Friday, June 24, 2011

Balancing at the Height of 2,000 ft / meters / people!

At moments today those of us at the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service looked at each other and just laughed. Two thousand people! In all of those countries. It is daunting; it is scary; it is fun; it is rather remarkable. I suppose laughter seems a bit of an odd response, but certainly it is better than panic or crying.

Actually we feel confident. We are confident in the quality and expertise of the panelists (I just responded to Karen Swan, Curt Bonk and Cable Green this evening - as with all of the panelists, these people are very experienced, dedicated and know whereof they speak) . We are confident in the importance of the topic. We are confident in the value of this MOOC. We are confident in the technologies. We know it will work; we just want it to work very well.

There is a lot of balancing to do.

How do we balance access. Early on in our planning we thought we would just use Diigo for sharing sites. The cool sticky notes and the nice social aspects of sharing via Diigo seemed right. But, as we watched the registrations mount up, it seemed likely that many of those signing up had not used Diigo or Delicious or even knew about them. And, we discussed whether using these might make some less likely to participate. And, could we teach a thousand people quickly how to use them. Or would they just see the words and "change the channel." So, we decided to do both - make both available - suggest an edumooc tag for Diigo and create an edumooc Diigo group. But, we would also create a fill-in-the-blank form for networking sites so people could choose to share via Twitter, blogs, Web pages, or wikis. Of course, having an open fill-in-the-blank form is an invitation to spam and worse. So, we would manually review the submissions at least once a day and upload the page. That would delay the process of listing networking, but at least it would protect the site a bit.

Two years ago we were the victim of a radical group of hackers from the Mediterranean - sigh - they marked up our New Century Learning Consortium site. So, we are still smarting from that a bit; it makes us a little extra cautious.

We tested the streaming site today - it worked wonderfully. We tweaked wording for the Twitter gadget - to make clear that you still needed a Twitter logon to tweet, but this way you could simultaneously watch the panel, watch the back channel and compose a Tweet on the same page! (thanks Tulio!) Pretty cool, we think. And, we believe that by keeping the size of the images relatively small, we should be able to reach many hundreds of people without any serious buffering delays. We keep asking ourselves, with more than 2,000 registered, just how many will tune in a 1:00 pm central time (US) live Webcast? We are guessing that about 1/3 or 1/4 will join the live events. The others, we conjecture, will be asleep in Australia or at work in Brazil. We'll find out on Thursday. The balance here is the size of the image to reduce bandwidth so that more can see it without getting buffered right out of viewing the panel.

I keep updating the presenters and the moderators with messages every day or two. I want them to know that this is a big deal - worth their time and attention. Today I sent them a pdf of the cities and institutions that people listed as an option when registering (NOT emails or names). But, the cities and institutions go a long way to making the size of this MOOC real. A balancing act - I don't want to overload presenters with emails, but I want to keep this on their radar. These presenters are very busy (several are traveling abroad today).

We keep struggling with Google Groups. It is working for most, but some are having difficulties. Another balancing act. We think that it is generally easier for the less experienced users than the other alternatives. And, it would great for 100 or 200 or so. But, after about 500, we began getting delays and time-outs from Google because we were uploading so many at a time.

Balancing interests, balancing experience, balancing access, balancing bandwidth - seeking input from several people on each issue to help make the right choice for the most people. That's what much of today was about.

It is clear that not everyone is reading the entire home page; they are missing important things that would make the MOOC a better experience for them. So, I decided to record a short message. It shouldn't hurt to give this a little bit of a human touch. But, we knew we needed captions and the option to translate for some of our MOOC members. So, I recorded in Em's office (she has the full Camtasia suite on her computer - and we could save a step in the process by recording right into Camtasia) - wish I had better eye contact - and gave a three-minute tour of the page. We could have made a production out of it - cutting in to each part of the page when I talked about it; instead, we decided to put the video in a little window and ask people to look around the page while I talked.

A long day punctuated with laughter and a crowning event of passing 2,000 registrations. Closing now to feed my five other hungry blogs.

PS - Just saw a nice article will be in our local Springfield, IL paper tomorrow:

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