What was I thinking? Me and ten years of the internet

Ten years ago, in 2002, I was working as a senior curriculum designer at a nonprofit company based in Washington, DC. The company sold whole school reform, writing and reading curriculum reform, and more. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d had a choice to make when I took the job in 2000, education/curriculum design for that company or knowledge manager for a company with offices in San Francisco, NYC, London, and Singapore.


Writing that now, I feel a sting. London and Singapore. Sigh. Did I make the right choice?

Of course, I did. In the intervening years, I never really left education and have been exposed to a whole lot of educational technology, and in that stream, learned so much about writing, editing, design, training, publishing, teaching, and mindfulness. I learned to breathe deep and make peace a path I travel rather than a goal I seek. I also learned when an opportunity was smacking me across the face and when I needed to make something happen or find the calm to let it pass me by. Living with regrets is no way to go through life: “shoulda, coulda, woulda” fundamentally sucks whether it underlies a general philosophy of pessimism (which I eschew) or whether it’s something I mutter under my breath again and again in a heinous fog of self-recrimination and despair (which I try to, also, avoid).

2012. Here I am then, about to undergo an unusual learning experience for me: a MOOC. And it’s all because of my need to learn, but it’s also possible because of the webinet, the interweb, whatever you want to name it–you could call it “the cybersphere of freedom for learning all one could desire” for all I care–just as long as it exists.

Okay, a MOOC is not totally weird for me, as I love to learn and once enrolled in a mythology class at a community college when I was getting my master’s degree because I needed more knowledge about myths than I had (no room or time in my schedule for a grad class on mythology–and it’s likely one wasn’t offered).

I bet it was called Mythology 101. It was a semi-correspondence course (I took this course over twenty years ago, but it’s pertinent for my overall discussion and rambling). Here are some of the numbers:

  • one professor
  • one PBS broadcast of The Power of Myth (Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell)
  • one mid-term (at the school or with a proctor)
  • one final exam (same)
  • one paper (snail mailed to the professor–and mailed back with comments and a grade)
  • 300 students
  • four books
  • additional readings as desired
  • one year
  • one initial meeting

Unlike what I imagine a lot of students felt who took that class, I loved it, and I learned a lot despite seeing the prof only a few times and never really talking with him nor ever hearing him say much (he did distribute extensive study/learning directions and a reading schedule with assignments–truly, the class was something like a hybrid correspondence course). I enjoyed the freedom of having my own schedule and the direction of an expert while I learned, even though it was one-direction only.

Still the best, after all these years.

Still the best, after all these years.

I read what was assigned and much more. But then I was truly motivated. I purposely connected with a couple of students who I talked to pretty regularly (by phone–this was 1991 after all–I only had a land line phone and a computer that was something like a glorified typewriter). I got an A. Of course, I was going to get an A. I decided I would do anything and everything to learn, though; the A would only be a symbol of my learning. I still can’t believe I did that. I was taking a grad class or two, working full-time, and had a long-distance relationship in full swing (oh, and my mother was dying from four different kinds of cancer–that was part of everything, every minute, every day–all the time). What was I thinking?

I was thinking: “There is no way I can have had any directed learning any other way than this one–so it’s this or nothing.” I had a year to complete all the work, take the tests, and get credit. PBS would air The Power of Myth twice in that time so I could catch it as I needed to, plus the local access cable would air it again for the class. I did it in a semester, but still, it was so low pressure. I could handle it and I did.

I would have done it without the credit, frankly; it didn’t matter to my degree. What mattered was the knowledge.

Regarding the MOOC I’m going to take this January, it’s about the knowledge. I couldn’t get this directed learning about e-learning and digital cultures any other way than this one. I have a busy life. (More complicated now if you can believe it–OMG–I’m saying: when does it get smooth? When does life get smooth!? Why doesn’t anything ever go smooth?) Who doesn’t have a complex and busy life? I can’t find time to take a full semester course right now, so I had to find other options (which exist! yea!), but more than that, I love the possibility of connections I’ll make (I’m already making). I loved talking to the two students in the myth class through that term, but think if I’d been able to meet up, virtually, with thirty out of the 300–what more might I have learned or discovered because of the learning we did with one another.

In the last ten years, the course I took in the early 1990s (if it still exists) would have mutated in wonderful ways, I expect, to become something like a MOOC, perhaps not “massive” and perhaps not “open,” but it was on a similar road–helping students learn who couldn’t otherwise, encouraging connections between students who could make those connections (locally, over the phone, I might have even exchanged letters with one of the students!). The Web 2.0, 3.0, 17.0, or whatever version we’re dealing with now, has changed everything. We are different learners than we were, and it’s a great movement forward.

But what the Web hasn’t changed is the need for humans to learn, to connect, to intellectually evolve. It’s allowed more of that to happen. It’s allowing human flourishing in ways we could have never imagined before. I’m so hip to that, because if we can’t get to the learning space, the learning space can now get to us. I’m in love. Truly, madly, deeply.

The MOOC has already allowed me (before it starts) to think about what I’m thinking, what I’m doing now, what I want to learn, and how I want to learn it. The internet has allowed me to be involved in learning in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of before this Information Age revolution, unless I’d been allowed to actually live in the Library of Congress.

Thank you, world of coding geeks and prolific web users, for growing the internet in the last ten years. I hope the next ten are as glorious for education. May we all keep learning; may our learning bring us all closer together.

All that is what I’m thinking, ten years after, twenty years after, right now.



Filed under Magic and Writing, MOOC Journeys, What I'm Thinking

10 responses to “What was I thinking? Me and ten years of the internet

  1. I am wondering how I will restrain myself with MOOCs Elizabeth. I don’t know if it is the coursera interface with it’s appealing images, cool little intro videos or what, but I am like a kid in a candy shop. I think I am enrolled in 5 for next year which I can’t possibly manage. And if they do Greek Mythology again, I’m in! I’m looking forward to EDC, however there are many others which are not so relevant to my work life, but which I am keen to do for my own interest. Why am I putting those down the list? Surely there comes a time when we can be a little self indulgent, especially when it is all there for us on a plate, free, short courses, inspirational??? I’m with you, thanks to the geeks for opening up a whole world of learning and communicating possibilities.Perhaps they were always there, but now we can find them! Accessibility and the chance to do it in such a wonderful social online environment. I think the key word in your post is “OPEN”!!!!

    • Hi Angela, thanks so much for reading. I KNOW. I’ve only signed up for one more MOOC for the spring, but there were a bunch more I really was interested in… and that’s just for Coursera. I also like the idea that I can take one, find out it’s not for me, and go on my way. No pressure. No paperwork with a Registrar to withdraw. No panic over how little I might get refunded because I’m dropping a class late. No shame-filled interview with a professor over why I have to drop! You’re right. The OPEN aspect is a great part of the appeal. Making connections to the content is cool, but connecting to other folks who are interested is really cool. Love the geeks! Oh, and I’m with you about doing what we love beyond our jobs. When we forget to live while we’re making a living, when we forget to learn for fun, to just enjoy learning for ourselves, we die a little. Let’s not do that! Long live our lifelong learning!

      • Oh yes, freedom and guilt free is wonderful! I Enrolled in one with Class2Go with Stanford, but I couldn’t manage time wise as I was in the last fortnight of my coursera course. So I “unenrolled”, Have to say, I did feel a twinge of guilt. Some sense of non completion, non achievement. But I recovered very quickly! Solar cells, fuel cells and batteries. Can’t say I’m too devastated.

  2. Hi Elizabeth, so much wonderful reading to be done here and you are so proactive with your writing. I haven’t the time right now to read every bit of your blog but I will definitely be heading back over my Christmas break, The course is exciting and I am so looking forward to the experience and studying in such a large expressive community. Lovely to meet you here and at my blog. Melin 🙂

  3. Elizabeth, what a great post! really enjoyed how it made me do the same in my head – reflect back a decade or two. I was an early adopter of cross-planetary dialogue back in the early 90s (‘tandem’ I think we used to call it, linking up students in different countries to learn more of each others’ language), at uni where the connections were reasonable… then you’d go home to your ridiculous dial up thingy and give up whatever it was you wanted to do before it connected because by then you’d forgotten what it was… or maybe we had better powers of concentration then! But then the veritable explosion of the past decade and the opportunities to rethink education with a digital consciousness… and consider what is not, and what really is, different (and better). I second your thoughts and thank you for sharing them 🙂 This is my first and only MOOC (for now), as I have a thesis to finish and a darling daughter to enjoy living with, but I have no doubt that when the big text is handed in, I’ll be rampaging through moocdom like mad! (and thanks to EDC, highly vigilant and critically aware all the way of the data gathering and neocolonialist mephistos lurking!)

    • Of course, you’re writing a thesis, Emily, because the busiest folks always get the most done! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you in getting the “big text” done as quickly as possible–I’m sure it will be wonderful… I remember starting my dial up connection and then going to the kitchen to start coffee, then letting the dogs out or in, then maybe making a phone call and messing up the whole thing because I only had the one land line–then I’d start over. What a pain, but it was a miracle to be able to work from home like that, even if it was slow. Now, I fuss if it takes more than 5 seconds to get me where I’m going. Ha. 🙂

  4. btw – are the fabulous black and white images to my right here of your making? I love them

    • Thanks–they are mine. I call them abstract industrial landscapes. I started creating them when I taught 6th grade (1998-99, I think. I couldn’t leave on Fridays until my students were out of art class–last period on Fridays, at least 2 hours–but I usually didn’t want to do any work, so I went to art class with them. Had a few pieces in a couple of shows last year. It’s loads of fun to do–the art teacher called it: taking a line for a walk. Thank you for noticing and commenting!

  5. Roger Shank says”But learning happens when someone wants to learn, not when someone wants to teach.” It’s evident that you love learning. So do I. Isn’t it wonderful that the internet and moocs make that learning accessible!
    Loved this post,brought back my dial up memories. I can relate to wanting speed. I just bought a new computer because I was frustrated at not having that quick response or enough memory. Your art work is gorgeous! Makes
    Me want to quit my job and go to art school. No wait I don’t have to,I can take a mooc!

    • Love this quote (finally back to my blogging)! I do love to learn–the internet has made it possible for me to learn all the time. But you are so right that when someone wants to learn, they find a way. There’s an old saying (no idea where from) that when one wants to learn, the teacher appears. I try to remember that–as a teacher–that sometimes my students only “see” me later in the term when they decide that they want to learn more about what we’ve been doing! It can be magical and what keeps me coming back to the classroom year after year!

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