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Trying out a MOOC

posted: 8.17.12 by archived

I don’t have much patience for deciphering strings of initials. It took me years to finally get straight what MMORPG stands for. I’ve been a little quicker with MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses), which has increasingly peppered my daily email digests from IHE and CHE. I’ve been interested to read Steven Krause’s series of blog posts on his experiences in a MOOC titled “World Music” (starting here and continuing here and here). Then last week, one of my colleagues in a professional development course that is surveying educational technology posted Daphne Koller’s TED talk video on MOOC’s:

I’m interested in technology, I’ve taught both hybrid and fully online courses for about five years, but my initial reaction to MOOC’s was skeptical. Fine maybe for those memorize-and-regurgitate courses (such as history, as I always unfairly categorize, or anatomy and physiology) or procedural courses (such as developmental mathematics) , where “mastery” of content delivered in re-playable video lectures could be assessed by multiple choice or short answer quizzes, but they clearly wouldn’t work for a writing class. How could I possibly respond to writing of 10,000 students, when 100 students exhaust me by mid-semester? But in her talk, Koller asserts that we can get around this little issue by peer-grading and self-grading, which she claims both correlate well to teacher grades. As a writing teacher, I was appalled: I don’t just slap on a grade but rather aim to enter into a dialogue with students in the margins of their papers (or in comments at the end of blog posts). At any rate, it was Koller’s talk that got me interested enough to check out Coursera’s website and, on a whim, sign up for a course in Modern & Contemporary Poetry that starts a week into September, just as my semester will start to get serious.

Then I ran across Prof Hacker’s recent post on the MOOC MOOC, a six-day MOOC about MOOCs offered by folks at Hybrid Pedagogy, and I signed right up. It’s been intense and illuminating and thought-provoking.

The course opened on a Saturday night at midnight, and by 3:13 am, when I first posted on the discussion board, about thirty people had already introduced themselves. With so much reading to do, it was hard not to feel behind from the start.

On the first “real” day, we were given articles to read, videos to watch, and a task to accomplish. Seven groups of about 50 of us had one day to collaborate via Google Docs to define MOOC’s (the “winning” essay gives a good, quick introduction to MOOC’s ) I had some minimal experience with this sort of crowd-sourcing collaboration with a Writing Sprint I participated in last year. This time the experience was a little different, with more people involved and more requirements for the final product (the final essay should be exactly 1000 words, incorporating one image and references to three given sources) but less about the process we might want to follow. But like that experience last year, the process was a strange combination of anxiety and chaos, surprise at how the essay seemed to evolve and pride at the final result. I remembered thinking that I’d like to try a simplified version with my students (more info about that to come).

It’s Day 3 today, and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. Though I think of myself as fairly comfortable with technology, it makes me anxious to look at what’s in store for the week: in addition to Google Docs, I’ll also be tweeting and blogging, making a video (which, except for Jing or Camtasia screen-shot tutorials, I’ve only done in a workshop), and trying to figure out the purpose of Storify (which I’ve vaguely heard of but never seen).

My questions going forward:

  • I’m thinking about how this connects to my students, who are not typically as self-motived as my MOOC MOOC colleagues. But still, in the ways the MOOC seeks to create a learner-centered environment, can I adapt some of its strategies to my gateway freshman comp class?
  • I’m thinking about how this connects to my discipline. Do I over-estimate how much students get from the time I spend responding to their writing? I’ve felt for some time the need to really study what students do with what I say, and the MOOC challenges me to more thoughtfully and concretely pursue this.
  • Finally, I’m thinking about learning, what it means and where and how it takes place. In contrast to my initial focus on  practical matters of course management, I’ve been surprised at how much talking and thinking have been about  general philosophical questions posed by the course leaders, which all will take me a long time even to formulate.

I’ll report more in my next post, after I get a chance to recuperate and digest a bit. For anyone interested in learning more about the MOOC MOOC, click on “Take Me to the MOOC” here. In the comments below, please feel free to post your any MOOC experiences you’ve had or your thoughts about this latest acronym that’s popping up everywhere.

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Categories: Holly Pappas, Uncategorized
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