The Garden MOOC

It took a huge lightning bolt and a 10-decibel thunder clap to chase us out of our community garden. Some of us had been out in the rain since 8 am.

Rain-soddened gardeners plant apple tree

Rain-soaked gardeners plant apple tree . . .

Why are we such happy, determined gardeners?

My theory is because we’ve created the equivalent of a “garden MOOC.”

No, our group isn’t massive nor online but it is very much open to all and, yes, a course, too, in the sense of course as a “path of travel” (Wikipedia) over time and moving forward.

Jenny Mackness explains that a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to be a MOOC in the sense that this great experiment was conceptualized must reflect the four principles of connectivism — autonomy, diversity, openness, and interactivity. I’ve never participated in a group that exemplifies these principles more than the Highland United Methodist Church Community Victory Garden. Each of us chooses whether to participate, how, and when, and to what degree. We couldn’t be any more diverse with many homelands, cultures, and languages represented. We need not be Methodists or of any religion of any sort to participate. The garden is open to all who would devote time to planting and harvesting food to stop hunger in our community. As we work, we choose what tasks to complete and often find ourselves choosing a task because we want to learn more about that aspect of gardening or because we’ve connected with the other gardeners engaged in that activity.

Before volunteering in the community garden, I pretty much considered gardening to be an individualistic pursuit. Now I’ve experienced the satisfaction of working together, each with our own motivations, but all united in making the garden the most successful it can be.

From what I’ve learned in participating in numerous MOOCs, I’d suggest that there is a fifth principle that perhaps could best be called generosity. We all give and receive more when there is a generosity of sharing of what we think and the resources we have with others. It’s very satisfying to watch this principle at work in the garden where those who have worked since its groundbreaking share of their experience with the newbies who often bring knowledge gained from their solo experiences to share. It truly is participatory learning and, as Katie Salen describes in her review of what we can learn about learning from gaming, “sharing should feel like a gift.”

When I was inspired by my MOOC experiences to open up my graduate course in teaching young adult literature, I left the university Moodle behind and recreated the course in Wikispaces so anyone, anywhere could participate. I wanted my English teacher-students from central North Carolina to experience a more diverse class that would include different educational roles, in particular, librarians, and more of a global perspective. In return, our “guests” would be privy to the latest and greatest YA lit shared by our sister teen Mock Printz Club and some great resources for learning through literature with young adults.

All totaled, I had around thirteen guests participate in our class to some degree. One, a middle school librarian, joined our live classes and made a huge contribution by sharing her perspective. Others may have participated in a live class only once but turned the tide of conversation by giving us a new way of looking at an issue. So, by virtue of the live classes, I found that the “learner to learner interaction” was strong without any additional work by the instructor (Hilton et al.)

I’ve written the story of my OOC experiement in a previous blog that also links to an archived presentation that I made at the UNC Teaching and Learning with Technology 2011 Conference.

I’d encourage you to experiment with the open course concept. Grow your own MOOC.

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5 Responses to The Garden MOOC

  1. Jenny Mackness says:

    Hi Cris – I like the sound of your community garden. For me the ‘community’ bit and the generosity is what makes it more of a community than just a MOOC, although I can see that MOOC principles apply. Are you familiar with Wenger et al.’s value creation framework. I blogged about it here – . I mention it, because it has a very helpful section on the difference between a network and a community.

    Your gardening community looks great fun – but is that a sandy soil you have?


    • Cris says:

      Thanks for your generosity, Jenny! I’ve enjoyed reading Wenger et al.’s paper on value creation in communities and networks and their distinctions are very helpful. It’s still really difficult for me to confidently determine but I’m feeling that my wonderful community garden is actually more of a network. And this could be solely because I’m fairly new but there seem to be more ties than a partnership. It will be really interesting for me to reflect periodically to see if this is still the case.

      I’m excited about applying the Wenger et al. value creation framework to course design. I particularly appreciated seeing the “have fun” in Cycle 1.

      Afraid that we have clay and not sand, and speaking of value creation, our garden guru keeps telling us that clay is our friend because it’s chocked full of nutrients but it’s hard to see the value when you’re slinging a pick-axe at it. We’re only an hour or so from the Sandhills where the sandy loam is so rich and friable for gardening.

      Hope you’ve got great soil and thanks again!

  2. Woohoo! Serendipity, networks collide or meetup. Gotta love it. This afternoon (morning was artsy-litsy blogging) I created a community garden Storify, second in a somewhat still haphazard series for the someone related blog I maintain for garden’s parent organization.

    I’m all for adding sharing as a 5th wheel and want MOOC/s to be not just distributed but include, host, contain learning communities. Unfortunately, sharing is also what is missing / got lost in our local community garden, openness too. I try to counteract it with the blog and social media. If garden “management” were more social media aware, they might be against the extra openness.

    I’ve also been involved with community literacy and GED, recently invited to a local Fb group and see your YA literature course wiki as a good resource for both GED and the online ESL study group I’d like to adapt MOOC principles and structures to. Admissions are rolling (a ROOC?) to non-existent. That is where I was looking for connections and overlaps… not the garden. Delighted and excited… each an ecology though..

    • Cris says:

      Vanessa, I found your Storify and I’m impressed with the topic and the tool. I’ve heard of Storify but haven’t seen it used so well.

      You really are a “Renaissance Woman” with your interests in the arts, sciences, and technology. And with working to make sure that everyone achieves the literacy they need to accomplish all they want to do in life. I’d be thrilled if you found the Change Project helpful. I’ll be adding a page on Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game soon. Am excited to be giving away copies to a community teen center soon for World Book Day. This is definitely something you’d be interested in

  3. Cris says:

    Whoops! Should have noted the pound signs and realized I was on the UK World Book Day site. It’s well-established there while the program is just getting started in the US. Here’s our site:

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