. . . MOOCs have proven to be simply an additional learning opportunity instead of a direct challenge to higher education itself. — Preparing for the Digital University: A Review of the History and Current State of Distance, Blended, and Online Learning
“the debate over MOOCs helped us all think about ways to re-imagine our own teaching” (Lisa M. Lane, Follow-up to POT 2013-14, Week 21: Web-Enhanced, Hybrid, and Open Classes)
I just signed up for another MOOC, “The Brain and Space,” led by Jennifer M. Groh, author of Making Space: How the Brain Knows Where Things Are. It’s a Coursera MOOC, an xMOOC where content rules (See Lisa M. Lane’s post on Three Kinds of MOOCs and don’t skip the comments). Understanding the content is my goal, and that of my friend who is taking the course with me. You see, he has Parkinson and is experiencing the “lost in space” phenomenon that Parkinson patients often have. Together we can work through the readings and videos to learn something about what’s happening in his brain. And we have the author of the book to guide our study and interact with.
This MOOC is the latest in a long line of MOOCs I’ve participated in (or not) over the past five years. It’s from a different universe as my very first MOOC, PLENK 2010 (Personal Learning and Network Knowledge). And my goals are totally different. PLENK 2010 was my effort to learn how the social Web worked and how I could be part of it. For someone new to blogging, webinars, and tweeting, it was scary. I remember posting my first comment and vowing that even if, in Dave White’s model, I became a resident, that I would never forget that fear of the unknown I experienced in this alien world.
That was many MOOCs ago and I feel personally responsible for giving MOOCs the high attrition rate that many see as problematic. But if you’re MOOC veteran, then you know that it’s much like going to a conference and quietly skipping out when you find the session isn’t what you’d hoped for. Life is too short to not spend your resources on what you really want.
I was drawn to PLENK 2010 like a moth to a flame. Yes, it was scary as hell but so exciting to be part of something so, well, massive, and seemingly revolutionary. So now the Preparing for the Digital University report officially recognizes MOOCs not as revolutionary but as simply new learning opportunities. I like to think that they are evolutionary (much as Derek Muller sees technology in general, “This Will Revolutionize Education”) and that they inspire new forms of learning opportunities yet to be re-imagined. For me, beyond guided learning about totally new content (The Brain and Space), and learning how to thrive in the digital ecology, one of the greatest values of MOOCs has been learning how I learn best and how I can become the teacher I want to be. MOOCs represent a powerful source of professional learning and, hence, re-imagination for our teaching.
Design for Online Courses
One of the first criteria I look for in a MOOC is space for me to learn. Open space. I once baled on a MOOC after working through the pre-survey because the goal was me to compare my views on learning with that of the professor. What? A bit professor-centric, don’t you think? Now a pre-survey with all the participants’ responses would have been interesting and indicated openness. Openness has become the holy grail in my quest to become a better teacher and so a strong theme in my blogging — the latest of which is Opening Up. Though openness in learning and teaching is nothing new, I think the digital world gives us tremendous opportunities for exploring openness.
Perhaps the most burning and lasting question I took from PLENK 2010 was how to achieve the balance of openness that gives me and my students the space we need. In Dave Cormier’s work I saw a thoughtful, fearless quest for openness that inspired me to begin my own.
I see openness as the structual element that Claire Major has identified as “pathway” in her Classification Chain of Online Course Structures published in her new book, Teaching Online. I learned of Claire’s work through MiraCosta College’s Program for Online Teaching and find this model to be tremendously useful in understanding what attracts me to a course and the kind of courses I want to design. Here’s a brief video introduction to Claire’s classification chain:
I’ve learned lessons about teaching from many MOOC leaders. From Cathy Davidson, with first her “Surprise Endings” open course (co-led with Dan Airely) and later her “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” MOOC, I learned much about the potential of crowdsourcing with an official university class so that the products can be shared with all.
Sarah Kagan and Anne Shoemaker with their Old Globe MOOC (Growing Old Around the Globe) managed to foster a surprising degree of community, accomplished in part by having forum leaders who facilitated warmly and wisely. I’ve reflected on my Old Globe experiences . . . using Conole’s interesting framework for mapping MOOCs across twelve dimensions.
With Jeannene Przyblyski and “A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers” I learned to admire critique as an art.
Jim Groom, Alan Levine, and Martha Burtis of the infamous DS 106 (Digital Storytelling 106), which, granted, is not a MOOC but a community helped me experience the power of creating, of making art, within a nurturing, supportive community who are passionate about their art-making and have a good time creating together.
Beyond the MOOC
“I got this note today from a colleague at UNC Capel Hill, and it got me thinking — I’d love to see some great examples of what folks are doing in the online, non-credit space. Has the MOOC grown to be the predominate format? What other approaches are working for folks? Where are the great ideas in this space?” — Larry Johnson, New Media Consortium, April 17 email to listserv
The key to the MOOC (as I’ve always said, not that anyone listens) isn’t the massive scale, though it is scalable, it’s the return of education to individual autonomy, of localized knowledge production, of the integration of community-based learning with other social values (diversity, openness, etc.). (Downes, OLDaily, May 14, 2015 http://www.downes.ca/post/63882
I’ve blogged about my efforts to open up my open course, ECI 521, “Teaching Literature for Young Adults” “Opening Up the Garden”. I feel there’s much potential, especially with a topic like young adult literature that is constantly evolving with new books and new trends each year. That’s why I love it — I never facilitate the same course twice. It’s always evolving.
Could opening up bring rewards to your university students? Could it help you make a connection to the larger community? Perhaps even make a contribution? If more online courses opened up, could the university evolve as more of the public sphere rather than the walled garden?
What lessons do you bring from MOOCs? What ideas do you have for courses that might embody the MOOC principles that Downes describes while meeting the needs of your students, of your community/communities? Do you have any innovations to share with Larry Johnson and the New Media Consortium?
Have you experienced MOOCs as a way to re-imagine your own teaching?
Major, C.H. (2015). Teaching online: A guide to theory, research, and practice. https://jhupbooks.press.jhu.edu/content/teaching-online
MOOC List. An aggregator of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from different providers. https://www.mooc-list.com/
OLDaily. A daily newsletter from Stephen Downes covering/uncovering the world of online learning. http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/login.cgi?action=Register
Program for Online Teaching. Led by Lisa M. Lane, MiraCosta College. http://mccpot.org/wp/