10 Things I’ve Learned (So Far) from Making a Meta-MOOC

10 Things I’ve Learned (So Far) from Making a Meta-MOOC

On January 27th, Cathy N. Davidson launches “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education,” a MOOC connected to dozens of other courses and events distributed across the web. Over six weeks, Hybrid Pedagogy will host a discussion group, codenamed MOOC MOOC Dark Underbelly, a rowdy exploration of topics unearthed by the course and its offspring, a place to examine the deeper (and sometimes darker) issues implicated in these discussions. Our node will include related articles, curated content from participants, weekly #moocmooc chats, and more. Watch @hybridped and @moocmooc for details. In this article, Cathy offers 10 things she’s learned from making her meta-MOOC.


1. It’s a little bit “Wayne’s World,” a little bit “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and a little bit amateur hour (and that’s a good thing).

Starting last May 2013, my HASTAC colleague Kaysi Holman and I began making a meta-MOOC, “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education.”  It comes with a long, whimsical subtitle intended to disrupt traditional ideas of the purpose and function of higher education:  “Or, How We can Unlearn our Old Patterns to Relearn for a More Engaged, Successful, Fruitful, Productive, Humane, Happy, Beautiful, and Socially-Conscious Life.” We made it for Coursera with which my university, Duke, is a partner. The Duke News team shot the opening promo video with two real cameras and real lights, but, for the rest of the six week course, Kaysi and I filmed with and delivered into a low-tech webcam neither of us had ever shot with before, a la Wayne and Garth.

Amateur videography is not really what I signed on for but it turned out to be interesting. I learned a lot about the art of scripting an entire course in 8-15 minute segments, designing and reading from cue cards (harder than it looks, as numerous hilarious Saturday Night Live segments attest), and storyboarding text and images. Kaysi, who has a law degree, not only read the fine print (confusing and in one case contradictory) on the agreements and helped with the IRB, she also learned many new skills: ScreenFlow editing, uni- and bi-directional mic’ing, and lighting to try to compensate, futilely, for the unflattering zombie green of office fluorescents, to name just a few. She edited, interjected explanatory texts and images, and designed landing pages. I’m not sure what we would have done without Lynda.com.

One reason the course is a meta-MOOC is we actually talk about this process, not just in articles like this but on camera, in the MOOC itself. We make my cue cards available as study guides, and in one segment pan the entire PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge where all the cue cards for the first several weeks’ were strewn around the walls on giant post-its. After Kaysi found out a better way to correct the flashlight-under-the-chin ghoulish light, we filmed a segment where we asked our MOOC participants to chime in and let us know if we’d done it better.

The result? Very DIY in look and feel. If we were doing it all over a second time, we’d do it much better.

And that’s the message and methodology of the course itself. Talk about “meta.” This meta-MOOC advocates that 21st century education needs to return to Deweyite roots, embracing much more of a maker spirit, and much more willingness to experiment, to stray away from expertise (despite the “doc on the laptop” premise of most MOOCs). The course advocates a spirit of innovation, experimentation, collaboration, daring, and, sometimes, the result is DIY amateurism. Thus the long subtitle. The learning is lifelong. Or as Kathleen Woodward, Director of the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington, says in this era of constant change, “we’re all non-traditional learners now.”

One metaphor we develop in the meta-MOOC is that there’s always someone else behind the camera. As expert as we think we may be in our areas of specialization, life (and education) is about all those areas in which we are not expert and learning how to thrive, sometimes by getting information online, sometimes by learning the skills of experimentation and iteration, and sometimes we get by — as the song goes — with the help of our friends. None of us has all the answers but, together, we might be able to come up with a few good ones. As we say at HASTAC, difference is not a deficit. It’s our operating system. And necessary in a world where we are all non-traditional learners.

Once, on a lecture tour in Australia, I happened to eat at a restaurant with a sound system that played opera arias performed by the restaurant’s proprietor and chef. The food was good but the music was pretty pitchy. The menus read, “As an opera singer, I am a great chef.” That about sums it up. Not all our skills qualify us as experts, and sometimes it is our amateur skills that get us through crises, help us improvise, teach us how to collaborate, or provide us with enormous pleasure.FutureEd Graphic

2. I could have written a book in the same amount of time it has taken to make this MOOC (and I’m learning more and having more fun doing it).

We spent an estimated 40 hours a week from May 2013 through January 2014 working on the MOOC — and that’s before the course even begins. The investment in time makes sense for me, since I am passionately interested in innovation in higher education, and (meta again) I wanted to learn about making a MOOC inside and out. For a junior scholar, trying to work one’s way toward tenure, committing this much time to an online course that counts neither as a publication nor as a university course would require serious consideration. Is this how a junior person wants to commit her time?

That time commitment and potential professional constraint is, to my mind, a real problem. Do we really want knowledge that comes only from senior professors? I don’t know about other profs but my most exciting conversations invariably are those with junior colleagues, graduate students, or undergraduate students. In fact, I just had a great one about how to use and not use Wikipedia with a middle-school student. I’ve written elsewhere about the narrowness of MOOC education only emanating from R1 universities, but the senior scholar problem promises to be just as stultifying.

3. A MOOC made by a professor at an elite university is not “the same” education that students at the university receive (and in some cases it may be better).

The Coursera website promises “a future where everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few.” Are my amateur lecture videos a “world-class education?” Not even close. You pay for an elite education because of the individual instruction and advising, the array of rich face-to-face experiences (with teachers and peers), conversations, labs, art exhibits, seminars, study abroad possibilities, extracurricular events, practical internships and engagement opportunities, and research experiences offered by an elite institution. Even though we strive to make our meta-MOOC as participatory as possible, a free online course can never offer all that a tuition-paying Duke student can take advantage of in the course of a semester.

On the other hand, coupled with local peer meet-ups, online discussion groups, forums, virtual office hours, and the kind of interaction we hope to inspire in our meta-MOOC, this experience may well be richer than what, at many public and private universities, might be a 200- or 600-person lecture class, with multiple choice quizzes and a TA to answer questions in a few office hours a week. But let’s quiet the hype. A MOOC, even a meta-MOOC, is not offering the kind of personalized, individualized U.S.-style liberal arts education that is admired and envied by students around the world.

4. MOOCs are not going to take away your teaching job at a two-year or four-year college or large public or private university.

The hype about MOOCs offering the equivalent of a Harvard or Stanford education for free is just silly. Equally implausible is the ancillary hysteria that MOOCs will be used to take away jobs. The appalling and reprehensible 70% contingent and adjunct labor statistic in higher ed began long before MOOCs were a gleam in Sebastian Thrun’s or Daphne Koller’s eye.  As I wrote in a blog post, “Schadenfreude for the MOOC is not Joy for the Higher Ed Status Quo,” if we scapegoat MOOCs for all the troubles in higher education, we’ll be left with no solutions, no progress, no innovation, and no change in the status quo. Simply protesting MOOCs is not enough. We have to be smart about new ideas and about what is or is not threatening and what is or is not efficacious about MOOCs. We need to work together, and with the interest of our students utmost, to change the conversation back from a contempt for higher education to appreciation of its importance to civil society and to the future. There is no victory in undercutting MOOCs if our hostility does nothing to change the percentage of adjuncts or public support for higher education — or the status quo of the structures, legacies, outmoded methods, assumptions, and metrics of higher education today.

Technology has a way of making people lose their marbles — both the hype and the hysteria we saw a year ago were ridiculous.  It is good that society in general is hitting the pause button. Is there a need for online education? Absolutely. Are MOOCs the best way? Probably not in most situations, but possibly in some, and, potentially, in a future iteration, massive learning possibilities well might offer something to those otherwise excluded from higher education (by reasons of cost, time, location, disability, or other impediments).

Is traditional online learning all great? Not by a long shot. Is traditional onsite education perfect?  Not even close. There is much that we can all learn in having massive participation from individuals and communities around the world, united only by an interest in a given topic. I know there is. And I plan to report on that soon.

If MOOCs — and this meta-MOOC in particular — remind everyone (including legislators) that successful teaching is a handcraft (you don’t teach your infant to walk by showing her a video), that’s a good thing. Also, in the flipped classroom model, there is no cost saving; in fact, there is more individual attention. The MOOC video doesn’t save money since, we know, it requires all the human and technological apparatus beyond the video in order to be effective. A professor has many functions in a university beyond giving a lecture — including research, training future graduate students, advising, and running the university, teaching specialized advance courses, and moving fields of knowledge forward.

For now, my big advice: Calm down, everyone! Let’s learn from this rather than shut down possibilities before thinking through what they might be or what they might lead to.

5. Most MOOC students are not degree-earning, college-age students (so MOOCs will neither solve the problem of the high cost of education nor address the problem of student debt).

To date, the research I’ve seen suggests the typical participant in my meta-MOOC will be at least five or ten years beyond college age, will already have some form of undergraduate education or even a degree, may well be underpaid in a current job or be looking for a better job, and will come from outside the U.S. My MOOC is less about replacing someone’s classroom teaching responsibilities than performing public outreach, a public service from the academy to the larger world.

This is one reason why I’m not at all worried about the attrition rate. If only about 4-9% of participants finish a MOOC, what else is new for the success rates of self-improvement schemes? How many of your New Year’s resolutions have you still kept?

6. Faculty are far more creative, inventive, innovative, and experimental educators than both the pro- and anti-MOOC press ever gives us credit for being (i.e. my meta-MOOC is just one of many fascinating learning experiments riffing on MOOCs).

If ever there was an advertisement for the importance of higher learning and the reason why we should be investing in higher education — not cutting it back or trying to find ways to automate it — it is offered by the MOOCs themselves. Our meta-MOOC is offering all kinds of experiments in peer-to-peer learning and assessment, in online discussion groups, in interactive global forums on the subject of educational innovation. My face-to-face students will learn about the history and future of higher education partly by serving as “community wranglers” each week in the MOOC, their main effort being to transform the static videos into participatory conversations.  I’m also “team teaching” the same course with profs at Stanford (David Palumbo-Liu) and UC Santa Barbara (Chris Newfield), so the interactions of face-to-face, distance, massive, and intimate are multiple, experimental, innovative. Of course all this is connected to the larger HASTAC network FutureEd initiative. It’s all pretty thrilling and goes far, far beyond a normal broadcast model of MOOCs.

But I’m not even close to being alone here. Hybrid Pedagogy hosted MOOC MOOC barely after the first MOOC headed out of the gate. And in making my meta-MOOC, I’ve been talking to many other MOOC professors. I’ve been humbled all over again by the innovation, ingenuity, and dedication of teachers — to their field, to their subject matter, and to anonymous students worldwide. My favorite is Professor Al Filreis of the University of Pennsylvania who teaches ModPo (Modern and Contemporary American Poetry) as a seminar.  Each week students, onsite and online, discuss a poem in real time. There are abundant office hours, discussion leaders, and even a phone number you can call to discuss your interpretations of the week’s poem. ModPo students are so loyal that, when Al gave a talk at Duke, several of his students drove in from two and three states away to be able to testify to how much they cherished the opportunity to talk about poetry together online. Difficult contemporary poets who had maybe 200 readers before now have thousands of passionate fans worldwide.

Interestingly, MOOCs turn out to be a great advertisement for the humanities too. There was a time when people assumed MOOC participants would only be interested in technical or vocational training. Surprise! It turns out people want to learn about culture, history, philosophy, social issues of all kinds. Even in those non-US countries where there is no tradition of liberal arts or general education, people are clamoring to both general and highly specialized liberal arts courses.

7. The business model of MOOCs is at best naïve, at worst suspect (and no doubt will change many times in the future).

First let’s talk about the MOOC makers, the professors. Once the glamor goes away, why would anyone make a MOOC? I cannot speak for anyone else — since it is clear that there is wide variation in how profs are paid to design MOOCs — so let me just tell you my arrangement. I was offered $10,000 to create and teach a MOOC. Given the amount of time I’ve spent over the last seven months and that I anticipate once the MOOC begins, that’s less than minimum wage. I do this as an overload; it in no way changes my Duke salary or job requirement. More to the point, I will not be seeing a penny of that stipend. It’s in a special account that goes to the TAs for salary, to travel for the assistants to go to conferences for their own professional development, for travel to make parts of the MOOC that we’ve filmed at other locations, for equipment, and so forth. If I weren’t learning so much and enjoying it so much or if it weren’t entirely voluntary (no one put me up to this!), it would be a rip off. I have control over whether my course is run again or whether anyone else could use it.

Nor is the revenue direct. Students don’t pay. If you want a certificate (more on that later), you pay a modest amount, around $50 at this writing. But that, even at the scale of thousands, is not enough to make this work. And it is not the equivalent of actual course credit. For legislators looking to save public dollars, or administrators looking to keep down costs, MOOC revenue models are not viable at present — and may never be without a lot of cost increases. MOOCs remain not the silver bullet to save college costs but, emphatically, caveat emptor.

8. Because of MOOCs, there’s been a sudden re-emphasis on the importance of good classroom teaching — and that’s good for everyone.

I often end my talks with a scary slide that says, “If we (profs) can be replaced by a computer screen, we should be.” By that I mean that if we offer nothing more in our classrooms than what a screen can offer, then online learning is preferable. But this is also meant as a challenge: teachers need to work hard to show what they offer that no computer can. This isn’t just the flipped classroom model. It is an aspiration to engaged, excited, inspired teaching and learning, led by students themselves. Interestingly, since MOOCs, I have heard more faculty members — senior and junior — talking about the quality of teaching and learning than I have ever heard before in my career.FutureEd Term Commonality Plot 2

The MOOC is just one part of HASTAC’s FutureEd Initiative that includes dozens of classes, research projects, and informal groups spread around the world. This visualization plots keywords from descriptions of the various related courses and events.

 

9. The best use of MOOCs may not be to deliver uniform content massively but to create communities and networks of passionate learners galvanized around a particular topic of shared interest.

To my mind, the potential for thousands of people to work together in local and distributed learning communities is very exciting. In a world where news has devolved into grandstanding, badgering, hyperbole, accusation, and sometimes even falsehood, I love the greater public good of intelligent, thoughtful, accurate, reliable content on deep and important subjects — whether algebra, genomics, Buddhist scripture, ethics, cryptography, classical music composition, or parallel programming (to list just a few offerings coming up on the Coursera platform). It is a huge public good when millions and millions of people worldwide want to be more informed, educated, trained, or simply inspired.

In our meta-MOOC, we hope to galvanize a community, for example, to crowdsource a timeline of international educational innovation. We hope to have people interview one another and upload videos around the simple question “Who’s your favorite teacher and why?” and then we’ll do data analysis and visualization to see what collectively inspires us. And we’ll end with our project to “Design Higher Education from Scratch.” My face to face students will work in teams and put up three different models on the Coursera site and then we’ll invite the thousands of collaborators to mod, remix, iterate, and fork any way they wish. If it works, it will be a fascinating, inspiring, worthwhile experiment, in every way.  If it doesn’t, we’ll probably learn even more.

10. I don’t have a clue what I will learn from actually teaching my meta-MOOC (and I can’t wait to find out).

I’ll report back after my MOOC is under way to report on what I’m learning. My students will be blogging weekly for the Chronicle of Higher Education on their experiences turning a MOOC into a meta-MOOC. If you are interested, join us! Be a part of “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” or contribute to our FutureEd Initiative that builds on this MOOC. It’s not a MOOC — it’s a movement. And it’s quite an adventure. Let’s get started!

[photo by Thomas Hawk]

About the Author

Cathy N. Davidson

Cathy N. Davidson (@CathyNDavidson) is Professor of English and Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University. She is a scholar of the history of technology and recently appointed to the National Humanities Council by President Obama, is a leading innovator of new ideas and methods for learning and professional development—in school, in the workplace, and in everyday life.

12 Comments
Discussions from the Community.
  1. The “In our meta-MOOC” seems to me to be an over complication, and is in fact describing the original MOOC (now referred to as cMOOC) based around concepts of Connectivism (Downes & Siemens) itself drawing on Communities of Practice theory of learning (Wenger). This work was underway in 2008 http://halfanhour.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/mooc-resurgence-of-community-in-online.html

  2. Great article Cathy, really enjoyed it. Congratulations to you for diving into MOOC creation space to both explore, understand, debate, and analyze based on your real experiences and results. Your experiences will help everyone learn as we explore these new paths together..and when you see how many people you can affect and measure that against the number of people that can pass through your on campus classroom, it will help justify the passion,effort ,and time you poured into your course!

  3. My piece is specifically about making a MOOC but I want to make clear there are many, many other great experiments in online learning. In 2006-2007, my own organization HASTAC mounted an In/Formation Year—a distributed year where each month a different university or regional group of universities mounted a series of events highlighting some aspect of information: In Community, Interface, Invitation, Innovation, etc. Courses were connected, there were forums, and many other events. We didn’t have an acronym for it, but it was fabulous and reached thousands and thousands of students, faculty, and the public. This Fall, of course, was the great year of the DOCC, Distributed Open Collaborative Courses dedicated to feminism and technology and run by FemTechnet and spearheaded by profs Alex Juhaz and Anne Balsamo (one of HASTAC’s cofounders). We have so much more to learn. Shutting down the MOOC hype with MOOC hysteria doesn’t help any of us.

    Many many thanks to the fabulous editors of Hybrid Pedagogy for all they did to make this piece better than it began. I can’t wait for MOOC MOOC to rear its adorable head during our meta-MOOC. Join us! It’s not a MOOC. It’s a movement! #FutureEd: http://www.hastac.org/collections/history-and-future-higher-education

  4. I saw from one of the trackbacks that there is an excellent discussion going on about my comment that MOOCs in and of themselves are not the cause of adjunctification and that focusing on MOOCs evades the real problem. Below is the comment I left on that blog, along with a few of many other posts I’ve written on the topic of adjunct and contingent labor. Here’s the url for the blog to which this is a response:
    By “Why don’t you call me sometime when you have no class?” | More or Less Bunk on January 16, 2014 at 11:50 am One of the many reasons this is a “meta-MOOC” is because it talks about the problem of MOOCs in the MOOC itself. It’s a platform, in other words, to raise a lot of issues. Here’s my comment:

    You will get no argument from me [about the appalling situation of a profession that is now made up of 70% adjunct or contingent labor]. I devote about 20% of every week on policy, with policy makers, with administrators, giving talks or workshops on the fact that a profession with 70% contingent and adjunct labor robs teachers, students, and society. You miss my point: as long as we blame MOOCs, we don’t focus on the real cause. The MOOC is not the silver bullet legislators were promised (or promise); it is not going to destroy our profession. Neoliberalism is doing a great job of doing that. That is what we must fight. We need a cultural turn. One of my team-teaching colleagues has his students read the 1944 GI Bill to see how far we have come from our understanding of the social role of education and social commitment to it. Brilliant. We need to work on every level, including public awareness, and #FuturEd, HASTAC’s Initiative now involving more than 70 institutions in such conversations and in activism, and the MOOC are intended to mobilize a worldwide community. The motto: It’s Not a MOOC. It’s a Movement. I believe in focusing attention where there is a chance of change.

    Again, no argument from me about the horror of adjunctification. I’m a senior and lucky prof now. I was an adjunct and unemployed for three years at the beginning of my career. By accident, and a whole lot of publications and teaching awards (both), I landed my first tenure track job and, if I had been less lucky, I would not have and then I would have changed field. It was the worst job market until the present time. The present time is appalling. We all must work on every level, and by any means we have at our disposal, to change hearts and minds and policy.

    Here are four other blogs I’ve written on the economics of higher education today, from multiple perspectives.

    http://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/2013/07/28/schadenfreude-mooc-not-joy-higher-ed-status-quo

    http://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/2013/12/25/how-does-higher-ed-contribute-income-inequality-and-how-can-we-remed

    http://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/2013/06/26/college-bargain-students-and-society-rsp-new-york-times

    Why Does College Cost So Much–And Why Do So Many Pundits Get It Wrong?
    Reply

  5. Great article Cathy.

    I might sign up for your meta-mooc. I’m retired now, but for twenty years (1987-2007) I worked for the Instructional Technology Program (which later became Educational Technology Services) at UC Berkeley. So, the topics you touched on in your article are all near and dear to my heart.

    In case I’m not able to take your meta-mooc, here are some topics you and your students may want to discuss:

    1. What are the differences and similarities between MOOCs, online textbooks (both open and commercial)?

    2. What are the differences and similarities between MOOCs and more traditional online courses, such as those offered by the British Open University?

    For example, you received $10,000 from Duke to develop your MOOC, whereas the OU UK spends on average around $3 million dollars to develop and maintain content for one of their online courses.

    3. What are the costs and business models associated with developing and maintaining MOOCs, textbooks (online/print, open/commercial), and more traditional online courses?

    It sounds like you worked pretty much on your own – the Lone Ranger Model – whereas the OU UK has teams of developers (graphic artists, programmers, assessment experts, instructional designers) working on their courses, hence the big price tag.

    Are MOOCs an alternative to commercial textbooks? Or, might the MOOC be a way for textbook authors to sell more textbooks (e.g. Peter Norvig’s students learned that he had an AI textbook. They weren’t required to buy the textbook, but my guess is that many did)?

    4. How might MOOCs, online textbooks, traditional online courses change the traditional modes of face-to-face instruction (e.g. the large lecture class).

    What is the history of attempts to change traditional modes of instruction? Is the flipped classroom idea really new? Didn’t Stanford start experiments with Tutored Video Instruction way back in the early seventies?

    Here are some links to my blog that address these issues:

    Why All Self Respecting Economists Should Support Open Textbooks
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2014/01/why-all-self-respecting-economists.html

    MOOCs as Online Textbooks
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2013/12/moocs-as-online-textbooks.html

    Thoughts on How Academia Resembles a Drug Gang
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2013/12/thoughts-on-how-academia-resembles-drug.html

    Response to Let them Eat MOOCs Article by Gianpiero Petriglieri
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2013/10/response-to-let-them-eat-moocs-article.html

    Will Government Certified MOOCs Effectively End Public Education?
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2013/02/will-government-certified-moocs.html

    Replacing Large Lectures with MOOCs and TVI
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2013/02/replacing-large-lectures-with-moocs-and.html

    Two ways to reduce the cost of education.
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2013/01/two-ways-to-reduce-cost-of-education.html

    Debating the cost and quality of education
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2013/01/debating-cost-and-quality-of-education.html

    Disruptive Innovation in Academia and Industry
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2012/11/disruptive-innovation-in-academia-and.html

    Do Distributional Coalitions in Higher Education Resist Innovation
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2012/11/do-distributional-coalitions-in-higher.html

    Mintzberg’s Taxonomy of Organizational Forms
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2012/11/mintzbergs-taxonomy-of-organizational_24.html

    Persuading Faculty to Select Open Textbooks
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2010/09/persuading-faculty-to-select-open.html

    The Political Economy of Higher Education
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2010/09/political-economy-of-higher-education.html

    The Case for Creative Commons Textbooks
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2010/09/case-for-creative-commons-textbooks.html

    The High Tech Small Study Group Saga
    http://innovationmemes.blogspot.com/2010/09/high-tech-small-study-group-saga.html

    Keep up the good work, Cathy. I like your optimistic outlook and approach to the MOOC topic in particular, and the topic of organizational change in general.

    Regards,
    Fred

    • Fantastic, Fred. Thank you. If you don’t mind, I would love to add this content to our hastac.org group for the three distance team taught courses—and maybe to the Coursera MOOC too. This is so knowledgeable and thoughtful. We all need to know lots, lots more…. my pet peeve is going to the terrified place before one even knows the facts and, equally, when one assumes the status quo is fine when it is not. Knowledge is power and I know I, for one, could use a lot more of both. You have just done a great service by contributing to our knowledge. Thank you so much.

      • Sure Cathy,
        Add the links and/or content wherever you’d like. Also, feel free to critique whatever if you take issue with anything I say. I like your positive attitude (as I mentioned before), but I’m also a believer in Popper’s idea that together Conjecture and Refutation are the way we learn and make progress. What we think we know are just conjectures that have, so far, resisted falsification. So, if one of my conjectures is off base, please do feel free to refute away.
        Best,
        Fred

  6. Your item 9 resonates with me (“The best use of MOOCs may not be to deliver uniform content massively but to create communities and networks of passionate learners galvanized around a particular topic of shared interest”). I look forward to exploring this as part of the MOOC when it kicks off, and making new friends online. I am definitely signing up for the course. Hopefully my recent experience with an initative called MarineLives will provide a point of reference for the MOOC.

     

    MarineLives is an initiative straddling academic and public history called MarineLives (http:www.marinelives.org). It fits your description of a passionate community of enthusiasts committed to learning, with the additional point that the learning takes place around the creation of a public good of interest to wider audiences.

     

    Our initative came out of a one-off hackathon at the National Archives in Kew, England in Spring 2012. With less to do than the coders, other than to eat pizza, I dreamt up a volunteer based collaborative transcription project for the English Admiralty Court records (1650-1669) I was working on – the project was later described by a National Archives review committee as the first truly user generated proposal they had seen.

     

    Thirty of us from six England, Ireland, Italy, and the United States worked together between September 2012 and March 2013 to transcribe one volume of depositions from digital images we shared on an open source web platform developed by George Mason University, which one of our volunteers, Giovanni Colavizza (now at the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne), tailored to our needs (http://marinelives-transcript.org/scripto/). From this initial one-off one volume project, we have developed a suite of content and tool related blogs (e.g. http://marinelives-tools.wikispot.org/; http://annotatehca1372.wikispot.org/)

     

    There are several analogies I believe worth exploring between our learning/research based collaboration and the successful delivery of education through MOOCs. Our volunteers were and are a mixture of school students, undergraduates, academics, professionals, and retirees who contribute to and learn on the project – palaeography, annotation, linking, and historical contextualisation. Our drop out rate has been low relative to other collaborative transcription projects, since we set out from the start to a community with which would provide and sustain benefits to participants.

     

    A year since we finished our “one off” pizza inspired project, we now have a five person leadership team and have transcribed and are annotating over two million words, which we aim to take to a transcribed, annotated and linked corpus of 5 million words by 2016.

     

    I’m looking forward to discussions with fellow MOOC students and instructors to get ideas about further technology and process innovations we might pursue, and hope that we can build these ideas real time into what we are doing on MarineLives.

     

    Currently, we are planning two new projects:

     

    The first is a collaboration with Bath Spa University in England to use MarineLive training material and approaches with Bath Spa undergraduate students. The project, which is being developed by my co-director and fellow volunteer, Jill Wilcox, an experienced teacher, and Dr Roberta Anderson of Bath Spa, will expose the undergraduate students to digital humanities research and learning techniques, and will teach them facilitation and project management skills.

     

    The second is a collaboration between the MarineLives community and the Universities of Mannheim and Ancona as part of the Digitalised Manuscripts to Europeana (DM2E) programme. In particular we are collaborating with Mannheim on natural language processing techniques applied to our corpus, and with Ancona on web-based annotation.

     

    We are also exploring the potential for collaborations looking at specific geographies in our records (such as the Nordic region, with Professor Steve Murdoch of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland), and around digital humanities skills with the Philadelphia DH hub.

     

    Communication using social media has been important to us right from the start to develop our community, and what we have learned is reviewed in our latest Shipping News blog article: http://marinelives-theshippingnews.org/blog/2013/11/24/communicating-marinelives/

     

    Best regards, Colin Greenstreet, London, England

  7. Maha Bali says:

    Hey Cathy, As you know, I have signed up for your MOOC/movement and am very very excited about it for a million reasons … Buuuut… I keep feeling an inevitable (but I am sure completely unintentional) sense of discrimination against the MOOC participants vs. the f2f participants. I understand that it is because the f2f students have to commit credit hours and produce output, etc., whereas you cannot expect the same from MOOCers… But what if the MOOCers wanted to participate in the “design higher ed from scratch” as teams creating the designs, rather than “just” working on editing designs the f2f students created? (I say “just” because i have seen your crowd-edited book and i know it is possible to take on a lot of external feedback, and i have seen your syllabus that is open to comments). Do you think there might be ways to offer the MOOC participants such opportunities if they wished? Including choosing some of their blogs for the Chronicle, for example? I am just putting forward this small discomfort I am feeling that somehow the MOOCers are not first class citizens, that their participation enhances the experience of the f2f students, but they are not offered the same privileges. Again, I know this is not your intention or philosophy, and maybe i am overly critical, but i think i can at least be said to have started “meta-MOOCing” with you!
    (I agree with an earlier comment that some of what you suggest has already been done in connectivist MOOCs, but not all of it)

    • We are doing exactly that, Maha. You are not only welcome to but will be heartily encouraged to take the course in any participatory way you want. The face to face students are tasked, each week, with taking the ideas offered by MOOC participants and putting them into Forums. The platform is not constructed by Coursera to be participatory so the f2f students will facilitate more participation. That’s exactly the point. Get it to us, let one of the students know during the office hours we are scheduling, and we’ll put it into a Forum. That is the whole and entire point of the MOOC, to turn from uni-directional to participatory. I always believe in putting up examples as starting places and then remixing and modding. . . but you are free to start on your own.

      For the Chronicle, I do not own the Chronicle so cannot change their rules of engagement. No, we cannot put up anyone there other than those who will be pictured on the CHE roster of contributors, all approved, organized, and part of my contract grading. That is fixed. However, HASTAC is an open community and you and anyone else is invited to blog there. You sign in for free and, once registration is approved (we have to do this because of bots and spammers), you can write anything as long as it is within our community guidelines of respectful communication on the topic of Changing the Way We Teach and Learn defined very, very broadly.

      Part of this discussion in Hybrid Pedagogy is to emphasize exactly that the MOOC is “not the same” as face to face. See #3 above. It’s crazy hyperbole for Coursera or any MOOC provider to say it is. It is a virtual online community that we are trying to eke out from a broadcast, one-directional system. It is not a f2f experience. Period. It is not. We must end the ridiculous hype. That is part of the “movement.” Stop the hype.

  8. Carolyn Elerding says:

    Cathy, your work and that of the Feminist DOCC have greatly expanded my thinking on e-learning and on MOOCs. Thanks for all that you share. I especially appreciate your ability to avoid both pessimistic and optimistic determinism. I’m very much looking forward to the class!
    I would love to hear more from you regarding many things, but I will just mention one of them here. I agree with your assessment of the non-relationship between mass online education and the current state of adjunct labor in the U.S., and I am fully behind the project of cultivating better pedagogy, period. As I see it, all of education’s problems preexist the MOOC: exclusion, privatization, and so much more. However, I think that concerns about automation’s propensity for labor displacement may turn out to be more than mere hysteria, at all levels of education and especially in struggling inner urban and rural areas where schools and districts are faltering and online alternatives (often underwritten by far right-wing legislation) stand ready to fill the gap. To me, these concerns seem firmly grounded in awareness of socioeconomic history. It may not be happening much yet, but the incentives are there, especially in the context of economic crisis, globalization, and as you mention, neoliberal privatization agendas. How might policy and design be used to ensure that online education remains both open and a handcraft, as it should be?

    • “Automation’s propensity for labor displacement” is absolutely real. I could not agree more, Carolyn. What I suspect is that it won’t be MOOCs but another iteration of automated online teaching that will substitute not for elite seminar forms but for the lecture hall (already a mass produced form of education, to my mind, where graduate students work at reduced costs/salary to personalize the lecture to hundreds of students at once). What we do know is that some form of automated, online teaching is coming or, in fact, is already here given that over 50% of current college students say they have taken at least one online course. I agree completely that policy and civic judgment are as important as technology in how that will play out in our collective future. No argument there at all!

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