Category Archives: High Five

I’m mad for MOOCs, or will MOOCs make me mad?

I’ve just re-read “The Year of the MOOC” by Laura Pappano (NY Times online). Besides feeling terribly hip and trendy, I’m so glad I stumbled onto this again after a week or so of vacation. I needed to get my context back for what I’m doing and what goals I need to set for myself. The spring semester is nearly upon me, and it will whack me upside the head in a hurry if I don’t step lively.

Context. It’s starting to come back. I’ll need to re-read Facebook posts and other blogs and get my Twitter self in order soon, but it’s coming back.

One thing I’m doing to get my context groove back is to think about why I’m doing this MOOC thing. Why, oh, why did I think taking on a MOOC was a good idea while teaching two new preps, running a grad writing center, a comp program, revising comp 2 curriculum, planning for a summer basic writing bridge course, writing two articles, and planning for three practicum for teachers for the spring (and planning a class trip to NYC and then a summer abroad class)? Why? Because it’s just 3-5 hours a week for five weeks. And I could learn something vital. I need to learn to be vital actually.

Goal number one was: I hoped to see what all the MOOC fuss was about. I’m intrigued by pedagogy because I’m a teacher, and I want to always try new ways of learning and teaching so that I can bring the max goodness to my own students–whether there are seven or 7,000. And what does that mean anyway to teach a small town’s worth of folks? What does “teach” mean, then if the instructor isn’t all hands-on?

While I wanted to know what MOOCing was all about from a teaching perspective, I’m also a voracious learner, a life-long learner, and my interests vary from the NFL to string theory to Jane Austen to the zombie apocalypse. I hope to never stop being a student. My purpose in the world is to learn and pass that on. It’s an educational Buddha thing–and if I don’t play by those rules, they revoke my educational Buddha card. And that would suck. So I had to be a student in a MOOC. (And artificial intelligence or Python wouldn’t have been good courses for me to try.)

But what do I really want to know from this particular course? I don’t know. That’s right. No clue.

Learning objectives for the credit version of this course are these (or so I believe–if you’re taking the course at U of Edinburgh, EDUA11149):

EDUA11149 course objectives... a bit fuzzy, but you get it.

EDUA11149 course objectives… a bit fuzzy, but you get it.

If you want to see previous credit courses and student work, you can check here. The professor for those credit courses is one of the instructors for the MOOC E-Learning and Digital Cultures that begins January 28, 2013.

These objectives make sense for a credit course. For our MOOC, the instructors suggest that we’ll be doing the following:

On this course, you will be invited to think critically and creatively about e-learning, to try out new ideas in a supportive environment, and to gain fresh perspectives on your own experiences of teaching and learning. The course will begin with a ‘film festival’, in which we’ll view a range of interesting short films and classic clips, and begin discussing how these might relate to the themes emerging from the course readings. We will then move on to a consideration of multimodal literacies and digital media, and you’ll be encouraged to think about visual methods for presenting knowledge and conveying understanding. The final part of the course will involve the creation of your own visual artefact; a pictorial, filmic or graphic representation of any of the themes encountered during the course, and you‘ll have the opportunity to use digital spaces in new ways to present this work.

Okay. I like that. It’s like… not work. It’s like… fun. But then I’m not entirely new to e-learning or digital culture, but what I want to know is what others think. I need to know beyond my own concepts, definitions, and experiences. I need to know beyond what I know. I’m so over myself in that way. Bring on what others think and know. I need that. AND that’s why I need this MOOC.

Harry Houdini--all tied up.

Harry Houdini–all tied up.

I feel like Harry Houdini sometimes when I wander into that dangerous place where I think I know something. I feel like I could be all chained up, bound, and tied together, but I’d be able to work my out of that spot through a box submerged in stormy seas, because I really know how to do that in a given situation. But what if I get cocky? Don’t escape artists die who start to believe their own press? I don’t want that. Nobody wants that.

If I’m mad for the MOOC because it will expose me to thousands of ideas from thousands of people, or if I’m mad for the MOOC because it will being me closer to the ideas of a few other people, I’m okay with that. Either way. If I’m mad for the MOOC because it means I have some new way to move past the things that bind me, and give me new ways to escape my own chains, that’s a good thing. But could a MOOC drive me mad?

We’ve already seen that it’s overwhelming to get all connected, and the thing hasn’t even begun. Still it feels manageable by being connected to a few folks, like Houdini with only a few handcuffs on, and by being part of a group who has members willing to answer questions, set up the environment where we learn from each other, and generally act as decent and caring citizens of this new community.

One of the frustrations with MOOCS, Pappano writes in her NY Times article, is that there is so little contact with the instructor(s). Already our cohort has proven that invested individuals will jump in and “teach” as needed, share ideas, give advice, tell what’s what, create a “place” (or a “school”) where we can navigate our own learning experience. We already have blog groups actively writing and reading each others’ posts. Amazing.

If I weren’t totally into learning for the sake of making life exciting and grand and new and wonderful, a MOOC might make me stark-raving mad–because it could be intimidating. Or if I was expecting teacherly attention…I might be sadly disappointed, but the thing that makes me squarely on the side of “I’m mad for MOOCs” (so far) is the peer connections, the peer learning, the peer teaching, the peer guidance.

Sure, we’ll get lectures or directions or activities for the course, but my goals now include whatever I need to do for the class and being part of the peer network I’m smack in–that seems to already be one of the best parts of this adventure.

What will this mean for my goals as a professor/teacher/instructor of freshman through grad students and in professional programs? Not sure yet, but I can tell you this: a MOOC does not have to be a big ol’ open online course with 190,000 students in which students cannot learn because there is not attention for each from the teacher, it can be a course for me, something I do with a few friends, and a chance for all of us to change the way we think and work as humans in the midst of other humans doing the same thing.

Oh wait. We’ve already been e-learning and creating digital culture. Boo-yah.

Now. That said. I do have questions about the relevance for higher education credit, and especially for my field, writing students (actually for literature–I can see some possibilities for a MOOC). And the more I think about MOOCs and writing studies, the more I think there could be some dynamic introductory business handled through a MOOC–perhaps to the good of all who still buy into the lone-supergenius-writer-artist-starving-and-striving-and-drinking in an attic somewhere, suffering endlessly for that genius. Pshaw, I say. Let’s MOOC that myth to death.

In the meantime, I’ll be learning about what a MOOC is and can be from the instructors, by observing how they manage this course, but I’ll also learn from my fellow MOOCers. And the more I MOOC, the more I’ll understand. In the future, when I’m asked about MOOCs, I will be able to suggest how a MOOC might or might not help my school, and I’ll know something other than the definition of the acronym.

Image source: Wikipedia.

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