A Change of Heart

Image of heart art piece crafted from concrete and inlaid stone pieces

Attribution -- Noncommercial -- ShareAlike by Cris Crissman

I’m not your typical academian. Yes, that seems an oxymoron to me, too.

My day job is to write and produce educational and environmental videos. At night I work as an adjunct assistant professor teaching online courses.

As someone who makes her living as a creator, I feel strongly about my right to earn money from my creative works. As a teacher who creates to teach and often a digital storyteller who creates for fun (huge DS 106 fan, #4Life), I also believe in the right Thomas Jefferson insisted that we all have to “stand on the shoulders of giants” by creating with and contributing to the public domain.

I appreciate Dave Wiley’s perspective (#WhyOpen Week 1 Hangout) on the trouble that the Berne Convention has wreaked because now copyright is inherent in creation but as a video producer I’m relieved that I need not file copyright on everything I produce. And I like to think that someone will think at least a little longer if not twice about ripping me off.

But all of the art that I’ve created for DS 106 over the years I’ve chosen “All Rights Reserved.” At least for all that’s totally mine. For remixes and mash-ups, I, of course, choose the Creative Commons license of the combinatorial piece. I don’t know, call me an eternal optimist but I do hold out hope that someone will see some photo I’ve taken, some video I’ve made, and want to pay me money to use it in a commercial or film. Alan Levine says this isn’t going to happen (#WhyOpen Week 1 Hangout). That there are only a handful of photographers in the world who can make money off their art.

But, you know, the most convincing argument for choosing Creative Commons licenses is some advice that Alec Couros shared years ago. He had an adorable video of a daughter learning to ride a bike that a company bought to use in a commercial. And he indicated that it made a sizable contribution to her college fund. So was the license “All Rights Reserved”? No, it was “Attribution –Noncommercial — ShareAlike” which meant that the company’s rep spotted the video through Creative Commons but had to pay for it since it was non-commercial. So odds are that Alec’s video would not have been found if not for its Creative Commons licensee

So I’ve decided to change the license on all of my art to “Attribution –Noncommercial — ShareAlike” . At least for works that don’t include students for whom I have parental permission to video/photo but I feel I should guard the use of their images carefully.

Now, I’ve head the argument for the “free culture licenses” that essentially gives anyone the rights to the Five Rs Dave mentioned (retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute) (#WhyOpen Week 1 Hangout) to help give a leg up to those who may need access to creative works to make their living. I’m still leery of this because, as in Alec’s case, the big company could also take the video for free. Gotta think more about this change.

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Opening Up

Left hand with open palm and right hand as fist["Opening Up" by Cris for The Daily Create, August 10, 2014]/

Our DS106 Daily Create challenge on Sunday, August 10, was to take a photograph of opposites. With this class in mind, I took a shot of my right hand closed in a tight fist and my left hand wide open with palm flat. After a bit of exploration on Gimp, you see the result above.

To me, the open hand is ready for opportunities to grasp, to reach out, to learn, to share. While the fist is frozen, isolated, alone, and insecure.

A DS106 friend, Sandy Brown Jensen, described the image as “odd, strong, and beautiful.” Maybe that’s what opening up is all about. It seems odd because it’s rare for someone to be so transparent, to admit to not knowing, to learn in public with everyone watching. It takes strength to risk embarrassment and failure. But it’s a beautiful thing to be so bold to follow one’s passion to learn, to delight and dance and celebrate learning in the open, and to show respect for others by creating the spaces — the open spaces — where they can learn to open up.

Obviously my interest in openness is in learning and teaching. It’s become a quest that led me to online teaching, taking my courses open, and exploring new ways to provide experiences in openness for other teachers. I’m convinced that openness is a stance or way of being in the world that is a prerequisite for developing the literacies we need to be successful learners and teachers in this digital age.

I’ve blogged often about this quest. The latest “Opening Up the Garden.”

I look forward to conversations with others interested in openness in learning and teaching. Let the MOOC begin!

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Literacy to Learn

“I think that the important factor is that we get to share our knowledge with people and we get to share with them what we learned. And even though at first it was hard work, at the end it was something really beautiful to create.” — Seventh grade digital storyteller

View the video below to hear more from seventh graders about connecting, collaborating, and creating . . .

At the celebration of this “learning science through digital storytelling” project, the meteorologist and teacher queried the seventh graders about what they learned. Every student commented on learning to make movies or curate with Diigo’s social bookmarking tool. I think the adults were a bit disappointed that the student responses weren’t about the weather, or the atmosphere, or the water cycle or air quality. I like to think that the students realized that ability trumps knowledge. That becoming independent learners able to research, filter, curate what they learn in an informative, interesting way is more important to their future than collecting knowledge. I think many of them also learned the value of learning to work collaboratively to accomplish something valuable. This seems the literacies approach that Dave described in Hangout#6: “. . . literacies end up being the approach that needs to be there. They need to know how they go about learning . . . . not necessarily learn any specific item.”

Another huge part of the project was reaching beyond the classroom to professionals in the sciences and arts who could give feedback on the students’ videos on either content or design. Some of the professionals wondered if they had been too tough with their criticism, if they were expecting too much from seventh graders. I don’t think so. The students took the feedback very seriously, and those who opted to revise seemed genuinely grateful for the feedback and the attention. I think it’s obvious in their responses in this video thank-you to the “panel of experts” or MKOs (More Knowledgeable Others) as I like to call them.

Bonnie Stewart in this Lin Education interview discusses a teacher’s role in helping students develop the filtering literacies necessary in a many-to-many model. I like to think that I’m helping students to become both confident independent learners and successful many-to-many community learners with projects like this that build on independent and community learning. The concept of space for possibility was mind-blowing from Keith (“Space, Possibility, and #rhizo14″) and the additional discussion about the need for scaffolding to provide an accessible space in Hangout #6 was really helpful. I’ve much to learn about creating the space and scaffolding for inviting and supporting literacy learning by seventh graders and graduate students.

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The Firestarter

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. — Walt Whitman, “Oh Me, Oh Life”

Author sits around fire with students in the Bookhenge in Second Life

Author Marc Aronson sits around the fire with students in the Bookhenge, virtual world where my classes meet.

You get the fire started (using Dave’s metaphor that Marianne and Miranda have built on). Students gather around. If things go well, there is conversation, community, collaboration, and transformation. If they don’t, it’s just another 3 credit hours.

. . . the ways in which we run our communities in the real world; the ways that sometimes conflicting ideas come together. I think of it as a messier place; a complex place. And I also think of community learning as a place where we really care about what other people learn. And there’s a contradiction between those two meanings but for some reason I’m comfortable being right there in the middle of it. — Dave in Week 4 Hangout for Rhizomatic Learning 2014

I really care what my students learn. I passionately believe that they can reach students through literature in ways that can be life-changing, even life-saving. But I also believe that community learning is the best way for them to not only learn to teach literature but to learn to unlearn and relearn as Toffler suggests we must accomplish to be successful. When I put my faith and my curriculum in community learning, it is messy and complex but also hopeful and creative.

I feel this tremendous tension to design a course so my students both experience learning and unlearning in a community while they develop some knowledge of the ongoing conversation and evolving content that is learning through literature with young adults. I’m not comfortable but I think that means my rhizomes are growing. I’m stretching. I’m feeling the burn.

So community learning becomes part a huge part of the curriculum, in fact, the foundation. Which is absolutely as it should be for the study of literature for any age student. Somehow I must get the fire started so that my students experience community learning and explore how they can best build their own fires in their current or future classrooms.

Speaking of future classrooms, Olivia, one of my teen writing group members, a college freshman and potential future teacher, just shared an article on our listserv about the value of feedback. The teacher-writer, Tom Williams (see citation below), describes his writing circle of teachers as a “gift community” after Lewis Hyde’s 1983 The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. The gift community and accompanying gift culture with its reciprocal gift-giving that inspires gratitude and generosity seems a perfect way to describe community learning.

But in addition to sharing gifts in the gift community, Hyde says that the community must do something, make something — that they must be about contributing to the greater good. This resonates with me for I’ve always attempted to design my courses so the individual projects, group projects, and, full class projects consist of real work that can make a contribution to the world outside the course. For the past ten years (could it be that long???) our class has produced the Melinda Awards, sort of the Oscars of Young Adult Literature that features our local teen book club, the award-winning Eva Perry Mock Printz Book Club. When the class is taught in the spring, the graduate students join the teens in “standing up” for the books they believe best reflect high literary quality and presenting both serious and hilarious awards like “Best Male Character in a Starring Role,” “Best Literary Boyfriend,” “Best Cover,” “Most Promising New YA Author.” Though the event is streamed live, we usually have many more people watch it later, and we’ve had many YA authors as well as teachers and librarians tell us how much they value the teen perspectives of these serious young readers. We’re planning our 2014 program for February 28th now, but you can check out the 2013 event.

Eva Perry Mock Printz Club poses for group shot after the Melinda Awards

Eva Perry Mock Printz Club poses for group shot after the 2013 Melinda Awards -- shot by Cris

I knew from lurking on “Surprise Endings: Literature and Social Science,” a course taught by Cathy Davidson and Dan Ariely of Duke, that the students were assigned a real world project — to design components of a MOOC for the course. When Cathy Davidson described this practice in a Future of Ed MOOC, Week 3 video (sorry, somewhat ironically the resources are available only through Coursera), she called it crowdsourcing and added that “students enjoy contributing if they know that their work is going to make a difference — what they’re learning can make a difference in the world.”

That’s how I like to think that community can work best in a formal course — that the students can design and contribute to a project that makes a difference — a difference now in their learning and potentially for others whose lives the work touches and a difference later as they design their own classrooms that support community learning.

All I have to do is get the fire started.

References:
Williams, Tom. “The Gift of Writing Groups,” The English Journal, Vol. 79, No. 4 (Apr., 1990), pp. 58-60. National Council of Teachers of English. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/818130.

Special thanks to Olivia for this reference — another invaluable gift to our writers’ group.

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Rewired? Reshaped? Rhizomed?

Tardis in Hunt Library, violet rhizome on background of wires

My images plus Amanda44's violets on Wikipedia


Dave does have a way of asking questions that tend to tie our rhizomes in a knot.

So “Is books making us stupid?”

Of course not. We got stupid before Gutenberg.

Leonard Shlain, renowned surgeon and author who was truly renaissance in his integration of the arts and sciences, wrote a provocative book, The Goddess and the Alphabet, with a hypothesis that when humans invented alphabets that they began to reshape our brains in ways that we’re only now understanding. The old electronic metaphor of rewire never seemed right and now with the understanding that the work of the brain is more collaborative and holistic rather than isolated in various sections it seems much more sensible to remix Churchill’s “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

Shlain’s premise is that literacy reshaped our brains in ways that glorified written expression/communication while demoting all things visual and oral. We may have gotten erudite but we got stupid when we failed to realize the power of our other ways of knowing, learning, and sharing. An unintended consequence (unless you believe in conspiracy theories) was that we marginalized those whose ways of knowing or cultures did not embrace the linear, sequential mode of communicating that an alphabet dictates. Those left behind? Women and aboriginals top the list.

Belenky et. al wrote a scholarly book about women’s ways of knowing that are typically not respected. Interestingly, they identify women as tending toward “connected learners” rather than “separate learners” so a nod there to rhizomatic learning. I don’t think that knowing as a more global, holistic, visual, and oral experience is gender-specific anymore than I buy the old right brain/left brain theories but it gives us a place to begin the conversation.

And Jim Stauffer aka WayUpNorth brings the ways of knowing/learning from the aboriginals to the conversation when he shares his experiences in learning the Tlı̨chǫ language and ways of looking at the world to make an eloquent case for the power of orality.

Jenny Mackness nailed it when she wrote that we need, of course, both written language and orality and that books preserve both history and perspective that we can’t afford to lose. Her argument reminds me of the Slow Reading movement that advocates for the kind of heavy, intellectual, critical thinking that seems more likely with deep immersion in a longer text. Some may see irony in Google’s often contested effort to preserve and distribute this knowledge of books. But the beauty of the digital world is that it may be bringing a return to a more holistic understanding of learning, knowing, and sharing because it does enable us to express and communicate in both visual and oral ways beyond text. I’d like to think that we’re coming full circle and that digital storytelling and the “YouTube aesthetic” of sharing our lives is giving voice to those of us who do think and learn in myriad, often nontraditional ways.

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Opening Up the Garden

Happy gardeners show their color and veggies!

The Connected Garden: Highlands Victory Community Garden

Three inches of snow in my city will make this past week’s snowfall go down as “the Big Snow of 2014.” Seriously, we rarely see more than a dusting.

So while schools (including universities) and businesses were closed, gardeners like me were cuddling up with seed catalogs and garden planners, dreaming of the warm days to come when we could dig in the earth again.

So where will I plant the purslane seeds? I’ve never grown this dark, leafy green but it’s supposed to be rich in Omega-3. How many Poblano peppers can I plant in the upper bed? Anticipation runs rampant as you imagine what can be.

It’s much the same process in planning a course. I’ll be teaching my signature course, ECI 521, “Teaching Literature for Young Adults,” first session summer school. I’ve not had the opportunity to teach it for more than a year, so I’m eager to update using all that I’ve learned since Fall 2012.

The garden metaphor is a favorite of mine (The Garden MOOC, Scaling the Walled Garden) — and it seems even more apropos considering rhizomatic learning. I want this garden/course to be one that students can not only dig in but help to envision and design.

Cathy Davidson in her January 29th Future of Education Google Hangout described Google’s Oxygen Study as being primarily responsible for her switch from traditional content knowledge-driven teaching to more of a connected, socially-engaged style that prepares her students to lead more “productive, happily socially-engaged lives.” “All education is vocational,” Davidson said. I can’t think of a more convincing argument for designing courses for teachers that prepare them for modeling for others what the connected life can look like and what the rewards might be.

I’ve opened the course up in many ways. We use blogs and Twitter and our class is totally open for anyone interested in young adult literature. But it is still very teacher-directed with a firm syllabus with weekly readings and required individual and group work. I’d like to open it up for more emergent learning and student input. I’m also hoping that opening things up may draw more open students who want to update their knowledge of the latest and greatest YA lit. I think the tight rein with typical grad school projects may have seemed off-putting even though they were not required to complete them. Bringing more diversity in terms of world view and experience would make this course more exciting for everyone.

Studying YA lit is usually fascinating for the students and many bring a real passion to the course. I’d like to open up the course so that students can find “their passion” (harkening back to something I mentioned that Mark Poole had suggested in #rhizo14, Week 2 Unhangout.

Maha voices a real concern that I always have when I ask students to embrace uncertainty, to suspend their disbelief . . .

. . . but whether I can help my students embrace them while not making them feel I am shortchanging them, not giving all of myself, this is my concern.

I can relate, oh boy, can I relate, Maha. The saddest evaluation I ever got was from a student who wrote: “I had to teach myself.” She was describing how she had to learn digital storytelling tools in our online Creative Inquiry class. In her mind, I failed because I didn’t deserve credit for teaching her. She had to teach herself. Forget all the tutorials and studio times for help. In my mind, I failed because she failed to learn that teaching yourself, and unlearning and learning and unlearning again may be the most important lessons from the class. Sigh . . .

It is especially hard to design a course for students when you know that their expectations will lead to much uncertainty. So their uncertainty makes your fear of failure even greater. Because, ultimately, I think that’s what uncertainty is all about — the fear of failure. But interestingly, the more you experience uncertainty and gain confidence in how you can cope with both it and the occasional failure, then the more productive and successful you’ll be. And the bolder and more adventurous . . .

Shelley Wright, one of the teachers I most admire, has written about overcoming her fear of failure to radically change how she teaches.

I think all teachers must have times when they’re faced with the decision to continue on the safe road that they know, or radically depart on a way that they believe to be better, but the specific route and outcomes are unknown . . . the top 10 jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004. How do we prepare our students for jobs that don’t exist now, that will use technology that hasn’t been invented, to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet? By teaching them skills, not solely content.

That’s what I hope to do with ECI 521 — to create the conditions for my students to experience uncertainty, to reach for the brass ring. And I hope the result will be more teachers like Kevin’s Mrs. Grainger, a wonderful teacher from a children’s book, Frindle, who Kevin describes as one who teaches her students for the uncertainty that lies ahead by grounding them in language and literacy. I’d like to have a class full of Mrs. Graingers in ECI 521.

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Painting Myself Out of the Picture

Teacher fading away while teens hold up fave books

Thanks to Eva Perry Mock Printz Club for use of our latest group shot.

All in all, what I think I’ll take away at this point (there’s still more feedback to come from the official ClasslEvals) is that I need to design a system that gives students enough rope to explore and create and make their own way while not giving them too much rope to hang themselves when the crunch inevitably comes.

I’ve blogged before and gotten some excellent feedback on a semester-long, collaborative project that I assigned for my ECI 509, Creative Inquiry Through Digital storytelling course. To make a long story short, my graduate students pretty much hung themselves by failing to begin their projects early enough in the semester to add the required community engagement component.

Jenny Mackness read my self-questioning about how much scaffolding I should provide and shared sage words about scaffolding/control and assumptions that I’ll take to my next such project:

. . . Even scaffolding can ultimately be a form of ‘control’. I think it’s very difficult for us as teachers to recognise and distinguish between control and support, and to be aware of all the assumptions we make when we are trying to do the best for our students.

Is my assumption that graduate students would benefit from having complete freedom to plan and schedule their projects correct (that’s how I would have preferred it) or would benchmark due dates serve to provide a net? I tend to think required benchmarks for graduate students would enforce dependency rather than independency.

Ilene Dawn coined a lovely, creative term — “GPS systems for creative work” — that I plan to incorporate in my project toolkit to encourage students to understand that what they learn through their implementation of the project is as vital as the final product.

. . . what I’m thinking of as learning where and why and how to build escape hatches into the structures or to make real room for students to use what’s their to build their own GPS systems for creative work.

I’m also thinking seriously about how I can take myself out of the assessment picture. Keith Hamon calls for an assessment that informs self-directed learners:

If considered early, then both formative and summative assessments can help shape, guide, and inform the self-directed learning from the beginning. Indeed, assessments become a naturally-occuring, emergent property of learning and not some tacked-on quiz at the end.

I already have a project toolkit complete with a rubric that each student completes assessing his or her self and the group but I wonder how I might make it more flexible so each group can build on the basic requirements to tailor for their own projects. And also to allow space for emergent learning and including that in their assessment.

Finally, not to shirk responsibility for assessment, but I wonder what might happen if I incorporated the recommendations from the “Competency-Based Education Experimental Sites” project of Obama’s current college initiative. The most compelling one is to differentiate the mentor from the assessor:

Differentiating faculty roles, with some faculty members serving in mentoring roles, increases focus on facilitating and directing student learning and progression.

In my case, I’d organized or even better students could organize a committee made up of involved community members to provide feedback and assessment for the projects.

Finally, in our unhangout last week, Mark Poole offered a suggestion that I’ve been contemplating ever since.
Mark Poole suggests we find our students' passions . . .

In my pre-course virtual conferences with students I try to encourage them to bring their passions to the coursework. I’ve seen this work beautifully for some students who design their projects so they can feed their passions. Others can’t seem to escape the graduate school survivor angst. Helping them learn to create and enjoy the process may be my biggest challenge.

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Three Pounds of Neurons

In our constant search for meaning in this baffling and temporary existence, trapped as we are within our three pounds of neurons, it is sometimes hard to tell what is real. We often invent what isn’t there. Or ignore what is. We try to impose order, both in our minds and in our conceptions of external reality. We try to connect. We try to find truth. We dream and we hope. And underneath all of these strivings, we are haunted by the suspicion that what we see and understand of the world is only a tiny piece of the whole. — Alan Lightman

In attempting to wrap my three pounds of neurons (give or take an ounce or two) around this question of cheating and learning, I’ve done some aerial flips and dives but this is what I’m thinking now and it feels pretty good.

My interest in the possibility of substituting hack for cheat took me to a brief exploration of game theory, and I found UCLA professor Peter Nonacs’s story of how he designed a real-world experience in game theory principles for his students incredibly exciting. Nonacs essentially gave his students one question, ““If evolution through natural selection is a game, what are the players, teams, rules, objectives and outcomes?” And then he stepped back and watched while all but three collaborated to come up with the best possible answer.

Nonacs’s hypothese:

Tests are really just measures of how the Education Game is proceeding. Professors test to measure their success at teaching, and students take tests in order to get a good grade. Might these goals be maximized simultaneously? What if I let the students write their own rules for the test-taking game? Allow them to do everything we would normally call cheating?

Nonacs’s experiment is a fascinating example of what happens when we turn the Education Game on its head. That’s what I think exploring how we might best cheat the system to improve student and teacher learning does — makes us question our assumptions about the system and how it needs to change.

Not that I want to “define” or box in cheating as Dave warned about in the first Unhangout, but Telli01′s discussion on Vialogues of how the meaning of cheating may be changing was really helpful. Telli001 began with the derivation of cheat from escheat meaning that power resides in the person or institution and its evolving shift to the power residing in the relations. I think that’s what Nonacs experiment did — asked his students to reconsider what it means to cheat and how their relationships as collaborative learners might change to produce optimum learning for everyone.

In a way, MOOCs cheat the education system. If everyone can learn for free, then how is the system supposed to make money to self-perpetuate? How might the relationships of students and teachers and the universities need to change? Is cheating simply disrupting and will disruptions lead to a fairer, more equitable playing field for all? Cheating, normally thought of as immoral behavior, could bring a new morality with social and economic justice for all learners. Will MOOCs succeed as disrupters? Bring “folly or glory” as I asked in this Daily Create from DS106:

So considering cheating led me to relationships led me to social justice and to how those who change the world may cheat the system to succeed. So, of course, I thought of Apple’s iconic “Think Different” ad. I had some fun making the cheating connection in this remix. I also posted the video on Vialogues just to check out this new-to-me tool. Thanks to dogtrax for introducing it to rhizo14.

btw YouTube informs me that my “Duke of MOOC” remix is “banned in several foreign countries” because I “borrowed” a few seconds of “Man of LaMancha” from Luther Vandross’s album. And I’m sure some would question my right to build on the Apple ad. Just another reminder to me that our perspective on cheating must change just as it is — slowly but surely — on intellectual property, copyright, and fair use.

So much more for these three pounds to contemplate . . .

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A Teacher’s Reach: Mary Ellen and NCRA

“I touch the future.” — Christa McAuliffe

Web philosopher Clay Shirky’s advice for membership associations? People want to be engaged — they want to be part of a group that does something. Newsletters and conferences don’t cut it any more because professionals today have plenty of other ways to connect with peers.

Mary Ellen Skidmore never saw being a member of the International Reading Association or the state or the local councils as a spectator sport. She could see the good that could be accomplished when she joined and collaborated with other educators, parents, and community members and worked hard to do her share.

Now we all know that it was more than her share. The tremendous amount of work that she did and what she accomplished is an inspiration for us all. And all of us who worked with Mary Ellen in some way realize that it’s impossible to turn her down. How can you ever say no to someone who does so much so selflessly and with such dedication to the cause?

Mary Ellen is a model for those of us who realize what can be accomplished when we work outside our classrooms with others to extend our realm of influence — to reach out and make an even larger contribution. We know this and the International Reading Association does, too, and has awarded her with the Mary Ann Manning Outstanding Volunteer Service Award. The North Carolina Reading Association has named its project grants to local councils in her honor. How fitting for a leader who has worked so hard to help local councils and the important work that they do.

Behind most successful educators, there is a partner who had to support the effort. Mary Ellen’s Steve jokes a bit but we know he is proud of Mary Ellen’s contributions. We also know that he is quite a volunteer himself and continues to read to first graders twice a week well into his 90s. Mary Ellen, of course, continues to share her love of children’s books by supplying Steve with his reading selections.

Steve and Mary Ellen share a book and a smile.

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“Weird Creativity” and All: Reflections on Old Globe MOOC

“Yawn … weird creativity and very banal” — Peer Reviewer of my Week 4 assignment, Old Globe MOOC

I’m a veteran of many MOOCs — from the clearly philosophically open PLENK2010 (one of the Siemens, Downes, and Cormier original “cMOOCs”) to the more traditional course-like Stanford AI (of the type now known as “xMOOCs”). With the hybridization of MOOCs, Conole has developed a framework for mapping MOOCs across twelve dimensions. You’ll see those below and my mapping for the Old Globe MOOC which I think rises far beyond the so-called “xMOOC” because of the emphasis on communication and reflection but is hampered by what could be better designed multimedia and more open structures for sharing by participants (related to learning pathways, degree of collaboration, and autonomy dimensions).

Sarah Kagan, Anne Sullivan, and their team worked tirelessly to encourage engagement and discussion by participants. Sarah, in particular, showed a graciousness through the expert interviews, webcasts, and Twitter that really encouraged community. Here’s a comment that expresses a common response:

I know there are over some 9000 people enrolled but somehow when Sarah and Anne do their video segments it seems more personal and almost like a small group. I don’t really feel that way with most moocs I have taken. — Stephen in “Thank You, Sarah and Anne” Week 5 Forum

Also, I still marvel at the depth of some of the forums (“Is that All There Is? Week Two forum is a memorable one) which were really expertly moderated. So kudos to the team that made this a MOOC a successful learning experience for thousands of participants worldwide.

More on the multimedia content and opportunities for openness . . .

There were several comments on the “Feedback” Forum on the need for more content beyond the video resources to meet the needs of a widely diverse audience (Jenny Mackness writes of this). Roseanne and Margaret advocated for readings suggested by the experts while Edith commented that she “enjoyed the relatively free-form nature of this course.” This is where the learning pathways dimension comes in, and I think that a bit of support or scaffolding with suggested readings for initial or further study is just good teaching practice and may be used by participants as preferred.

The video segments with experts might serve this diverse audience better if the welcome for the week introduced the question and key issues, concepts, and terms. I’d suggest that the expert interview, which had a really casual, warm, inviting feel, might work better as thematic clips of say, no more than 7 to 8 minutes.

I really enjoyed creating my own digital stories to meet the weekly assignment of sharing something from the Web (from study to comic) that would then prompt the participant’s reflections on the week’s question. I just wish that these resources could have been shared with everyone. I think there’s a simple solution that would require a change in the Coursera model.

This change would also affect the peer review model with which I have a love-hate relationship. I loved reading the weekly responses of five peers and really enjoyed engaging in the type of conversation (that’s what Heather called it in a Week 2 forum, “100-250 Word Evaluations”) that the Old Globe leaders encouraged with their prompts:

    What do you think about this participant’s portfolio item choice to answer this question of the week?
    How does this participant’s perspective differ from your point of view?
    How is your point of view similar?

Many of the responses were compelling stories about ageing that touched me on a personal level, e.g., the Japanese father’s legacy of ageing well to very intellectually stimulating perspectives on ageing in societies around the world. In one week’s responses, I noted responses from one Korean, one Australian, one Brit, and two Americans. It truly was a rich opportunity to gain a more global perspective on an incredibly important issue.

I learned of so many relevant resources from the assignments — resources that really would have been great to share with everyone. I always tweeted these and archived them to a Diigo group but I’m sure those who don’t tweet would have missed them. Many excellent studies shared within the assignments did not get shared with the community. I think this reduces the opportunity for us to practice “critically analyzing studies about ageing” as Anne encouraged in the final webcast.

“I feel lucky to have been able to share your creation.” — Week 6 Reviewer

This is where the hate comes in? I and many of my reviewers would begin with a comment on how fortunate we felt that we drew the responses we did. Why though is there this peer review roulette? And why can’t we make this a real conversation where we can respond in turn to the reviewers? That would make the whole process more like, well, blogging and commenting. It would be public and the conversations could continue. I suspect the anonymity in part is why many of us won’t be bringing many lasting relationships from Old Globe as Jenny observed. I also think this grading-sharing tension lessens the development of a sense of community that many of us who don’t really enjoy the forum aspect of a course miss out on.

I worry that when these kind of lasting relationships aren’t created that the opportunity for positive social activism that many of us had hoped for is lost. In an earlier post, I shared Luanne’s passionate call for drawing on the power of the MOOC to crowdsource solutions:

What a better place to start the creative thinking going. This course can be very VERY powerful…if we choose to direct our thinking along this way as well . . .

I realize there’s a logistical need to have participants help with the “quality control” for assignments but this model seems to come at the expense of the ongoing conversations and sharing of resources that a public model would offer. Jenny with comments from Scott and John have also explored alternatives to the Coursera peer review process . . .

What would I propose? A blog-system where each participant would post her weekly assignments and those who sought to earn credit would make substantive comments on the blogs. Coursera already has a summary page for each participant where her comments to the forums are posted, so I don’t think this would be technically difficult to attain. In fact, I’d love to see the blogs open to the world, and I think that tools such as Gordon Lockhart’s content scraper (see iBerry) could possibly help track participation for course completion requirements.

So it’s openness that I’m encouraging and not only for the benefit of learning content but also to provide a safe and supportive environment for Coursera participants to develop important digital learning skills and learn something of the Web culture. Helping older adults learn technology skills that will enable them to communicate and connect with younger people was an important theme in the Week Six webcast. I also think that having 9000 participants sharing resources they learn about through their researching and thinking about the week’s question would result in one incredibly exciting Collaborative Critical Inquiry — a pedagogical pattern where participants research, share, and discuss what they learn through a shared inquiry.

Now, about that “weird creativity” review. I’m a proud #4Lifer of DS106, which really is one big, supportive community of people who love to create and share their stuff. So I’ll wear “weird creativity” as a badge of honor. But I do think that going public with comments would discourage flippant ones and encourage more substantive, helpful ones — of which I got many and I’m very grateful for.

Here are my six “weirdly creative” digital stories produced for Old Globe. When I first read of the MOOC I tweeted that this would be a great opportunity to work on my digital storytelling and that it was. I look forward to a new model that would encourage more sharing of our stories.

Week Six: What do ageing societies need to do to prepare for the future?

Week Five: What are the global implications of ageing?

Week Four: What is it to age well?

Week Three: What is an ageing society?

Week Two: What is it to be old?

Week One: What is ageing?

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