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.
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.