The MOOC I’m in at the moment, E-Learning and Digital Cultures, has had an impact on my freshman composition class. I wasn’t expecting that. I sort of kind of really believed that the MOOC and my students were two separate entities.
In the interest of remembering this first MOOC experience and the way it connects to my teaching, I want to record some of the things I “discovered” in this first week and how this translated to my freshman class. (Who woulda thunk this could happen? But it did. And it seemed so natural and easy and right.)
After week one in the MOOC, I found these things:
- 40,000 people is too many for me–my semi-loathing of huge crowds in physical space translates to online. It gives me the willies to even think about getting into Twitter with 1,000s of people involved.
- The same for Facebook. Now that there are over 4,600 members of our group, I’m freaked out a bit. I like what everyone is doing–helping each other and being thoughtful–but it’s too big. Or I’m a big ol’ chicken and I need to get over myself. (It’s probably that last.)
- I love what happened pre-course and am so happy I set myself up to learn as I wanted to–with a small group of amazing thinkers, that is:
- Quad-blogging as we’ve adapted it. Early on someone introduced this concept and we adapted it for this experience–having picked a group of 4 or so bloggers to connect with through the course.
- Now we have done the Google+ Hangout twice (once with three of the four, once with two of the four–recorded!) with plans to do it again each week of the course.
- I’m very happy to feel connected to these brilliant people.
- Four is a very fine number. It’s .01 percent of 40,000. Nice.
- I love the decentralized feel of the course–no talking heads to direct me too much. I thought there would be more teacherly guidance. But I like this free-form learning. I like the incredibly low-stress learning environment.
- I even don’t care that I’m not totally getting everything the professors might have intended for me to “get”–I’m doing this for me: to learn more about how MOOCs work, to play with and learn more about digital tools for teaching, and to see what happens.
- I enjoyed the videos and readings (though the one article from 2001 is ancient by digital standards).
And this is where the overlap to my own teaching has happened–in doing the actual work of the course. As I watched the videos, I thought: we’re talking about this very thing in my freshman comp class. We are only creating digital/online writing the whole year (and honors comp sequence that runs through both fall and spring semesters). We are focused on public memory, memorials, and monuments (this spring in Montgomery, AL and New York City), but everything we do is online–we are connected at the hip to the machine. OH MY WORD. So I did this:
- We watched Bendito Machine III and then The Machine is Us/ing Us.
- I asked the students to particularly pay attention to connections between the two.
- After some discussion we re-watched them (they’re short), and then talked about subtleties we missed the first time around.
- THEN we talked some more about how we are training ourselves AND the machines in various ways… and student said something that triggered our watching of Eli Pariser’s TED talk on filter bubbles. It was just so appropriate that the “machine” is also being trained by algorithms of some kind or another that give us specific information tailored to our searches, but also by what the machine learns about us regarding our choices, our location, our socioeconomic status perhaps. Who knows? Google could be sending us different search results based on our shoe size for all I know.
- Students learning about information literacy and writing online must be also thinking about what that MEANS not just how to do it.
- Having a larger context for this sort of existence online is crucial, but I hadn’t thought of putting it in terms that these short films did, and frankly, I wouldn’t have come up with this combination alone. I needed the “crowd-sourcing” of this MOOC to help me think in this way.
- The students were terrific about this unexpected twist in our learning–they always are. I thank my lucky stars that I’m blessed with the best of the best in disposition and determination to learn and think and keep blowing up the box (we don’t even think outside the box–when we encounter a box, we blast it to smithereens).
- Next class period, we might watch the other films and another TED talk and think more about our digital culture that we’re creating. NEVER dreamed that the crossover from MOOC to comp classroom might work so well.
But, then, I am a firm believer in Serendipity and let it wash over and wave (crashing sometimes) through my life at will. It’s my way. Frank Sinatra has his way, or rather “My Way“–I have mine. And I don’t think I could be happier doing it differently. Actually, my way looks and sounds just a bit more like this: Judas Priest’s “You Got Another Thing Coming.” If it weren’t for my semi-loathing of huge crowds, I’d have said my way looks exactly like this, in a stadium with 80,000 MOOCers, I mean, rock and rollers: