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Affirmations in Community

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In the planning of #clmooc, our facilitation team shared a desire to create a MOOC that didn’t only cater to technophile, veteran MOOCers. The question of how we would help newcomers to online learning orient themselves and engage circled in every early planning discussion.

Having participated in a few Connectivist MOOCs prior, I knew that these types of participants leave predictable footprints in cMOOCs. They Tweet about feeling overwhelmed by information overload. They blog to apologize for not blogging. They post that they are lost.

As fledgling MOOC facilitators, we were entering into so many unknowns ourselves; thinking about how to direct and support the participation of hundreds of learners over a couple of months. We spent time handwringing about who might “drop out” even before we knew what we planned to do with the participants who logged in and stayed.

Before the MOOC began, when struggling participants were still a hypothetical challenge, I drafted a sample message for participants unfamiliar with MOOCs. I pitched it to our team as a message and a stance that we might routinely revisit, remix and circulate to affirm the work of anyone making an effort in our MOOC.

Here’s the message I proposed to the group:

You’re okay!...And so is your level of participation! Participants are welcome to join us only for Twitter chats on Friday. It is perfectly acceptable to simply read and write about Connected Learning. Even if you don’t join in our suggested makes, you’re making meaning! That’s making, too.

Are you lurking? WE LOVE LURKERS! Lurk over here. Lurk around. Lurk a little longer.

While we hope to support and encourage group formation, group makes, and group leadership around common interests and themes, it is perfectly acceptable- celebrated even- to join in as a rugged individual who belongs to no groups, only Tweets and runs. Makes and leaves. Or blogs and bolts.

Our Massive Open Online Collaboration wouldn’t be as massive without you. And if there is one thing we’re determined to be, it’s massive.

This message was well-received by the facilitation team. Bits and excerpts of it surfaced in the weekly newsletters we circulated to participants. The ideas that we had spoken about in the early planning persevered:

  • We accepted and honored lurkers
  • Participants could come and go without fear of violating norms or falling behind
  • Both collaborative efforts and individual work were welcome
  • People creating and sharing in online spaces can be unsure, so they need to be told they’re “OK.”

Though we had an inclusive, supportive message, concern for participants who might be lost or opting out never really went away for us as we facilitated #clmooc, even as we saw spikes in participation in our Google + community. In week two of our work, Paul Oh wondered aloud during one of our many facilitator Google Hangouts if we shouldn’t reach out in a newsletter to update participants to affirm their efforts, to highlight upcoming activities and most importantly, to remind them where they could find support if they needed help. At Paul’s suggestion, I drafted an "Affirmation" newsletter. In addition to sharing helpful links and calendar info, it began with a message of encouragement for all participants that was referential to the original rough message.

This is just a note to say that your participation so far has been perfect!

If you’ve lurked, that’s perfect! You are learning while you lurk, waiting to jump in.

If you’ve been posting like mad, you’ve been leading and making our community more inviting!

If you’ve been hot and cold in #clmooc, posting in fits of productivity and disappearing for a while, that’s great. You have kids to feed, dogs to walk, and laundry that doesn’t fold itself, after all. We get it. Even when you’re catching up on your beauty sleep, you help make #clmooc massive!

Regardless of how you’ve participated, consider yourself caught up and ready for your next (or first) creative act in #clmooc. You’re ripe for your next (or first) connection.

This newsletter demonstrates again how the original rough message framed the way we supported participants with a general affirmation.

Since our MOOC officially ended I’ve had the lucky opportunity to hear a few participants reflect on their experiences, especially active contributors who felt the MOOC had value for them. Many reference the work of their fellow participants and the quick and reliably supportive feedback from facilitators and participants alike. Also, almost without fail these participants reference a sense of encouragement they felt after reading a message in a newsletter that affirmed their efforts and assured them that they were not behind.

One of my favorite posts in #clmooc that referenced our supportive tone came from St. Petersburg, Russia, when Elena Evtuch introduced herself during the third week.

Today I’m a senior lecturer Saint-Petersburg academy of postgraduate pedagogycal education.  I’m very interested in new opportunities in education, including distance education. Only yesterday found on the Internet website of the course. First I decided to participate in way «If you want to lurk, that's great». But today I’m writing my first post. I hope not only learn Connected Learning through hands-on activities my own and my colleagues from other countries, but also to improve my English.

(Photo by moonlightbulb via Flickr Creative Commons) - See more at: http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/5770#sthash.GQXUFirg.dpuf

In addition to providing facilitators some gratification for assuming the invitational, open stance that we did, this post demonstrated that our potential participants might be anyone, anywhere. Our insistence on a supportive, inclusive messaging helped expand our community beyond anything we had planned before our MOOC began.

(Photo by moonlightbulb via Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo by moonlightbulb via Flickr Creative Commons) - See more at: http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/5770#sthash.GQXUFirg.dpuf
(Photo by moonlightbulb via Flickr Creative Commons) - See more at: http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/5770#sthash.GQXUFirg.dpuf
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