- Genuine interest. I have to care enough about the course material to wrestle with the big ideas and small details—and the homework—all on my own. If I don’t actually care that much about what I am supposed to be learning, each task becomes drudgery. Without this, the rest is irrelevant.
- A certain amount of online extrovertedness and confidence. I’ve got to be able to jump into conversations, offer critical analysis and even critique, in multiple online media. The inherent risks in online commentary—that my dry sense of humor won’t be understood and that we’ll all just say nice things to get our participation “checked off” with no troubling downside—are all present, and I’m working on this.
- Comfort with the medium. This may mean downloading, installing, configuring, and learning how to use new software or new online tools. Fortunately I’m more or less okay here, although I’m not ready to code, which seems not to be even a possibility.
- Dedicated time. This is not a pop-in, pop-out activity; I need to clear a bunch of time to get through each element of the work. This is more of a challenge than it should be, given the time of year, but it’s not insurmountable—where there’s a will there’s a way (see #1 above).
Monday, August 13, 2012
Me, MOOCs, and MOOC MOOC: Aswim in Massive Open Online Courses
This week I’m in the middle of two MOOCs—massive open online courses. Considering the imminence of school and the manifold unexpected distractions of being alive (right now for me they're family, college bills, and the new roof being banged on above my head), this might not be the best situation into which I’ve ever gotten myself.
The first, now beginning Week 3 of five, is the Edutopia-IDEO-Riverdale Country School course in design thinking. It’s operated on a fairly familiar model for online courses, at least in my limited experience: weekly tasks, posted items related to the tasks, commentary on classmates’ posts, some reflection. It’s a solid and proven model, and if I were working harder I’d be learning even more, although the tasks themselves, developed for a broad audience of K12 educators as they must be, feel a bit contrived. I also suspect I know enough about the methodology to be finding some of the work slightly redundant, even uninspiring in spots. But it’s okay, and I will try to ramp up my level of activity. I will.
The second, and a far more interesting course in all kinds of ways, is the MOOC MOOC, organized by Hybrid Pedagogy and developed by experienced practitioners from Marylhurst University and Georgia Tech. If the Edutopia-IDEO-Riverdale course is familiarly constructivist in its essence, the MOOC MOOC is all about “connectivist” learning—a model that puts a considerable burden on the “learner” for figuring out what’s going on and for developing the skills and tools for using all the amorphousness of the cloud and a wealth of social media to bring a connected structure—it’s sort of pattern recognition, sort of gestalt—to the learning process; maybe the best advice I can offer is to read this article by George Siemens or at least look at this video by Dave Cormier.
The MOOC MOOC is a one-week course on the nature of MOOCs, with the authors evidencing a clear enthusiasm for the connectivist model. So far (after Day 1) we’ve posted profiles, met up by Twitter, linked our blogs, embarked on a zillion-author Google Doc with a narrow brief and tight constraints, checked out “readings” on blogs, PDFs, Slideshare, and YouTube. For anyone in need of a tour of the internet and its possibilities, this is the course.
What have I learned in all this? Well, that lurking only gets you so far—you really have to engage with the tasks and the people. The MOOC MOOC is largely aimed at higher education, so I’m finding myself pre-filtering my own thinking to reframe the learning for a K12 context as well as scouting out like-minded participants, of whom there are a few.
I’ve also learned that there are a lot of people who are pretty tentative in their embrace of the online learning concept, much less the MOOC idea. Insofar as the popular and even the ed press are in a constant swoon about the prospect of outfits like Udacity, Coursera (over one million served!, says the news today), and EdX pushing out for free (so far) the curricular substance of a $250K bachelor’s degree as well as all kinds of professional and vocational certifications, I guess we should all be nervous about online courses supplanting our brick-and-mortar institutions and our jobs. But we will adapt and find ways to keep teachers and professors at work even as entrepreneurial Stanford folks offer up courses to a hundred thousand students at a whack.
I’m learning as well that online courses are not to be taken lightly, especially if the bent is connectivist. As Hybrid Pedagogue (sorry; couldn’t resist) Jesse Stommel tweeted yesterday, “The course is just an organizing principle for learning—the course is not learning.” The learning is still something I have to do for myself—and this takes time and energy.
What do I need to be a good learner? Three things:
I think one last thing I’m seeing in action is that there is a tremendous amount of thought and effort that goes into designing a MOOC; my experience with an Online School for Girls Course in “How to Teach an Online Course” tells me that this is true for all online courses, just as it is true for classes in the physical world. Teaching, the part of it that involves curriculum and assessment design and choices in pedagogy, doesn’t get any easier in virtual space, even in the connectivist world where “the course is not the learning.”
Good design, however, makes the learning happen. As Sean Michael Morris, another MOOC MOOC organizer, tweeted yesterday, “I think all the teacher-work happens in design. The rest is facilitation.” It’s hard not to see the relatedness of my design thinking course in the context of this message.
Of course facilitation is no easy feat in meatspace or cyberspace, and I think I’m still waiting to observe or experience amazing facilitation in an online course. I suspect that in the MOOC MOOC I’m going to be discovering the possibilities of peer facilitation, or maybe even student facilitation. Of course, it’s also pretty interesting that I made special note of the tweets I have quoted from Stommel and Morris before I knew they were our facilitators. The people behind this course clearly bring a deep knowledge and understanding of the MOOC medium and culture—a sense of “the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
Right now I’m still at the stage of “simplicity on this side of complexity,” for which Oliver Wendell Holmes maintained he wouldn’t give a fig. At moments this is a frustrating place to be, but here’s hoping that perseverance will pay off.
And now I’ve burned up half of MOOC MOOC Day 2 without starting my homework.