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back to school…the MOOC way

October 20, 2013

lisa hammershaimb

Today I attended my first official MOOC, World Wide Ed. (Let me clarify…I’ve been registered for the past three days and did pop into the actual classroom space to put my virtual pin on the virtual map, but otherwise I’ve been one of those students who just silently lurks and doesn’t really do any real work.) But, today was the official first synchronous video session and the instructor in me said if I did nothing else in this experience, I needed to “support” in the live session even if it just meant my name being a traceable line on the “attendees” column.

So, what is a MOOC? Standing for Massive Open Online Course, MOOCs are a somewhat recent phenomena in the DE world and basically are, depending on who you ask, the savior or villain of education. Coincidentally one of the main people cited as being part of the early birth of MOOCs are none other than Stephen Downes and George Siemens, Athabasca University professor extraodinaire (who you may remember from such places as my Connectivism post of about a month or so ago and who has been tasked with the enviable role of being my dissertation adviser.) Way back when Siemens and Downes first created the prototype of a MOOC, it was a bit different than the corporate 10,000+ student enrollment monster that it’s become today. D+S’s MOOC was based on the idea that with a good digital framework, it would be possible for a community to teach itself and, like the theory of connectivism, for connections between people in diverse settings to become the catalyst for new knowledge exploration…more than any one sage-on-stage could possibly hope to teach their own class. MOOCs are free, open to anyone who’d like to join and learn, and often more about continuing education than earning a degree. That said, there are often provisions made for badges or even credit to be earned if a participant pays a nominal feel or works with a traditional bricks and mortar school. Since their somewhat benign start, a Pandora’s box of who has and should define learning and what arena it can occur has been opened and MOOCs are to education like the proposals to legalize marijuana are to elections in the States…endlessly controversial and filled with very very passionate people both pro and con.

I’ve never had MOOC experience before and honestly as a distance educator kind of saw MOOCs as somewhat inconvenient because when people are of the anti-MOOC stance as soon as they hear distance education instructor they instantly filter me through an anti-MOOC lens and it makes my job which isn’t MOOC associated very complicated to explain. But then the cohort was hosting a presentation on MOOCs (for the cohort I’m finding I will do just about anything!) and Canada was premiering it’s first MOOC (coincidentally created by an Athabasca grad) and before I knew it, I was signed up for a class on Online Instruction for Open Educators in the first World Wide Ed MOOC and was ready to have an open mind about just what might await me.

And honestly, the first synchronous meeting (Hayman’s MOOC is more of the Siemens and Downes variety as opposed to the exclusively video watching variety) was really great. It had all the technical glitches that any synchronous video session made up of people all around the world has (and as someone who routinely has those in my own classroom, it perversely makes me so happy to see others deal with them!) but once those were ironed out there was a fairly robust discussion of the week 1 content (I was strictly a lurker….but hey, it’s good to get a wide variety of student viewpoints, eh?) and a share of a great new collaborate tool called Padlet which we all used to write our ideas anonymously. The session was just an hour but it seemed like a fabulous way to get people on the same page and get everyone acquainted together. I am always a huge fan of synchronous sessions because I think there is nothing quite like them to shrink the vast transactional distance that can be a toxic byproduct of DE.

So week 1 MOOC verdict? I like it.

Because you’re not graded and really not financially vested, the MOOC replaces the performance pressure of a traditional academic setting with personal responsibility to learn what you want, when you want. Basically, you get what you put into it and your learning and level of community connection really is up to you. In my current life state, I honestly don’t have much time to put into it, thus I’m content to take the minimum out but I can see that for many of my classmates who are “all in” there is more than ample opportunity for them to take a lot out and build connections within a worldwide framework. I think that’s quite fabulous.

There’s been a small part of my brain that’s been wondering if a graphic design MOOC would be a way to engage learners who genuinely want to learn but don’t have the resources or desire for a traditional design school degree. After today’s meeting, I’m even more convinced that in some far-out way it might really work. If you build the community to support the motivation to learn…if you build a basic, intentional engaging framework through which students can connect, amazing things can indeed happen.

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