Back in the MOOChouse

I’m writing this as the CFHE12 MOOC ends its first week.  Experiencing the class is prompting me to blog more about it here (link to my earlier post on it) in an anti-Brian Lamb way.  That’s partly because MOOCs loom ever larger in my work on the future of higher education.  Every time I visit a campus administrators, instructors, and support staff raise the MOOC topic.  If the thing is a flash in the pan, it’s flashing quite brilliantly in October 2012.

At the same time this CFHE12 course provides a two-step reflective opportunity.  We can think about it as an example of the MOOC movement, an instance of certain ways of engaging that urMOOC/cMOOC approach.  We can also focus on the class content, consisting of what its instigators are presenting and what participants are sharing: the future of higher education, which might well include more MOOCery.

1. Working through CFHE12 reminds me of Jim Groom’s claim that MOOCs are the most Web-centric form of teaching and learning.  I encounter the class through the distributed, loosely joined ways I engage with the Web, or how I use the Web to engage with the world.  For example, my Tweetdeck columns feed me a river of discussion, either to the class hashtag or @me .  Twitter is also where I push out my own thoughts and probes. The Desire2Learn LMS discussion board hosts (so far) a giant set of personal introductions, plus conversations about the first week’s readings. Webmail (Gmail) presents George and Stephen’s daily update, which points me to classwork.  A Diigo group points to Web resources, while adding some commentary.  Facebook exists, but I haven’t had any class connections there. is also quiet.

I move across all of these, looking for the surfacing of arguments, crashing out onto the sea of venues.  I hunt for where people discuss the topics which concern me (and isn’t that what we all do online?).  From this venue churn I pick out interesting people to pay more attention to – already the MOOC is working as a matchmaker.   And I get meta, pointing non-participants to the class, and reflecting on it.

The differences with face-to-face classes or classes grounded in traditional course management systems are stark, even this many years into the MOOC movement.  There’s no single place for the class, either bricks and mortar or online, but a spattering across the net.  I built my own personal learning environment to be in the class, cobbled together from tools I already had.  And this process changes the way I think of some of these.  I’m treating this site as a blog, at last, for instance.

So far so Web-like.  It works for me.  But it also reminds me of the problems so many people and institutions have with MOOCs.  The DiY aspect, the multiplying swarm of components clearly makes some institutional managers balk.  The amount of presupposed experience can daunt those without that background, or those who lack confidence.  The emphasis on participants over instructors clearly threatens instructor-centered pedagogy (and pedagogues).

2. The topic of higher education’s future is obviously a complex and dynamic one.  So it’s not surprising to see CFHE12 begin by firing a few salvos at the subject; or, to choose a different metaphor, selecting several different pathways into the ecology.

The class takes an admirably international perspective.  The readings include one article on India, technology, and education.  Participants have taken this further, opening up additional topics on globalization, South Africa, developing nations, and European academe. It’s vital to think through the future this way.  Americans in particular can no longer afford to maintain a national horizon for educational strategy.

Economics has also appeared as a major theme, from sustainability to cost to entrepreneurial issues.  No economist has weighed in, nor have class materials really plumbed the subject.

Technology hasn’t been a driving force in discussions, at least not in a very technical way.  Some readings and participants see the digital world as pushing change, but we haven’t stared into the depths of HTML5 or iOS app development.

One conversation is especially futures-oriented.  Participants identify major drivers of educational change.  So far the discussion focuses on economics.  I hope it will grow with the passage of time.

In sum, the class is churning away at an initial stage, putting out feelers and probes, building up social ties.  CFHE12’s instigators have not imposed a framework, not have participants organized into clearly demarcated schools of thought.  It is interesting that so many are interested in money and its impact on education.  Interesting, and appropriate to our times.

(photo by Alan Levine)

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6 Responses to Back in the MOOChouse

  1. skjandrews says:

    Very interesting thoughts. Just a drive by comment in response to your last paragraph of point #1: I’m interested in what you think the connection is between pedagogues and building confidence in early stages of inquiry. In a way, the experience you describe sounds like something that would require a great deal of apprenticeship and practice for learners before it would become second nature. Perhaps the problem isn’t the form – instructor centered – but the content. In other words, if there were a mentor who was there to help people make the most of these kinds of resources – and help students understand and gain confidence at capacities and competencies they currently lack in order to get from point A to point B. It is precisely in the places students don’t have confidence that they need the mentorship and instruction the idea student faculty relationships provide. This makes it curious that boosters seem to think MOOCs will replace the one thing they – almost by design – fail to provide in their current iteration.

    On the other hand, reading through this experience so far makes it sound like an excellent venue in which to discuss these things – in a way it is a shame these conversations aren’t happening on the open web, where you might be able to link to them. In a sense, this also brings up the long term archiving of these materials, the copyright liabilities, etc. Isn’t this collective effort building an enormous database of responses and reflections? Who will own that and how will it be accessed?I confess I haven’t visited the site so I don’t know how this one is structured, exactly, but it seems like the “Webby” experience in the walled garden of the MOOC discussion board is unique among venues like this on the web. Unlike a forum or message board, this one has a start and an end – and a very limited number of people (in relative terms) who can participate in the discussion, both temporally and spatially. Still, it sounds like a dynamic conversation – I’m sure it is made doubly so by your participation.


    • Terrific questions, Sean.

      To your first point: I wonder who would perform such a mentoring role. Instructors can – should – do this, but scale would be tricky. Perhaps students can take on this role, MOOC veterans who help newbies along. Or maybe there’s a role for professional assistance.

      Bear in mind we’re talking about urMOOCs/cMOOCs, not the Coursera model.

      To your closing point: yes, I would prefer for more of this to be on the open Web. I can’t ventriloquize the organizers’ intentions for this configuration, but suspect they include anticipating participants’ desire for familiar and/or not necessarily public spaces. I don’t know the preservation strategy, but am confident that Downes and Siemens have made plans.


  2. brainysmurf says:

    Bryan, you’ve done a great job of describing the connectivist, distributed mooc experience. A number of active verbs jump out of your text for me: move, hunt, point, reflect. In my opinion, this is what the best learners do, the self-directed and participatory ones. I have no idea how NOT to be self-directed and participatory, though I suspect that is the core issue underlying skjandrews’ comments.

    This is my eighth connectivist mooc in less than three years. Each time, I see newbies who join in and courageously share their vulnerability with this new methodology (see the excellent work of Brené Brown for more on vulnerability and “Daring Greatly”). Some stay and some leave, as they have every right to choose. Some team up and seek coaching, mentorship and apprenticeship to get better at this self-structured approach to making sense of things. Regardless of the degree to which the participants were self-directed when they first joined a connectivist mooc, it is my hope that they will develop their self-directedness even further here, even for a short time.


  3. Pingback: Pedagogy – You Keep Using That Word…I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means. | All MOOCs, All The Time

  4. Pingback: #CFHE12 – Some highlights from Week 1 |

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