. Wow Rajiv, what a lovely post. Of course, this mooc has no beginning, no end, no fixed formula for success, it just “is”. Dynamic, fluid. What I think makes it so unique and wonderful is that we are all part of that success, in different ways, with one thing in common, and that is the willingness to engage and connect. So without that reciprocity between CTAs, teachers and students; participants or fellow journeymen if you’d rather, this labarynthic nebulus that we all know as edcmooc, would not be the special experience it is. Glad you hung in there!
    Angela

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    • Thanks, Angela, for visiting my blog and leaving your valued comment, despite the initial issues that you had with remembering your password… much appreciate your stopping by 🙂

      And yes, #edcmooc was a truly unique experience, which has given me a hole new perspective on what education should be like. It has been a highly thought-provoking and engaging journey, which, as you rightly pointed out, has no end, and no fixed formula for success. Which is what makes it unique. It allows each participant to make their own self-discoveries, and I think that is the best way to learn and reinforce new concepts for any learner. Especially adult learners who have limited attention spans. It is a brilliant way to learn, and so engaging. it doesn’t seem like purely learning – it is learning while having fun at the same time. And as I mentioned to Sandra in my previous comment, the presence of the CTAs is highly reassuring, and probably also the reason why I hung around. Thank you so much for being there !

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  3. Thank you Rajiv for your wonderful and kind words. It is really heartening to see this cohort imbibe our enthusiasm for connections and engagement. It is a special experience indeed and once you are part of this nebulous culture as Angela described it, it stays with you. Once you are in edcmooc you are never without it, if it makes any sense. Glad you made it to the end and happy to have you as a #frainger. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Maddie 🙂

      I think enthusiasm is something that is infectious and I guess most of us picked it up from you guys, which once again highlights the role you guys are playing ! And thanks once again for all your help in making it through the run of the course. Of course, as you rightly said, it’s far from over yet.

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  4. I also think this courses will continue forever and the course without CTA’s seems it is missing something, The animation that Rajiv Bajaj designed will provides big supports for CTA’s. Thank you for supporting our CTA’s.

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  5. Rajiv,
    I really enjoyed your post, and if you are interested East Tennessee State University’s OpenBUCS program has a course coordinator similar to Coursera’s CTA’s. They’re offering open courses with an optional path to credit at the end. Take a look here http://www.etsu.edu/online. (Disclaimer: I am employed by ETSU)

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