Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sorry I'm late for #change11

I kept my New Year’s resolution yesterday, joining the #change11 MOOC. My modus operandi in open courses is to arrive late and participate as though I haven’t missed a thing. This fall I participated in the P2PU course, Writing and Common Core: Deeper Learning for All, joining in week three of and eight week course. Staying true to form, I’ve jumped on this MOOC’s train long after it left the station.

Still, I find myself wanting to apologize or gain approval. My experience with schooling tells me to talk with the teacher, offer an excuse, and inquire about how to make up what I’ve missed. Having read quite a bit about open, distributed courses, I know I have no such responsibility and the compulsion to make up what I missed is a misplaced desire, a remnant from traditional education that sticks with me.

In a college Spanish class, I involuntarily glued halting Spanish sentences together with verbs left over from high school French. One learning experience carries over to another.

A traditional course is to an open course as reading a book is to reading Twitter, the underlying processes are the same- learning and reading- but the context is different enough that it will take some getting used to. I was surprised reading Personal Learning Networks, by Richardson and Mancabelli, at just how explicit the authors were in explaining how to read Twitter. They explained that “few if any Twitter users actually read all the tweets from those they follow,” (Richardson and Mancabelli, Kindle location 1145).

In this MOOC, on the how it works page, the facilitators make the reading expectations clear:

You are NOT expected to read and watch everything. Even we, the facilitators, cannot do that. Instead, what you should do is PICK AND CHOOSE content that looks interesting to you and is appropriate for you. If it looks too complicated, don't read it. If it looks boring, move on to the next item.

Intrigued by this endeavor to filter off everything about school that doesn’t mesh with learning, I gauge my comfort level in a learning environment where I can arrive late, leave early and I don’t have to keep up with the reading. I’m left to reflect on how open education models have the potential to help us rethink so many of the sacred cows in education that really lean on old paradigms of scarcity and authority.

So I’m hopeful.

But I’m also a product of a traditional education, and I can report experiencing anxiety about falling behind in the P2PU course and budgeting time to share my final project and my reflection. I asked myself how I could feel the same anxiety for an open course with no tangible responsibility on my part. (One night I told my wife I needed a few hours to finish my homework.) I wonder now if my sense of commitment to the course was raised by the small numbers in the course (someone might notice if I don’t finish), or by my participation in the webinars, which might have made me feel committed to the other participants.

On Twitter yesterday, I read a tweet from @koutropoulos, in which he asked if taking two open courses, #ds106 and #change11 “would be too much together.” It caught my attention because his concern strikes me as evidence of how traditional education informs our thinking in distributed courses, where responsibility and authority function so differently. A traditional graduate student would definitely have to weigh the responsibilities of taking two courses at once because the work load could be prohibitive and his performance might suffer. In these MOOCS, however, a student could sign up for both and do exactly as much as he wanted in either. All his participation would only add value to the courses, so why would someone interested in both choose one or the other? I wondered if his concern about the age old balancing act of managing course load is a holdover from traditional education, like my desire to apologize for arriving late and my nerves about finishing my homework for my P2PU course. “There is only one logical choice,” I said to my computer screen. “Sign up for both. There is no down side. Right? Stephen Downes is not going to fail you.”  

Is he? Do I need to show up at his office hours and talk to him about all the work I’ve missed?

Some questions:
What are the implications going forward? Will future generations of students construct their own schedules, choosing to participate in, for example, two MOOCS a semester and two traditional courses? Will they make those decisions based on how they learn best and how they respond to syllabuses, homework and instructor feedback?


  1. Hi Joe, nice post. I've just joined #change11 as well and can definitely empathize with feeling a little anxious about the slow start despite knowing that the mooc model invites this kind of participation.

  2. Welcome aboard the mooc train. I liked the post.

  3. Hi Joe, I enjoyed reading the post. A few weeks ago, I had never heard of MOOC, didn't blog and had almost given up on social networking as being in China had meant most of them are blocked. Now, I'm totally on board.
    I think the flexible participation supported by MOOC learning offers a great opportunity for me to learn as much as I want, without impacting on my work commitments or otherwise. On the other hand, I'm also a little anxious that I would have less to contribute.
    I hope to join another MOOC on learning analytics at the same time as this one in Feb, I see no problem in this case due to the rich overlap with change11 subject matter. I think being able to switch from one to the other would be great, but no doubt I would probably have to choose which MOOC to post reflections and hopefully make a meaningful contribution. Too much taking and not enough giving?

  4. Rob,

    Part of my interest in MOOCs is this experiment in what it means to participate freely in a course. I appreciate your comment and the best way I can think of is to run your comment through this question I have at the front of my attention: is your thought process about participating in the MOOC a product of your highly influential experience in traditional ed? (An assumption on my part... )
    When you ask that you might be taking and not giving enough, I would challenge you to look closely at that. Is that concern a product of having sat through a traditional course where a teacher asked for the participation of sleepy students on the last day before break. Perhaps you're a teacher and you worry how the instructor might feel?
    Could you blog about your learning and post to both? (Yes! Right?)

  5. I started Change 11 in the fall and vowed to get into it once things were quieter at my job, but now I have no more idea than I had at the beginning of how to connect with people who have similar goals and interests. Mine for this course were narrow---complete a specific project. I'm not so sure anymore that a MOOC is the best place to do that although it is a good place to learn.