In January, 2014, we participated in the MOOC Rhizomatic Learning: The community is the curriculum (#rhizo14) facilitated by Dave Cormier. A group of us decided to research participant experiences in this course, but not by repeating existing scholarly research on cMOOCs, which to our minds has two serious shortcomings. First, most MOOC research has not brought the connectivist experience to life for readers who have not experienced the rhizomatic swarm of open, online, connected learning. And second, most MOOC research is not participatory, is not told from inside the process. We want to write from the inside, for as Tanya Sasser says, “we have the tools and the opportunity to write our own story, rather than suffering someone else to write it for us.” So following the rare example of Bentley, et al, we decided to conduct a collaborative autoethnography (CAE), which began mid-February, 2014, as an open Google Doc to which 31 #rhizo14 participants eventually added their post-MOOC narratives (officially, the MOOC had ended; practically speaking, the Facebook group and Twitter hashtag were still thriving, and still do to some extent today, especially as many of us have joined the 2015 iteration of the course, #rhizo15).
In Submission. 22nd May 2015
In January 2014 I signed up to study on Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning Course, known often by those in a know by its hashtag #rhizo14.
This course, acted as a catalyst in helping me develop a voice, in enabling me to make certain connections…
What had started as rather irregular writing became very regular writing.
What had stopped me writing in the past had been not only a lack of desire but an instinctive opposition to simply reproducing forms…
I think back to that teacher at university, who had encouraged me in my attempts to write differently, while kindly explaining to me that the way that I wrote didn’t necessarily correspond to ‘what was expected…’
“To engage in dialogue is one of the simplest ways we can begin as teachers, scholars, and critical thinkers to cross boundaries, the barriers that may or may not be erected by race, gender, class, professional standing, and a host of other differences.” ~ bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress
Over the last year, we’ve watched the discussion of pedagogy in higher education shift. The MOOC crisis, the urgency to move toward the digital, the welfare of our contingent colleagues, and an imperative to confront directly issues of gender, race, class, and sexuality — both within the university and outside its walls — have us asking more and more critical questions about how we should teach, where we should teach, and why. The contents of our Twitter streams have made clear that we can’t go on talking about pedagogy as though business is usual. #Ferguson, rape culture, and the often inhuman conditions under which adjunct teachers work make clear that teaching can and must be politically aware, even socially active. Many of us live and work in situations that require what Paulo Freire would call “hopefulness” — but a hopefulness that demands and results in real action.
Teaching as action, pedagogy as praxis, a how-to for Critical Pedagogy begins, as hooks implies, with dialogue. In “Critical Digital Pedagogy: a Definition,” Jesse argues, “pedagogy, and particularly Critical Pedagogy, is work to which we must bring our full selves, and work to which every learner must come with full agency.”
On November 21 at the OpenEd Conference in Washington, DC, Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel will present on critical digital pedagogy and MOOCs. This is the second of three articles that inspired that talk. The first, Critical Digital Pedagogy: a Definition, appeared on November 18.
“The public squares are filled once more.” ~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
If 2012 was the Year of the MOOC, then 2013 was the year the MOOC died. The public imagination around the massive open online course has faded, become niche, and now it is the playground of political and social theorists, a dedicated (and mostly academic) audience, and learning hobbyists. The conversation has gone to its corners, and the biggest impact that MOOCs have had on education is to catapult edupreneurs like Sal Khan and Daphne Koller into a national spotlight that includes appearances on NPR and CNN. Lackadaisically, other universities are joining the MOOC movement, perhaps hoping for some windfall of either a larger student body or just some good local press, or perhaps simply as a great “why not?”; but the MOOC moment has passed.
So why do I keep writing about MOOCs? Because the MOOC remains largely unconsidered. In July 2012, when Jesse Stommel and I launched our MOOC inspection of MOOCs (MOOC MOOC), it was not to investigate the practical applications of either connectivist vision or an iteration of the use of learning management systems; we entered the fray because MOOCs excited (molecularly) education. There was value in even the desperate attempts, the banal efforts, the comical forays because of the conversation they initiated. But that conversation has become no more than a cloistered murmur now.
The purpose of education is in large part linked to its standing as a social science. Philosophers dating back to Socrates have linked education to a purpose beyond the individual, one where accrual of facts and training in skills is not the outcome or objective for the individual nor society; rather, a deeper relationship with thought and reason is necessary for the development of each person and in turn their community. This is at the heart of much great philosophy: luminaries such as Locke, Milton, Rousseau, Hume and others saw education as a continuation of society through means greater than memory recall and skilled competencies. The education discipline is built upon this theory and is at the heart of its mission: through pedagogy and methodology education can foster the growth of our culture through each person.
This is not the methodology from which most outside interests view education. Rather than endeavoring to improve the practice, their stated goal is to solve education, noting that education is in crisis and its survival requires tautological changes to the status quo. This is the rallying cry most recently seen around the movement of massive open online courses (MOOCs), where a cavalcade of venture capitalists, politicians, computer scientists and media pundits have chosen to define education through analytics and instrumentation, the MOOC representing an opportunity to democratize education on a global level while at the same time undercutting the cost behemoth of a contemporary higher education. This argument reads like a win-win, but in reality the MOOC as a learning system has underperformed traditional models and shows no large-scale cost benefit to education providers. At this point, the MOOC as an instrument is a failure. However, the MOOC as a landscape-altering educational phenomenon is a fascinating success, in large part due to shifting the definition of education away from its historical roots to a skills-based, instrumentally-defined exercise.
A bull that went blind during the monsoon forgets that the world is not always green. — Nepalese proverb
Thanks largely to the advent of MOOCs, more scholars around the world are engaged in conversations about cross-border higher education today than ever before. As teachers who are interested in the prospects and pitfalls of emerging academic technologies and pedagogies for learning and teaching across national, social, and cultural contexts, we have been sharing our experiences in different venues. While the hype about the private higher education industry’s push for massive open online courses as the future of cross-border education rages on, we find ourselves much more interested in smaller-scale conversations about teaching and learning in all their confusing complexities in different contexts. Essentially, we are brought together primarily by our different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives; it is within the interest in difference that we share ideas, interests, and concerns.
One of us, Maha, is a faculty developer and teacher educator at the American University in Cairo who got her PhD from Sheffield, UK; the other, Shyam, is an assistant professor of writing now in New York, a man who hailed originally from the hinterlands of western Nepal (via the routes of education and professional careers in east India, Kathmandu in Nepal, and Kentucky in the US). Because we value (and indeed benefit from) our different identities, ideas, experiences, and perspectives based on our respective backgrounds, we come together in that valuation of difference. However, we are also aware that we are connected by our shared appreciation of difference as it is defined in Western or Westernized academic communities that we are part of.
All pedagogy is necessarily adaptive because it takes place within and regards the extant world. Digital pedagogy must be even more adaptive because it relies upon, at least in its manufacture, the whims and invention of engineers, code creatives, and a marketplace driven by the distraction of the new, the shiny, the better-than-last-year, the perpetual 2.0. Digital pedagogy is a pedagogy of machines as much as it is a pedagogy of minds and bodies — and not machines just as tools, but machines as environments, as extensions of our own learning processes, as approaches. And so, while “pedagogy is essentially a critical thinking exercise directed at learning and teaching,” digital pedagogy is a critical thinking exercise that considers our use of machines, and our lives as co-dependent with them.
In the last few years, teaching/learning and the digital have increasingly collided/colluded. The MOOC, the broadening of the LMS, the calcification of some approaches, and the response to that calcification — all have waged (mostly) friendly conversation about what it means to learn and teach and create in digital and online spaces. At the beginning of this year, Cathy N. Davidson asked, in a collaborative learning experiment, whether all our traditional approaches to education were invalidated by the encroachment of the digital into our professions. The answer was a resounding “maybe,” with exuberance for new media balanced out by a reluctance to embrace it.
MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) is a rambunctious series of discussions about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy N. Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring.
When we call out, we must listen for an answer. Cathy N. Davidson’s (and all our) “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” pivots on the idea of a call. A call to action. A call to pay attention. A voice in the desert calling for change. We have, in the last six weeks, all become activists and advocates, each venturing out of our own comfort, each looking critically at our assumptions. A community has formed, a hashtag has flourished, and all that is under way has promise for a new “education from scratch”.
Now that we’ve rallied, we need to talk about who we’ve left behind: lurkers, introverts, the marginalized and contingent among us.
MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) is a rambunctious series of discussions about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy N. Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring.
There is no more pedagogical an act than conscientious objection. There is no better way to teach than to smile, sit down, and refuse to do things in ordinary ways. No better way to learn than to organize a revolt. Because learning is always a process of unlearning, of letting go of previously cherished notions and ideas, every teacher must be a revolutionary, and she must inspire in her students the willingness to dismantle.
HASTAC has as its motto “Difference is our operating system.” Difference is necessary to revolution and to change. It is only in the space of the exchange of difference, the dialogues of disagreement and discernment, that we can see the frayed edges of our reason and experience and redefine our understanding. Making friends is an act of radical political resistance. And being kind, remaining open, unbiased, and disregarding the at-the-ready hierarchies of higher education is an operation of embracing difference. It is also a nuanced, careful, and meaningful form of conscientious objection.
Πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει ~ Heraclitus
MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) is a rambunctious series of discussions about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring.
Learning must catch us by surprise, demand of us a compromise, a suspension of disbelief. Learning reminds us that we’re always a little bit stuck, but also that we have the ability to see our way out.
Last week, I was stuck in Washington DC under the oppressive gray clouds of winter storm Pax. But rather than be shackled by the conditions, I used the opportunity to visit museums and monuments. In the “Our Lives” area of the National Museum of the American Indian, I found myself surrounded by voices. They emanated from the multiple television displays, from audio that played only in this part or that part of the exhibit. The voices seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. Ghostly, musical, they washed over me from every direction — north, south, east, west, from above and from below — giving the impression of omnipresence, of never being alone or separated from those voices. And yet this was a presence as invisible as it was ubiquitous, as nascent as it was ancient.
MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) was a rambunctious series of discussions in early 2014 about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring.
This week, among other topics, the #futureEd MOOC-ish course-like thing considers assessment: how we fund and accredit institutions and how we measure learning. In 2009, Cathy Davidson offered a risky and still novel post about “How to Crowdsource Grading”, in which she describes foregoing external summative assessment in favor of peer feedback and her own “feedback to the feedback.”
Assessment and standards are elephants in almost every room where discussions of education are underway. My goal here is not to demonize assessment but to dissect it — to cut right to its jugular: Where does assessment fail? What damage can it do? What can’t be assessed? Can we construct more poetic, less objective, models for assessment? In a system structured around standards and gatekeeping, when and how do we stop assessing?
MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) is a rambunctious series of discussions about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring. Our first chat focused on chaotic learning environments, vulnerability, and internet trolls. Some highlights from the conversation:
#moocmooc The best leadership/facilitatorship often arises organically
— Tracy Marks (@tracymar5) January 29, 2014
Forcing people out of anonimity dangerous for marginalized groups #moocmooc
— Danielle Paradis (@ebooks_dani) January 29, 2014
Teaching in a distributed social environment is about facilitation but also advocacy. #moocmooc
— Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) January 29, 2014
This week, we’ll shift focus a bit, as we continue to circle our prey.
“Too many people are drinking the MOOC Kool-aid (or dumping it out hastily) when what we need to do is look closely at the Kool-aid to see what we can learn from it. At this point, MOOCs are all untapped potential, mostly misunderstood and only potentially gangrenous.”
~ Jesse Stommel, “March of the MOOCs: Monstrous Open Online Courses”
In higher education, no ideas stay dead. MOOCs were festering at the verge of irrelevance, the arguments about them bloated and tired, then along comes a MOOC worth joining. Just when you thought it was safe, the meta-MOOC returns, this time all grown up with Duke University, HASTAC, Cathy Davidson, and her students at the wheel.
The ability or inability of a group or culture to progress is in direct relationship to the proliferation of aphorism within it. General statements of fact and abbreviations of great wisdom are misleading in that they censure further inquiry and discussion. The brilliance of our predecessors was never meant to be carved into stone monuments, but as a point from which our own meditations should depart. When we rest on their laurels we languor, we enjoy a tenure of torpor. We cannot attend old leadership any more than we can wait for new leaders. We must take the lead.
I talk to leaders every day. Because every day I am in contact with teachers who have an array of backgrounds, an array of pedagogical stances, an array of fears and beliefs. I hear teachers write about their students — encouraging them, disparaging them, condoning and cursing them — and I hear teachers write about their profession, usually from a perspective of discontent, of everything being not-quite-right. Teachers are spooked by their institutions, they’re intimidated by men and intimidated by women, no one is paid enough, and the list of crises in education seems impossibly long. Tenure and money are not solutions, online education is fraught, every single person deserves better treatment than they receive. Sisyphus had it easy.
In September 2013, Hybrid Pedagogy published an e-book of graduate student essays focused on student experiences in MOOCs — from EdX, Udacity, and other xMOOCs, to improvisational MOOCs created by the students themselves using open web resources. The full collection, Learner Experiences with MOOCs and Open Online Learning, was published via GitHub. The following article from Cindy Londeore is one of the essays from that volume. You can read more about the e-book in George Veletsiano’s introduction, “How Do Learners Experience Open Online Learning?”
Dropout. It’s such a nasty word. The high school dropout rate is held up by reformers to bolster their argument that the American public school system is failing. Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have an expected 90% dropout rate which is not considered a problem. This juxtaposition begs the question; when is dropping out not a big deal?
Individuals who join a MOOC are described as being part of course enrollments. However, this is confusing and fallacious, as the term “enrollments” in a traditional in-person course implies a level of commitment not necessarily present in students who enroll in a MOOC. Initial enrollment in a MOOC is more akin to all the students who read a description of the course in the school catalog, and consider taking it. MOOC students who submit the first assignment may be a better comparison to initial enrollments in a physical class. Indeed, if the numbers of students who scored more than zero on the first week’s materials is used as a starting point, the dropout rate falls to 75%. By the end of the course the numbers are consistent with an in-person course. Only 10% of the students who attempted the final exam failed to earn a certificate. Students who enroll in traditional classes have made a commitment to attempt the work outlined in the syllabus. Students who enroll in a MOOC have done little more than express a passing interest in the topic and may feel no need to ever revisit the course.
During the summer of 2013, George Veletsianos approached the editors of Hybrid Pedagogy about publishing a collection of graduate student essays. The collection focused on these students’ experiences in a variety of MOOCs — from EdX, Udacity, and other xMOOCs, to improvisational MOOCs created by the students themselves using open resources on the web. Sean Michael Morris and Chris Friend assisted with the editing process, and the book was designed using GitHub by Kris Shaffer with help from Barry Peddycord III, Jesse Stommel, and Robin Wharton.
Learner Experiences with MOOCs and Open Online Learning is an e-book in which student authors describe and reflect upon their open online learning experiences. Current conversations around educational innovations in general, and MOOCs in particular, lack student voices. This book enables learners to share their stories, thus contributing to our understanding of open online learning.
On October 14th, the Canvas Network will launch a new massive open online course inspired by the popular television series The Walking Dead. Instructure has teamed with faculty from the University of California Irvine, and AMC, the producers of the show, to create the MOOC. I took the opportunity to speak with Melissa Loble, the Associate Dean of Distance Learning at UCI, about what it was like to create a MOOC based on the ideas raised by a television show, and the relationship between popular culture and online education.
Sean Michael Morris: Let’s start with the obvious question: Why a MOOC centered on “The Walking Dead”? What was the inspiration?
On Friday, September 6 from 1:00 – 2:00pm Eastern (10:00 – 11:00am Pacific), Hybrid Pedagogy will host a Twitter discussion under the hashtag #digped to discuss the experiences of students in MOOCs and other open learning environments. While MOOC innovators have rallied around their numbers, their platforms, and their approaches, the voices of students who take MOOCs have been largely unheard. Yet, it is often in the students’ participation that MOOCs survive or perish.
When MOOCs went viral in 2012, traditional small colleges reached an identity crossroads, a midlife crisis where idealism and wisdom collide. Although the main concerns of future viability have been present for years — the fate of the humanities, the rise in student debt, and the sluggish economy, among others — MOOCs have summoned a sense of urgency. “Get online, or get an identity,” as Patrick J. Deneen recently expressed, illustrates the high stakes for institutions deciding whether to assimilate or differentiate. Along with the rapid adoption at large, elite institutions and flagship state schools is the growing myth that MOOCs will threaten traditional liberal arts colleges and smaller institutions. Despite the massive amount of capital invested in Coursera, edX, and Udacity and the hype about global branding, according to Inside Higher Education the original MOOC platform included engaged learning activities found at most small liberal arts colleges. MOOCs, it appears, were not created to run the old guard out of town; rather, they can bring the best traditional liberal arts instruction in direct dialogue with fresh ideas from students across the globe. Recently Wellesley College announced its first course offerings with edX, making it the first liberal arts college to offer MOOCs. Will other small institutions be able to adapt?
It goes without saying that technology is changing education. Children’s brains are being rewired, universities are being threatened with extinction, and we will be in serious trouble if we ignore the transformative power of new technologies. We live in an information/knowledge economy where we are constantly connected to networks of information, our experiences become more and more mediated. It seems that technology changes everything, including education.
This is the second article in a series focused on creating a dialogue among K-12 and post-secondary pedagogies and pedagogues. We will be accepting submissions for the related CFP throughout Summer 2013. Click here to find out more.
Just over a year ago, my “learning” exploded. I was developing a hybrid Canadian online delivery program for Chinese high school students. I was encouraged to push the boundaries of K-12 online and blended learning by investigating the most cutting edge online opportunities anywhere. After reviewing my options, I discovered MOOCs and realized they had the potential to push K-12 learning “out of the box.”
This article is an attempt to address a possible gap in Connectivist thinking, and its expression in cMOOCs. It’s to do with the experience of technology novices, and unconfident learners in cMOOC environments. It comes from a phenomenon, and experience I identified in a recent MOOC I participated in and the experience is best described like this:
To learn in a cMOOC you need to connect.
To connect in a cMOOC you need to learn.
I’m not a Constructivist, Behaviourist, Cognitivist, or Connectivist. This is not a call for a return to an older theory. I’m a pragmatist, like many educators. I flirt outrageously with every theory that will have me. I’m ideologically promiscuous. I go with what works, and I am ruthless in weeding out what doesn’t. I do this because there is no “one size fits all” theory. Because there is no “one size fits all” student. And because students, participants, and learners are the final metric that measures any theory, and experience is the proving ground for theory. Faith to a theory, ideological monogamy, gets in the way of the evidence.
“Building community doesn’t mean that learning happens.”
~ from an audience comment at InstructureCon 2013
Learning in a MOOC
Instruction does not equate to learning. This is the fundamental fly in the ointment of instructional design, and the epistemological failing of learning management systems and most MOOC platforms. Learning, unfortunately, is something no instruction has ever quite put its finger on, and something that no methodology or approach can guarantee. Instead, pedagogical praxis creates roads along which learning may take place (along with plenty of other experiences); and assessment is merely a system of checkpoints along the way to evaluate how well the road, the vehicle, and the driver are cooperating. In other words, assessment doesn’t measure learning. Assessment measures the design of the instruction.
“Learners are classified based on their patterns of interaction with video lectures and assessments, the primary features of most MOOCs to date.” — Rene F. Kizilcec, et al.
It’s the first thing in the name. MOOCs are primarily massive. They reach huge numbers of students. “Graduating even 5 percent of 100,000 students in a MOOC provides many instructors with substantially greater reach than an entire lifetime of teaching in a conventional classroom.” Educause’s “What Campus Leaders Need to Know about MOOCs” starts with scale: “MOOCs (massive open online courses) are courses delivered over the web to potentially thousands of students at a time.”
With this massive scale comes great responsibility. Discussions of teaching at “mass” scale can set the tone and context of a conversation about pedagogy, a conversation with faculty, CIO’s, CEO’s, but also potentially, a conversation which limits the voice of students. Especially at a time when Diane Dagefoerde of Ohio State University can say “We have a couple of MOOCs going on right now… I’m sure we all do, right?” in an Educause Top Ten Issues in Higher Education IT webinar, we all need to be careful how this conversation begins. The quote that starts this article is drawn from a paper co-written by three Stanford faculty, and argues that a reasonable classification of learners in MOOCs can be drawn from interactions with video lectures and assessments (multiple-choice quizzes and unmoderated forums).
For those who follow the MOOC debate, every day is Armageddon: The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities, “The Year of the MOOC,” “Higher Ed in 2018,” “The Major Players in the MOOC Universe,” The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, “Massive online education: Daphne Koller at TEDGlobal 2012, “Of Machine Guns and MOOCs: 21st Century Engineering Disasters,” “An Open Letter to a Founder of Coursera,” ad infinitum. Because the debate is kairotic, and both parties are deeply committed to their visions, funders, livelihoods, and learning communities, there appears to be no saturation point.
Neither the idea of the traditional university nor the MOOC vision of universal access to education is new. Both promise to create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge in some fashion, and both operate on a hierarchical business model where students are consumers, tiered faculty are human resources, and administrators solicit and redistribute the funds that govern growth and organization. Though they share organizational features, and therefore some of the same top-down management flaws, each presents unique problems and paradigms. The global exponential scale of MOOCs, however, poses a threat to the majority of traditional higher-education institutions unlike what we’ve seen with previous experiments in universal, open education.
From all the jails the Boys and Girls
Beloved only Afternoon
That Prison doesn’t keep
They storm the Earth and stun the Air,
A Mob of solid Bliss—
Alas—that Frowns should lie in wait
For such a Foe as this—
— Emily Dickinson
Sometimes all you need is a Petri dish to grow an epidemic.
The point of any pedagogy is not the length of the course, size of the classroom, the headcount, or the completion or attrition rates. Pedagogy is unfazed by numbers; it is never outweighed by scale. Good pedagogy can be enacted in a room with one or two students, or in an online environment with thousands. This is because pedagogy is responsive, able to grow to the space it must inhabit, and its goal is a shift in thinking, which is spreadable by a single learner or by ten or by tens of hundreds.
As some are raised a Catholic or an atheist or a vegetarian, I was raised an academic. The university always had about it a mystique, a cloud of mystery and veneration. Lauded in my household were the values of objectivity, critical thinking, close reading. As early as the fourth grade, my mother took me to her college Shakespeare classes, introduced me to her professors, and indulged me with lunch at the student union. I attended classes with her throughout her undergraduate study; and for years after, I’d walk through campus simply to absorb the essence of the place. Today, I am as much in love with the endeavor of higher education as I am disappointed by its outcomes.
The reformation of higher education is under way. Whether we agree or not, the vast credentialing system of universities and colleges, the importance placed upon expertise, the value of the degree and the Ph.D., the political economies that oppress those that form the backbone of the system, the administration of learning, the rights of students, and even the act of learning itself are all under scrutiny. It is a scrutiny that’s been in play for years, and has been exacerbated most recently by the advent of the MOOC (massive open online course), the corporatization of education, and the exportation of pedagogy to technologists and private entrepreneurs. Sadly, little is coming forward from this inquisition of education that’s hopeful. Academics and administrators are afraid for their careers, and students and learners of all ages are looking openly at other options (other options that enterprising speculators are at the ready to provide).
Victorian hubris opined, “All that can be invented has been invented,” and so we entered the 20th century emboldened with a Titanic which was unsinkable, and a hydrogen-packed Hindenburg. The invention eureka moment is chance, perseverance, sweat — but also danger. Gone is the slow iteration of change; upon us, the sudden rupture-rapture of the new. No one expects thousands will die in the North Atlantic; no one expects academics to throw themselves on gangways as luddite voices of restraint. If teaching is what we do, do we not owe those seeking to learn a reassurance they are at least on a seaworthy ship? How much of the good ship MOOC is built on the same blueprints as many noble vessels whose buoyancy has long since proved questionable? Somewhere Leonardo di Caprio stands on the bow of Google Reader.
Our #digped chat about teaching composition massively (either within a MOOC, or as part of a “MOOCified” on-ground or hybrid course) was first and foremost inspired by Chris Friend’s article, “Will MOOCs Work for Writing?“, in which he proposes that the strategies employed in massive courses could be used to great benefit in smaller, on-ground courses. These ideas were further pushed by the #digped announcement, which proposed: “Writing, and the teaching of writing, is undergoing a fundamental shift; and it may be only within the massive, networked environment of a MOOC or other similar approach that we can investigate the nature of this shift.”
This Friday, April 5 from 1:00 – 2:00pm Eastern (10:00 – 11:00am Pacific), Hybrid Pedagogy will host a Twitter discussion under the hashtag #digped to consider the place of composition and writing curricula within massive open online courses. MOOCs do not just offer an opportunity to reexamine the way we teach writing, and the way writing is learned, they may well ambush us into doing so. The conversation curated and archived via Storify.
Always when we talk about massively-scaled learning, we must first face the gargoyle of our resistance. Despite their inexorable march, and subsequently proliferating PR, MOOCs have not been embraced by the majority of educators. In fact, MOOCs are seen as an experiment rife with poorly executed pedagogies, troubling colonial overtures, and corporate origins that threaten to prey upon traditional higher education. And yet, MOOCs are upon us and resistance may well prove futile. Perhaps instead of erecting an ed-tech Berlin Wall, with MOOC adopters on one side and holdouts against this massive technology on the other, we should consider ways of making these MOOCs work for us, not against us.
When faced with a complex, fluid, and potentially uncontrollable situation, I’ve often heard people say, “It’s like herding cats.” I can think of no more complex, variable, and fluid task than writing. Its nuances and complexities seem to defy consistency; what works as “good writing” in one circumstance can be disastrous in another. Indeed, the push toward multimodality in student writing means even the products can vary: essays one minute, blogs the next, videos after that. We also strive to develop stylistic variation: the strongest students develop a personal voice that makes their work distinctive. Everything about writing activities makes them seem like one-offs: what works in each instance is different than the next solution. The complex challenges of teaching students to work within that degree of variability makes me despair.
On Friday, March 8, Pete Rorabaugh interviewed Anya Kamenetz, author of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Change in Higher Education (2010). Kamenetz’s writing investigates systemic problems associated with funding, institutional inflexibility, and explores homegrown alternatives. DIY U was one of the first books published in the U.S. to discuss the incipient cMOOC community and also touches on the work of Jim Groom at the University of Mary Washington. In the wake of a year’s worth of media-MOOC-craziness, Pete asked about Kamenetz’s reflections since the publication of DIY U, specifically related to innovations within and alternatives to the structure of higher education.
Every fall when I ask my first year students, “Why did you choose the College of Environmental Science and Forestry?” at least one will answer, “I want to save the world.” By the time they are sophomores, my students have taken rigorous science courses that focus on environmental issues. When they do group projects in the research/composition course I teach, I’m impressed with their topics, the depth of their knowledge, and their passion.
What seems wrong is that their presentations are only to each other. Sure, they invite their friends, but at a small college where everyone takes a whole bunch of the same courses, that’s not a very satisfying audience. The students teach me and have changed me — dramatically — but I shouldn’t be the only person to benefit from their knowledge and fresh ideas.
A MOOC is not a thing. A MOOC is a strategy. What we say about MOOCs cannot possibly contain their drama, banality, incessance, and proliferation. The MOOC is a variant beast — placental, emergent, alienating, enveloping, sometimes thriving, sometimes dead, sometimes reborn.
There is nothing about a MOOC that can be contained. Try as they might, MOOC-makers like Coursera, EdX, and Udacity cannot keep their MOOCs to themselves, because when we join a MOOC, it is not to learn new content, new skills, new knowledge, it is to learn new learning. Entering a MOOC is entering Wonderland — where modes of learning are turned sideways and on their heads — and we walk away MOOCified.
This sentence is a learning object. Wayne Hodgins, the “father of learning objects,” first came up with the idea for them while watching his son play with LEGOs. The basic notion is that we can create units of learning so fundamentally simple and reusable that they can be applied in different ways to different objectives and lessons, no matter the context. Hodgins’s dream was of “a world where all ‘content’ exists at just the right and lowest possible size.” Like a single sentence. Like a single question on an exam. Like a photograph, a moment in a video, a discussion prompt. As online learning has grown, learning objects have become something of the Holy Grail of instructional design… Or the windmills at which it tilts.
I once heard an interesting story about my former collegiate marching-band instructor, Dr. Richard Greenwood. According to legend, Greenwood once held up the score to an extensive piece the band was working on, pointed to it, and said, to the surprise of those around him holding instruments, “This is not the music we are playing. This is not the song we are performing. This is only a map. It’s a guide to get us where the composer wants us to go.” He then went on to discuss the merits of interpretation, flexibility, and improvisation within a framework.
MOOCs: Changing Modes of Pedagogy [original Google Doc]
As Bonnie Stewart explains, massive open courses are not a new concept. In the 1970s, Michel Foucault taught courses for free, open to everyone who was interested. Indeed, the concept of free education extends back to Socrates, who reportedly refused payment for his instruction. Nonetheless, the acronym MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course, was generated in the context of a course called “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” taught by Stephen Downes. Let’s examine that acronym:
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), as they are situated both inside and outside of traditional higher education institutions, naturally raise questions about those institutions. My recent article, “Occupy the Digital: Critical Pedagogy and New Media,” began to uncover some of those questions. In that article, I assert “that academic work must be useful beyond its tower and that digital culture offers new opportunities to achieve that goal.” Perhaps MOOCs are a way to take academic work beyond its traditional boundaries. Or perhaps MOOCs are so extra-institutional that they will work no real changes on higher education.
This Friday, August 3 from 1:00 – 2:00pm Eastern (10:00 – 11:00am Pacific), Hybrid Pedagogy will host a Twitter discussion under hashtag #digped centered on the difference between content-delivery and learning in online education. We’ll use as focal point for the discussion the problems and advantages of, and future potential for, the video lecture as utilized in flipped classrooms, MOOCs, hybrid courses, and more. In “Broadcast Education: A Response to Coursera”, we suggested that video lectures used to create large-scale, “auditorium”-style learning environments may not be the very best application of technology. Our discussion on Friday will inspect how this technology is being used and abused, and how it might be used better.
Coursera is silly. Educational technology news has been all a-flutter over the last few months about the work that Coursera is doing to bring higher education into the open. But I tell you what: I signed up for one of their classes — a course on Science Fiction and Fantasy from the University of Michigan — only to discover something really startling. Really: startling.
MOOCs are a red herring. The MOOC didn’t appear last week, out of a void, vacuum-packed. The MOOC has been around for years, biding its time. Still, the recent furor about MOOCs, which some have called “hysteria,” opens important questions about higher education, digital pedagogy, and online learning. The MOOCs themselves aren’t what’s really at stake. In spite of the confused murmurs in the media, MOOCs won’t actually chomp everything in their path. And they aren’t an easy solution to higher education’s financial crisis. In fact, a MOOC isn’t a thing at all, just a methodological approach, with no inherent value except insofar as it’s used.