Tag Archives: Dave Cormier

Preparing for a Clash of MOOCs

ETMOOC LogoWhile I am absolutely loving my experience with ETMOOC, I am about to try my first run at an xMOOC. Tomorrow, I will begin a HarvardX course, HLS1x: Copyright. I am excited.

Copyright is a topic that I have been chasing on my own for a few years now and one where I think that educators must have greater command. It seems professionally irresponsible to remain ignorant on the subject anymore. Moreover, while I like Creative Commons, I reject it as the safe and easy option as it is routinely presented in the edtech arena.

On the most fundamental level educators need to now more about copyright not only to help ourselves and students avoid infringement, but exercise our rights to fair use and resist the longstanding encroachment on that provision. I have long admired the work of Renee Hobbs and her Media Education Lab, now at University of Rhode Island. For any educators keen on learning about copyright, I recommend you start there. Yet, this Harvardx class will be a much deeper dive into the subject than Hobbs’ must-read Copyright Clarity. It is a course being offered via the Harvard Law School for one. Plus, the list of guest speakers is impressive, including the likes of Lawrence Lessig and Shepard Fairey among others.

In spite of my excitement, I must admit that I have developed a bias for the cMOOC variety. Of course that is what I know best, having engaged in about six or seven of them with varying degrees of success. So I am reserving some judgement but wanted to start some comparing them for my own understanding as much as anyone else’s.

ETMOOC is fostering such a magnificent community of open-thinking educators from all teaching levels and tech savviness. Loosely connected as a “course,” it is warm, inviting, and filled with innumerable learning opportunities. It is a grand invitation to self-directed wayfinding in a virtual space that hinges on a hashtag. Focusing on education technology, which is much broader and already begun tangentially addressing the legal concept of copyright, the experiences between the two are already so different.

Diagram: Why MOOC Design

While ETMOOC is completely open and proving to be quite adept at building a massive tent to include all those who wish to  participate, HLS1x: Copyright was subject to a pretty serious winnowing process. Thousands of applications were submitted for only 500 spots. So I guess I got pretty lucky. I certainly feel that way. Upon the invitation letter to join the course, however, there was a four part follow-up to secure the spot, including a 20 minute pre-test.

As one of the 500, I am already subdivided into a section of 20, complete with a juris doctor teaching fellow to lead the group, a bit different from the conspirators of the ETMOOC variety so far as I can tell. I have already received a handful of preparatory messages and documents prior to the class start. At the conclusion of the course, I am invited to take a four hour written examination. If my performance in the discussion forums and on the exam are satisfactory,  I can earn a certificate of completion.

It is a given that these two MOOCs are very different. HLS1x: Copyright is a course that really is primarily about content. ETMOOC is less about content and more about discovery, in a variety of forms. Both are genuine opportunities for deep learning and professional growth. Yet, I can’t help feeling a bias in favor of the xMOOC, even if I might be falling prey to it.

The level of commitment that is being requested in the HarvardX is formal, demanding, and leverages the prestige of Harvard University. It is highly focused on the accrual of knowledge, includes an already potentially intimidating test, and even offers a credential, for whatever that is worth.

All of these factors led me to ask my employer for some professional development recognition upon completing the course, as if I was taking a typical graduate course. Graciously, the decision maker in my district granted the request. However, I cannot imagine that the same administrator would have gone for the similar request regarding a cMOOC. Eventually, I will make a the same plea, but figured this xMOOC wasn’t too far of a departure from the known way of doing the business of education. Plus, living in the Boston area, Harvard has even more clout, helping my pitch.

Still, I wonder which experience will ultimately prove most valuable to me. ETMOOC already strikes me as the kind of experience that may have much longer legs than its scheduled 11 weeks. I am waiting to see what HLS1x: Copyright holds. I will  be interested to see what kind of community is created in the course, especially among the cohort of 20 to which I now belong.

On a side note, part of my cMOOC fancy has to do with my increasing aggravation at how much the mainstream press has for the most part completely disregarded them, instead lauding the revolution of the prestigious and for-profit ventures. Friedman’s piece in today’s New York Times is just another egregious example. It is as if cMOOCs never really existed or at least those reporting aren’t even aware of their existence.

Almost all of the press coverage advances a bias about education that I will have to return to in a separate post. Safe to say, the bias is what influenced my effort to pitch my employer on the xMOOC for credit over the cMOOC. Friedman’s understanding articulated in “Revolution Hits the Universities,” with its courting of Coursera isn’t nearly as revolutionary as Couros, or Siemens, Downes, Cormier, Groom, Levine, and all the other practitioners of this new educational phenomenon. At some point, I hope to press the case that the experience offered in a cMOOC is just as valuable, arguably more so, and just as deserving of consideration for some means of professional development recognition, regardless of whether it is affiliated with a credential granting scheme or university, prestigious or not.

Some Thoughts About MOOCs

As part of the Hybrid Pedagogy’s week-long MOOC about MOOCs, I wrote some quick thoughts in relation to some of the questions posed yesterday. They seemed worth sharing beyond the confines of the LMS that is housing the course. So here goes.

About the nature of learning

What happens when learning happens? In a word – change. It is when that seed of newness, no matter how buried it may have been, sprouts and breaks through the surface to find light. It need not be necessarily new at all, but it is new to the learner. Nevertheless, it is the single most powerful agent of change for human beings. It is not distinctly human, but we have quite well taken to it, to be sure. And it happens everywhere, so long as one is willing to pay enough attention, to be brave enough to, in fact, notice what we notice.

For me learning has always been the ultimate high. Honestly, I simply cannot conceive of life without the hunger for it. It is synonymous with breathing or living, as sappy as that sounds.

About the current state of MOOCs

For me, MOOCs are a bit like the equivalent of the 60s “happening,” only predicated on digital spaces, learning, and openness. They seem to me connected to some of the same urges,  although I certainly hope that they have stronger legs that the past phenomenon. My fear is that they are already the fashion that has ceased to be the fashion.

Now that the corporate interests are moving in to pick over any ideas that they think might be profitable, MOOCs are likely to be reduced to the point of being unrecognizable. Already a gathering is happening that is still very interested in being Massive and Online but a whole lot less Open, and likely to be less like Courses and more like training, even little more than self-perpetuating propaganda.

History is already being somewhat rewritten in the mainstream press celebrating the interests of an elite few, like Udacity, edX, and the like, as if they created something when all they have really done is begun to prey on the speculative ideas of a handful of curious academics, hoping that they find a cure for the old models of preservation. I know that sounds pretty lefty, but I can’t quite see a narrative that wrangles this phenomenon we are witnessing and participating in nearly as well as what I am outlining.

Openness is still generally not perceived as a clear competitive advantage in the marketplace. It is getting some traction. However, it is in conflict with the proprietary nature of commerce. If it is open or free, how does one own it or put a price on it?

The Massiveness is both an opportunity and an obstacle. It is arguably the greatest aspect that violates our previous notions of how Courses of study work. If we accept the notion that learning happens in an individual and that few models have ultimately bettered a one-to-one approach, the sheer scale, while seemingly a holy grail for profiteers,  is potentially threatening to a lot of people. That takes some getting used to. However, it also provides few obvious or prescribed pathways to the kind of connections that foster collaboration or personal engagement with others.

My hope is that there will always remain a fierce set of individuals willing to continue to experiment with the MOOC concept and what it can reveal. So I continue to follow the main movers on what is now commonly referred to as the cMOOC front. For me, that has always been where the best action is anyway. I just hope people like Siemens, Downes, Cormier, Couros, and others keep on trying things and thinking about all of this so there is always an alternative to the commercial outfits. I feel like the possibilities are good.

MOOCs are extraordinary opportunities for learning. Since they do not fit into the existing power structures of our educational system, at least yet, they are kind of extra-curricular, in the noblest of ways. They are opportunities for learning and enrichment that really are the outgrowths of this new digital, virtualized landscape that we are all wrestling with how to navigate and traverse. They can easily become a network, a community of practice, an artifact of some quest. Their very nature is morphing and evolving as we participate. They are a kind of fabricated organism, really.

They have been a great source of learning and professional development for me, personally. One of my favorite thinkers on some of this new frontier is University of Bournemouth’s Steven Heppell has said, “History will look back on the 1950s to 2000 as the period of aberration…Cross-fingers and learning will survive, but it might just be the death of education.” I feel a bit like MOOCs are currently the best realization of this ideal, which makes for living in very interesting times, indeed.

Diving into the DS106 Pool and Camping Magic Macguffin Style – Part 1

Image: DS106 Jolly Roger Logo Image: Camp Magic Macguffin Logo

Already having my own domain and website, as well as nearly all of the requisite social media accounts, completing Week 1 of DS106 - Camp Magic Macguffin was a pretty easy thing to start. The bulk of the first week is all about situating oneself to the Web 2.0 environment in preparation for an exploration of both digital storytelling but also the new media reality in which most of us find ourselves.

Despite all of this, I am already running a little behind the pace, but I didn’t really start in earnest until Thursday, May 24. So I won’t be too hard on myself.

I learned about DS106 during its initial open run. In fact, the last few years I have become endlessly fascinated by Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in general. I have been following the work of some of the pioneers like Alec Couros, George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier for years. In fact, I am almost positive I discovered the original iteration DS106 through Stephen Downes’ Online Learning Daily.

The main reason why I teach is because I am a confessed learning junkie. I have become a bit of a MOOC junkie too, tracking many different ones, participating in some, floundering often, and slowly but surely getting a stronger sense of how better to self-direct and manage my own path through one. They are definitely not for the faint of heart. Then again maybe they are.

For me, the problem is always the surplus. I desperately want to drink from the firehouse, all the while knowing that is not really a viable possibility. Still, it hasn’t stopped me from trying. With each dive into the stream, however, I have taken a little something from the experience that has helped me the next time.

Another problem has always been the fact that I am perpetually enrolled in at least one professional development course for the credit chase needed to advance my salary where I work. Regardless, I have been getting much better in how I partake in the grand online educational smorgasbord, in spite of the additional course and work loads.

Truth is I love the idea MOOCs and have grown to be even stronger fans of the people that are building them.

So I finally felt it time to jump into the DS106 mix when Magic Camp Macguffin was ready to launch its maiden voyage. Plus, I am working to construct an online digital storytelling course of my own designed for high school students specifically, inspired by the likes of Jim Groom, Alan Levine, and the rest. Thus, there was never a better time for me to start playing too.

More to come…