Ease on down the yellow MOOC road

I signed up for a MOOC (massive open online course): E-Learning and Digital Cultures through University of Edinburgh. It starts in January, but I just spent an hour in a study room with three other students–two from the US. There will be students from all over the world in the class–from business, educational institutions, folks who are interested in learning. I have no idea what to really expect from the course, but the suggestion from the professors is that I set aside 3-5 hours a week for this for five weeks. Okay. I can do that.

Here is a snapshot of who’s signed up so far:

Students in the U of Edinburgh MOOC.

Students in the U of Edinburgh MOOC–Thanks to Chris Swift for making this map for everyone.

Today, I also joined a Facebook group and was active in that (visited the study room to try it out which was advertised on the FB page–created my avatar and had a nice conversation while there), searched the Twitter hashtag to see what folks are already talking about (and they are busy–over a month before the class even begins), and introduced myself to the Google+ community for the class where I found a person I know who knows some folks I know. (It was bound to happen.) And I “found” this terrific graphic from a member of the FB group:

This is a good graphic for ANY participatory event/activity.

This is a good graphic for ANY participatory event/activity.

Does not this graphic make you think it’s something you should be teaching to every student in every class about committing to their own educational experiences whether those are online, f2f, or some combination of everything imaginable? I’m teaching it first thing in my spring semester writing class. I’m grading on this scale. I LOVE it.

I know three things already from signing up and just this minor participation so far:

1) I will learn a lot about how people can/will help each other from all over the world in order to educate themselves and each other (sort of like my mantra that we all learn if we are determined to learn no matter where we are). And apparently we can get “props” for being helpful in “study hall.”

2) I will get great ideas for teaching f2f and online from this experience–if only because I’ll be a student in the class and see what does and doesn’t work for me.

3) I’ll know more about MOOCs through taking this class and have some sense of what MOOCs mean to my work–teaching writing and literature. I’m so curious.

I have more numbers/things to add to the list, but for now, this will do. I’ll have more concrete goals to set as I understand more about what the class will really be like, what readings we’ll be doing, and what projects will be required. I’m intrigued by how I will communicate with others, how I might join study groups, how I might get a local group interested in meeting (but I’m the only one from Alabama so far–so local is relatively not local in my case–but I know someone secondhand from Texas in the class). Mostly, I’m interested in knowing how this will impact my time and my professional life. Is this a way to network that I never thought about before? Will high-profile participants gather together to form an elite group of super learners (like sometimes happens in f2f classes)? Such an adventure.

There will also be a contingent of TechRhet l-serv and WPA l-serv folks who will be taking the class. Some of us will be group blogging on Academe Blog, care of the exec. editor, Aaron Barlow: http://academeblog.org. Members of these groups are interested because of the impact on writing classes, particularly, freshman comp classes (well, I’m especially interested in that). Already there are good posts on that blog about what’s happening with MOOCs (with links to additional information for those who desire it).

It’s been incredibly easy to get enrolled, participate before the class even begins, and to learn so far–a network has sprung just as spring does from the cold and barren winter. Where there was no class, the seeds were planted, and a class grew. All that was without a whole lot of effort on my part as I didn’t create the hashtag, the FB group, the study rooms. I just said, “Here I am. I want to learn. What do I do?” And I was directed to links and pages and downloads. Fortunately, I have wifi again and, I mean, I already have a Twitter account, Facebook account, Flickr account, Youtube account, and so on that is required… NOW I need to get all of those aligned so I don’t have to remember 1,836 passwords. I can’t imagine a MOOC would be easy for the not-so-savvy computer user. MOOCs may not be for everyone–they may not be for me–but I can’t wait to find out what they are like.

I’ve just now listened to several talks about MOOCs on you tube which helped me figure out what I could expect. Highly recommend one by Dave Cormier, “What is a MOOC?” is very fine (and blessedly short). Another I really enjoyed was longer but contained some terrific information I will write about here another time, an interview conducted by Howard Rheingold: “George Siemens on Massive Open Online Courses.

Back in 1990, I was part of a university task force exploring distance learning. We researched for about a year–a couple of deans, a vice president or two, and me (a grad student in English composition). I was the writer/editor at the end–compiling everything and smoothing it out prior to turning it over to the university president, so I really got to know the content. (And let me tell you how classy those men were–they never once treated me like anything less than an equal on this though I was the only one without a PhD at that time.) What strikes me now about this work is that we were trying, way back then, to imagine what is happening right now with online and distance learning–a mix of modes of communication and what attitudes of students might be, but the primary concern was that life long learning opportunities needed to happen as they were what could transform lives–with or without university credit toward a degree or certificate. People want to learn, and they will try any method available for such an endeavor. I’m so glad I was part of that task force. I was a baby then professionally, in so many ways (just finishing my MA), but it was one of the years of my life that has had a profound and lasting influence. It was that year of thinking and learning about distance learning that kept my heart open so that when Open, as a movement, came knocking on my door, I could open the door wide and embrace it as if it were an old friend.

I’ve enjoyed thinking about MOOCs in the last few months and am intrigued by their existence–could be good, could be evil. I will find out as I become a MOOCer.

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