Tag Archives: Camp Magic Macguffin

Contemplating the Early #ETMOOC Experience

With ETMOOC now two weeks old and almost half way through Topic 1: Connected Learning (Tools, Processes & Pedagogy), things are truly starting to take-off. It will be fascinating to see how long the legs last. I am hoping that it remains strong.

What is so great about what Alec Couros and crew are creating is the sheer range of participants. Of course this could be said of all MOOCs. Yet, this particular one seems to have a magical mix of educators, a number of seasoned, tech savvy established types and a whole lot of fresh, eager to experiment types, cutting across all grades from elementary to university. It is an impressive movement to track and participate.

I must admit that my MOOC experiences have been more of a gradual escalation. A few years ago, when this thing really got going, I was so fascinated and eager, but so quickly overwhelmed. It took a number of experiences for me to really feel like I had better set of bearings and could negotiate between my lurking and my participation.

When it comes to MOOCs, my desire often has outpaced my will. Plus, I have been involved in a for-credit graduate course more months than I haven’t over the past three years, if not more. Combined with my teaching load, I kept getting to a point where I just got too bogged down to continue. Despite the best of intentions, once I lost my momentum I always felt like I was in a insurmountable hole and already missed too much to get back into the mix. Yet with each experience, I started getting better and better, like tracking things with better filters, managing the amount of time I could engage more effectively, and catching my breath when I needed without completely disengaging.

By the time I jumped into #DS106‘s Camp Magic Macguffin, I started feeling like I was more successful MOOCing it. I had l already “finished” a MOOC at that point, although I have never been the most regular or consistent of bloggers. Even though I did have to stop participating in DS106 towards the end of the run, as a host of responsibilities needed more immediate attention, I felt really good about what I had accomplished. However, that was definitely the first experience where I truly felt that I was in a course that was more of a community. Those University Mary Washington peeps have really built something awesome with A Domain of One’s Own.

The coolest thing I can say about ETMOOC is that it already has the same kind of feel, more community than course. Sure it is loosely distributed and might not have all the trappings of the DS106 machine, like the Daily Create or Assignment Bank, but it has so much potential and the same kind of vibe. After all, ETMOOC is a really the evolution of the EC&I 831 open course experiment Couros conducted at University of Regina a few years ago. Given that short but significant legacy it doesn’t seem like a great leap to see DS106-style components developed and potentially built off ETMOOC as a platform. That too would be pretty awesome.

So despite all of the competing claims on my attention, I can’t help but want to stay connected to this thing that is happening. One of the beauties of ETMOOC is that each topic runs two weeks, almost ensuring that anyone can catch their breath along the way. That two week window is probably the one thing that has me feeling the best about staying involved and might be the master stroke for me in the planning and execution of this MOOC.

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The Shape of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet

In the last couple of days I have been wrapping up a Shakespeare experience of Romeo & Juliet with my ninth grade students. In an effort to keep things light and entertaining when introducing students to Shakespeare, I use a host of video clips from both stage and cinematic productions that present the play in a variety of styles, as well as reading and enacting bits and pieces. Adding this video clip was an easy fit.

Since we had just finished the story, I thought an interesting and fun summative task would be to ask the students about the shape of the play. Plus, I wondered what they might think of Vonnegut’s idea about the shape of stories.

I wasn’t sure if a bunch of fifteen year-olds would like Vonnegut’s presentation or not, but figured I would try it out on one of my best sections. Almost no one in the room had ever even heard of Kurt Vonnegut, so I gave them a one minute introduction. Then somewhat surprisingly they seemed to enjoy it. Vonnegut’s initial “man in a hole” shape triggered some idle chuckling. “Boy Meets Girl” almost slipped past them without much reaction, but by the end they were all whispering “Cinderella, Cinderella” and laughed, along with the audience, in the video as he mapped out that story’s shape.

Afterwards, I asked them how we might find the shape of Romeo & Juliet. Immediately, hands rose and before you knew it we had list of over twenty key turning points in the play.

From our list, I asked them to coach me as I graphed the story across the Vonnegut’s Good/Ill Fortune and Beginning/Ending axes. It was actually great fun, as they cried out why say the balcony scene couldn’t rise higher than their wedding night together or how banishment had to dive far deeper even than Tybalt’s death. It was a low stakes way to see just how well they understood the play and some of its nuance. We even had a brief but very interesting discussion about just how high the final moment should be on the Fortune axis.

Romeo & Juliet Story Shape

Yet the best aspect of the exercise of all were the handful of observations made after we mapped out the story’s shape. One student shrewdly said it looked like a heart monitor, another emphasized just how extreme the highs and the lows were. All of that discussion proved a great way to discuss why that was the case and how the play worked on a dramatic level. Even a colleague who teaches history walked into the room, saw the graph, and asked about it. It promoted a short chat about the benefits of info graphics as a learning tool and representation of understanding.

While a slightly different application of the assignment, it was pretty effective and successful.

Diving into the DS106 Pool and Camping Magic Macguffin Style – Part 2

Watching Michael Wesch‘s lecture “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able” (part 1 and part 2) was a great return to some thought provoking material for me. I had the fortune of meeting Wesch briefly and seeing an earlier version of this lecture a couple of years a go at Alan November’s Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston.

It was the first time I got to go to the conference and Wesch was the whole reason that I fought for my district to send me. I had seen all his videos, read a lot of his work on his blog, and couldn’t wait to see what he would present. He presented what must have been an early version of this talk.

There is something heartrendingly beautiful about his story of spending time in Papua New Guinea and it being the harbinger of everything he knows about the Internet. In watching the video, the irony of his experience is what I continue to find so amazing. I sometimes believe that we live in a time of enormous paradoxes. AT&T used to have an ad campaign with the catchphrase, “In a world full of technology, people make the difference.” And they do. Wesch poignantly highlights this, as he explains how he was curled up on the floor of a remote hut coming to grips with his own identity crisis.

Yet, in true classical story form, it was only in a completely distant, foreign context that he could make the necessary discoveries to return with insight. Much that is old is indeed new again, or perhaps, paradoxically continues to remain new.

Image: Harold and the Purple CrayonOur mediated existences help form and refine our identities. For many of us, the medias we choose to engage are the contexts in which we find ourselves always, perpetually emerging. We can take up the challenge of reading and writing our world into existence, in true Harold fashion with crayon in hand, or we can allow our choices to be dictated to us without even knowing, like the fish who is unaware he lives in water.

To me these are some of the themes at the core of what Wesch describes in the pursuit of Knowledge-ability. The most heartbreaking aspect is that without mindful awareness of our choices and reconciliation of their impact on our identity, we all run the risk of looking back on what we have wrought and hating it, much like some of those individual that “reformed” that small village in Papua New Guinea that Wesch observed.