Learning out of place and time

The tensions in the course have been between technology as dehumanising or allowing us to create a new humanity, visions of futures in which it is used to control us or offers the opportunities of greater freedom. And I have to say, overall I am on the pro-technology end of these dilemmas. Without the internet, it just would not be possible for a team of educators in Edinburgh to offer a course to students in Nova Scotia, Romania, Spain, Canton, New Mexico, Argentian, Greece, Denmark, and to interact with those students in real time. A face-to-face seminar might be a more intense and intimate experience than a Twitter, but if I missed the seminar, I would have to rely on the (perhaps faulty) memories of my  classmates, not be able to review the conversations myself. Unless (perhaps) someone had thought to video it:

But then, this relies on the use of technology. Which brings me to the main part of my artefact. One of the most striking things about the #edcmooc course has been the interaction beyond the Coursera site. There have been active communities on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, perhaps elsewhere. And, as the course has progressed, it is in the Twitter periphery that I have engaged most actively. This is a distinct contrast to the Cryptography course I had completed previously.

It occurred to me that it would be interesting (and perhaps useful) to archive these tweets. As the course started, the Twitter search API only gave access to Tweets for the past week. Unaware that other people had had the same idea, I started creating a twitter archiving solution on some web space I rent:

Chart of #edcmooc tweets

Requiring no manual intervention, once it had been set up, this technology tirelessly harvested the results for the searches I had given it. Over the past five-and-a-half weeks, the archive has gathered more than 15,000 tweets in the main edcmooc archive, and over 8,000 for the twitter chats – 22,000+ individual tweets* in all, by 3,000+ participants.

Chart of #edcmchat tweets for 23/02/2013

Faced with a course on such an overwhelming scale, it is still possible to form into smaller, more “human-sized” groups. I decided early on that I could not cope with course interaction on more than one social-networking site. Looking more closely at the figures reveals a core group of participants on twitter – out of these 3,000+ users, only a little over 300 contributed more than 10 tweets, and less than 40 contributed over 100, and many of the Twitter usernames became very familiar to me.

In an early course team blog post, Christine Sinclair alluded to a similar issue for the instructors. Just as it took time to learn “how to be” as a student on the course, Christine wrote  “It takes time to work out ‘how to be’ as a lecturer too, when the configuration changes and the teaching repertoire has to be adjusted or supplemented.”

Technology, though, can help. Just as it allows interaction on this scale, so it can bring ways of managing that interaction, and getting an overview of it. My archiving tool was one attempt to do this. Others used ways of analysing the conversations to produce results that are quite beautiful.

Visualisation of Twitter #edcmchat from 23/2/2013

When I started writing my archiving software, one of the drivers behind it was that Twitter only returned search results from the last week. However, a recent update to their API has meant that it is now possible to get search results much older than this, reducing the need for external archives. Things move on.

I have placed the software I used to build the archive under the GNU General Public Licence, and it is available on Github if you would like to check it out.

* Some tweets ended up in both archives.

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