MOOCs, Constructivism Unleashed #edcmooc

Maddie in My Mooc Adventure describes the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC experience well in her reflection. She does an excellent job describing the design of the course and how it was intended to operate. One point that resonated with me was how she discussed the fact that each participant could achieve their own learning objectives and engage in the content to different degrees.

This strikes me as exactly the point of having free, open source education platforms.

Let interested, engaged people work with some new content and learn from other people.

In short, rather than relying on a behaviorist model of “watch video lecture, take a quiz/test”, the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC adopted a more social constructivist or situated cognition approach to designing the learning experience. They gathered videos and readings from existing sources within a set of topics related to technology and our interaction with it – past, present, future. Notably, they used open source materials that were freely available on the web. From these sources, they presented discussion questions. The final assignment was the creation of a synthesis piece in which the participants were asked to create a digital artifact using two different media (e.g., text, images, video… whatever you like) on a platform of your choosing (as long as someone else could click it and see it, fair game).

The course was also interesting because of the emergent social interactions that happened across multiple platforms. These were strictly voluntary. Love Google Plus? Great. Love Facebook? Great. Want to twitter chat? Sure. Or don’t. Up to you grown-up taking this class for free.

Personally, I loved it.

Others, did not. They were expecting the instructors to “tell us what to do”. There was confusion about the digital artifact (what are we supposed to do? what is the ‘right answer’?). Some people ran with it and created beautiful videos and Prezis and Storyboards.

This says more to me about the participants and their expectations than the course design.

However, this is a common phenomenon when students are accustomed to “here’s a procedure, now practice” encounter a class which requires them to engage with content, synthesize, and problem solve. I appreciated the course designers creating an open environment and launching interesting conversations about complex topics that are not reducible to quizzes.

The other advantage in a MOOC is that if you don’t like it… .stop taking it. It’s free. That’s the best thing about it.

MOOCs, Constructivism Unleashed #edcmoo

My MOOC experiences

Following on my previous post, here is my deeper analysis and reflection on why this course worked for me and my peers.

To start with, below is the #edcmooc course details as mentioned on Coursera site:

“This course will not be taught via a series of video lectures. Rather, a selection of rich resources will be provided through which you can begin to engage with the themes of the course. While the teachers will be present in the discussion forums and in various other media environments, there will be an emphasis on learner-led group formation, and the use of social media to build personal learning networks and communities of peers. Rather than approaching this course with the expectation of exacting teaching methods or precise learning routines, we invite all participants to collectively experiment with what the MOOC experience might be.”

Target audience:

“E-learning and Digital Cultures is aimed at…

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#edcmooc Digital Artefact: Coffee, Humans, and Technology

Throughout the MOOC there has been conversation about humans and their interaction with technology. Specifically, the question of online learning. What can be taught and learned online? What cannot be taught and learned online? What helps us connect with each other as humans?

How does this connect to the coffee here?Image

As I was waiting in line at my local coffee house, the guy behind me said “Wow. There’s a lot of technology here.” Coffee culture in the US is intertwined with technology culture. We can work anywhere and everywhere now. I’m typing this on an iPad in the coffee house. Upstairs there are people and their laptops. Typing away on a Sunday afternoon in Arlington, Virginia. This is the public square. The meeting place where we virtually and physically intersect with each other. With technology and coffee.


Thursday night I had an in-person learning experience at Bayou Bakery in Arlington. They hosted a coffee cupping (i.e., we tasted and sampled seven coffees in a carefully sequenced assessment process from smelling the ground coffee to smelling the brewed coffee in multiple stages to tasting each sample). It included two samples from local roaster Vigilante Coffee. While a human interaction, it was Bayou’s Facebook announcement that brought us together.

Short story – coffee cannot be experienced or assessed virtually. I can show you the photo. I can give you descriptions, but we all have different experiences and palates. Each person experienced each coffee sample differently and the coffees changed with time, as the temperature decreased, etc. Just like with any learning experience, as we sample more things, our understanding of each one changes.

Coffee is pretty complex – from growing methods, to regionally differences to roasting technique to brewing (read God in a Cup for more). There are as many variables in the process from bean to cup as there are for our students from home to classroom. Assessment of a coffee’s “goodness” is a multi-step, multi-faceted process that accounts for multiple variables such as aroma, acidity, taste and mouthfeel. It is a holistic process with multiple measures. Conversation about the coffees is part of the process.

And, students are more complex than coffee.

Which raises the question for me… why do we not treat their learning and assessment as at least as complex as a cup of coffee? And, what can we do virtually and what needs to be tasted and smelled and seen in person? How can we use technology to better create connections between us?

Photos by Margret Hjalmarson.

MOOC metaphor: Traveling to Venice #edcmooc

This week the EDC MOOC instructors asked us to think about e-learning and metaphor. I’m thinking specifically about MOOCs in this post.

Being in a MOOC (or maybe it’s just this one) reminds me of my honeymoon trip to Venice last summer in the following ways.

1. There is an overwhelming amount of information so you have to make choices.

When trying to find a hotel in Venice, you will quickly realize that there are hundreds of small hotels and a dizzying array of options and things to consider. In this class, there is similar information overload and one must decide what one’s priorities are in picking a hotel (orienting to the course).

2. You are probably going to feel lost at some point.

Get over it. Venice is a maze of streets and nooks and little alleyways. You are going to get lost in them. The important thing is that getting lost is part of the point because you don’t know what you will find and it might be great. It will challenge you to enjoy the walk (and there’s plenty of that in Venice and metaphorically in the MOOC) rather than being concerned with “outcomes” or the itinerary.

3. This is not like other courses. Venice is not like other cities.

In Venice, everything is water/boat oriented. There are no cars. You have to think differently about getting around. Similarly, in a MOOC, this is a different mode of learning than you are probably accustomed to or have experienced before. Go with the flow. Don’t fight it.

4. Be sure to stop for wine and snacks.

Breaks are okay. You can only look at so many churches/buildings/pieces of art before you end up on overload with tired feet. Make your own pace and don’t let anyone else define your learning. You’ll get as much or as little as you want. If that means you need to stop for a metaphorical (or literal) glass of wine and separate from the discussion forums/blogs/twitter feeds because it’s all a blur, do it. You can still think deep thoughts about digital culture if you’re separated from the digital tools.

That’s my impression so far.

Early Impressions of MOOCing

The MOOC I’m enrolled in has now officially begun. The MOOC phenomenon raises some intriguing questions for higher education and the way we know it now. Thus far, the first and most notable aspect of the EDC MOOC is that while the “official” class started January 27, 2013, the students began to be engaged in discussion, conversation, and information sharing at least a month in advance of the course. So, many learners are clearly highly motivated and interested in the topic. So, what if for the classes I teach, I opened up venues for students to engage in creating the course before the semester began? Would they? What content would emerge?

Second, the content in this class has been given and we are encouraged to engage in it as much as possible. Leading to the learning principle of “you get what you pay for”. In this case, the payment is time. If I put time in, presumably I’ll learn more about e-learning and digital cultures. But, I don’t have to be engaged in the course at any particular time or place. And, more notably, I can work with as much or as little of the content as I feel the need to do.

Finally, what if higher education offered more of these specific, needs-driven, short courses? Would working professionals or people looking to develop their own knowledge be interested? What if we break down the credit hour structures and the program structures and offered more special topics courses? What might we put out there as options for people who are seeking to learn but don’t need another degree?