The Incessant March Need Not Be Outward

The oft-repeated refrain, “I’ll need to reflect more on this,” illustrated an impressive and unexpected characteristic of our Massive Open Online Course: the course moved very quickly. There hasn’t been enough time to digest everything we’ve done and discussed. We who participated were given only seven days to work with/on/through the nature and implications of these courses. Many protracted conversations ended with apologetic departures, citing the pull of children, dinner, picnics, meetings, family obligations, or the ever-elusive sleep. But as we departed, we continued to reflect on our experiences, often to distraction.

The week started with a conversation about what a MOOC is and isn’t. I feel it’s only appropriate that, after seven days of exploration, I attempt to apply the acronym’s components to the course itself.

Massive – The course was big. Never a lack of participants. While it didn’t draw hundreds of thousands of participants like offerings supported by private universities or public corporations, dozens of interested (and interesting) people took part.

Open – Free and easy access meant that access *points* multiplied. Google Docs and Hangouts, EtherPad, Storify, YouTube, Instructure Canvas, email, and Twitter allowed endless ways for people to participate…and endless ways to get pulled back into the fray.

Online – Time zones became remarkably important. Heavy participation from New Zealand made the off-handed “other side of the world” comments seem suddenly ominous. Some people would finish Friday’s assignment as others would be starting Thursday’s. It could have been confusing, but because the course was to some extent massive, there was always someone else working on the material when some solitary soul had insomnia.

Course – This could be a contentious point, but because the MOOC MOOC was designed to study the nature and functions of itself, the meta-ness made the course-ness rather amorphous. The amorphous design allowed participants to traverse the layers of meta-awareness and allowed conversations on a variety of topics from a variety of perspectives. By asking us to step back from our work, the course showed us a tremendous vantage point of our learning.

After each task was completed, participants stopped to reflect on the work they had done. But for this course, the reflection was multifaceted and complex. Questions such as these were common, often asked nearly simultaneously:

  • Was it was successful?
  • Did it effectively elicit thought?
  • Can it be refined?
  • Does it inform/improve our own pedagogy?
  • Might it reform or adapt to traditional courses?

Each question attracted a different kind of person. The organizers of the course wanted to know which elements of which activities created self-conscious learning. Folks interested in developing their own MOOCs wanted to know which techniques could be carried over into their institutions/environments/curricula. Those not working in online spaces wondered whether in-person courses would ultimately influence, or perhaps give way to, MOOC designs.

We worked. We reflected. We speculated. We started dreaming of MOOCifying our courses, and that’s when things got real.

The questions being tossed around on Saturday were similar to those we struggled with on Monday: What is a MOOC? But on Monday, we asked out of curiosity, to better understand the scenario we were about to be involved with. By Saturday, we were trying to understand its essence, to see how what we had learned/experienced could be understood and used. Maybe the format of the course didn’t apply to our next classes, but perhaps the approach of a MOOC did. Maybe we couldn’t scale up the enrollments in our courses, but perhaps we could scale down our assessments. Maybe we don’t need to replace the discussions we have in our face-to-face classes, but perhaps the collaboration we saw online could work in person, too.

Can the best elements of a MOOC work in a traditional classroom?

I think so. But I need to reflect more on that idea.]]>

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About Me

Hi! I’m Chris Friend — a teacher, speaker, and podcaster specializing in introducing newcomers to conversations around education, writing, and technology.

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