I find this quite interesting as well and it seems that somehow this particular MOOC has triggered the creepy treehouse effect.
Stein offers a number of definitions for this phenomena but this one seems apt.
n. Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.
Such institutional environments are often seen as more artificial in their construction and usage, and typically compete with pre-existing systems, environments, or applications. creepy treehouses also have an aspect of closed-ness, where activity within is hidden from the outside world, and may not be easily transferred from the environment by the participants.
Other courses of in this series had a spirit of co-learning with the course moderators. This time around it seems as though it is part of their day job and the whole process has become institutionalized. I get the sense that participants are regarded as subjects of an experiment rather than connected individuals.
It is not that the course originators were not straight forward with their intentions, they stated their intentions from the start and had everyone agree to the letter of consent. This is part of NRC research and a number of people, including myself have expressed their intention of conducting research into various aspects of the experience.
My specific research interest is to test a theory that I developed as part of my dissertation research.
The abstract is below.
This analysis began with inquiries into the substantive area of distance education using the classic grounded theory method. Analysis revealed a pattern of problem-solving behavior, from which the theory "Keeping Your Distance " emerged.
The theory is an integrated set of concepts referring to the conscious and unconscious strategies that people use to regulate distance , physical and representative, in their everyday lives. Strategies are used to control physical, emotional, and psychological realities and to conserve personal energy in interactions with individuals and/or institutions.
Keeping Your Distance is presented in terms of a conditions/consequences/covariance theoretical model adapted from Glaser's (1978) Theoretical Sensitivity . Conditions evoke a system of strategic response patterns which result in consequences. Responses and their consequences change conditions and result in additional adjustments, made on an ongoing basis. For all social interactions, people use a personalized algorithm of engagement that mitigates conditions and consequences and preserves optimal distance.
Keeping Your Distance provides a theoretical starting point for considerations of the changing notions of distance. In part, these changes have been brought about by developments in the fields of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and online social networking.
This emerging, multivariate, conceptual theory may be of interest to scholar-practitioners examining distance education, psycho-social processes, and critical pedagogy. Elements of this theory may be of use to higher education policymakers charged with instructional design, institutional advancement, and marketing.
Keywords: "Keeping your distance," Distance Education, Grounded Theory method, Critical Pedagogy
I find a bit of irony in the understanding that this is an institutionalized MOOC about Personal Learning Environments, something that struck me as contradiction in terms. It seems as though an effort is being made to deconstruct the personal in PLE and figure out a way to put it in a bottle for marketing purposes.
I understand that organizing a massive online course like this will require institutional supports and infrastructure but it will be valuable to determine the breaking point, the point where many experienced users of PLE's got the sense that this was no longer personal and they were not really participants but were having their bar presses counted.