Synchronous video chat and the real definition of MOOCs

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I grew up in a small Italian neighborhood on the east side of Buffalo, NY. So, when the word “MOOC” raged into the education lexicon, I had to laugh. My young friends and I used to call some of our undesirable neighborhood cohorts “MOOKs”- pronounced the same but spelled with a K instead of a C. Of course, the MOOC of today is an entirely different animal.

The modern education definition of MOOC was recently added to the Oxford Dictionaries Online version as “a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.”

David Cormier is the educator who actually invented the term Massive Open Online Courses, which, as many online educators will explain, has quickly become an over-used, over-hyped, and now under-defined term. MOOC came from an online course Cormier co-taught in 2008, called “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge.” In attendance were 25 tuition fee-paying students in an Extended Education program offered by the University of Manitoba. In addition, 2,300 other students from the general public took the online course free of charge. All course content was available through RSS feeds, and learners could participate with their choice of tools: threaded discussions in Moodle, blog posts, Second Life, and synchronous online meetings.

In a recent interview as well as in a YouTube video , Cormier explains in much more depth his originally intended and much more interesting definition of the word MOOC. “A MOOC, he says, “is open, in the sense that the work done in the course is shared between all the people taking it… The course is participatory. You really become part of the course by engaging with other people’s work.”

But how can a MOOC really become” participatory,” and how can course instructors in a MOOC really create “engagement?” Steve Gottlieb, CEO of a New York City-based company called Shindig, claims to have the solution. The short answer: video chat, and, in particular, his Shindig video chat application, which has proven itself an effective rich media video and audio application for large-scale synchronous online events in the publishing and music sectors. TEDx, Bill Gates and Guy Kawasaki, are among the hundreds of prominent organizations and individuals who have already harnessed the Shindig platform for specific projects.


Shindig’s patented technology enables faculty members to host large-scale video chat interactions in their online courses. An instructor can give a lecture, be asked questions from the students in attendance, and share multimedia and PowerPoint presentations. Selected students can be “spotlighted” to ask questions “face-to face” through their webcams in front of the entire class. Everyone in the course can see each other and self-aggregate with a simple click into private video chats of their choice – all without disturbing other students in attendance. In short, Shindig enables the real-life dynamics of a face-to-face course with all its interaction and participatory features at Internet scale.

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