By Jessica Knott
Rarely does a MOOC strike fear into the heart of its participants. Interestingly, in this case I mean the MOOC itself, not the content. MOOC MOOC, a MOOC about MOOCs (MOOC! Sorry, I just wanted to say it once more, as I didn’t feel I had worked enough instances of the word MOOC into the sentence) offered challenges and learning, exploring the MOOC phenomenon in an interesting, creative way.
MOOC MOOC has been offered three times by Jesse Stommel, Founder and director of Hybrid Pedagogy, and Sean Michael Morris, managing editor and coordinator of Educational Outreach for Hybrid Pedagogy. Jesse is also an assistant professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison and an advocate for lifelong learning and the public digital humanities. Sean calls himself a digital agnostic and a contemplative pedagogue. He is also a creative writer and a former community college English department chair. MOOC MOOC has been offered three times: in August 2012, January 2013, and June 2013.
Please cross your fingers as I conduct this interview, and hope the MOOC MOOC does not eat me alive. Here we go…
1. What is a MOOC MOOC?
JESSE: A MOOC MOOC is a mostly amiable beast. He looks a lot like a cave troll but with altogether more charm and less menace. He’s misunderstood, only mean from a certain angle, but also clever. He eats MOOCs, disruptive innovation, and venture capitalists for breakfast. He has been known to cuddle a Twitter pal on occasion, which usually involves copious amounts of slobber.
MOOC MOOC: [eyes his dad suspiciously]
JESSE: MOOC MOOC is also a massive open online course about massive open online courses, a mini-micro-meta-MOOC that refuses to take the MOOC at face value, choosing instead to approach it as a sandbox for exploring nodal learning, participant pedagogy, and the course as container.
SEAN: MOOC MOOC was designed to ask questions about MOOCs, to interrogate its makers and learners, and to ferret out why or if massive, networked learning has any benefits at all. It was both a MOOC and not a MOOC. It was a MOOCish-like space.
2. How was it developed and on what platform?
JESSE: In January 2012, I launched Hybrid Pedagogy, a digital journal of learning, teaching and technology. Hybrid Pedagogy, though, was from its inception more than just a journal, seeking also to gather together a community of teachers interested in thinking about critical and digital pedagogies. Early in the formation of the journal and its community, I hatched the idea (during a late-night insomnia-induced brainstorming binge) for Hybrid Pedagogy to host a MOOC focused on professional development for teachers. This was in February of 2012, so the MOOC-mania we saw by the middle of 2012 had not yet begun to stir. In fact, Sean was brought on as Hybrid Pedagogy’s Coordinator of Educational Outreach with helping design a MOOC as one of his first major projects. Up to that point, none of us had created or taught a MOOC, and I had been a lurker in several MOOCs but never an active participant. As we jumped into this project I wasn’t all that interested in MOOCs as a learner. I was interested in the MOOC more as a sort of pedagogical anthropologist.
SEAN: To be honest, when Jesse approached me about making a MOOC, I knew there was no other MOOC to do besides MOOC MOOC. I find — and I think Hybrid Pedagogy finds — that there are never quite enough questions asked about pedagogy and education. There’s too much temerity in what we call innovation. As well, I took one look at the work Coursera was doing and realized that there had been little innovation at all in the 10 years I’d been teaching online. A MOOC about MOOCs, then, was meant to take apart the phenomenon in order to understand its potential. Sort of like taking apart a toaster in order to make a better one. I felt that this would be the only really effective way for educators to engage with MOOCs, before it was too late to engage with them at all.
JESSE: Sean and I were both certain that our approach to this subject needed to be as playful as possible, so the MOOC MOOC monster was born. A lovable but also misunderstood beast, set upon gobbling up everything in his path, MOOC MOOC quite literally trolled the Internet, eating a different MOOC for breakfast each morning during the weeks leading up to the course.
SEAN: We developed MOOC MOOC on the Canvas learning management platform for a couple of reasons. First, Canvas was free to use for folks like us. Second, Instructure — the company behind Canvas — had been clear about their support of experimental and exploratory pedagogies. They’re a technology company, but they’re very interested in learning about learning. And finally, the Canvas environment has been designed with a certain permeability to it. It’s the only LMS that we found was not a “walled garden” and, instead, allows the Internet and the social media we all rely on to connect with one another to leak into the classroom.
3. Tell me about the results and about the student responses…
JESSE: MOOC MOOC was the first fully online course I’ve participated in that truly worked for me as a learner. To be frank, I’ve hated nearly every other online course I’ve taken or taught — and not just superficially but on a deep, fundamental level. MOOC MOOC (and specifically the amazing participants in the course) asked me to rethink how I was approaching online learning. I always knew online learning could be something great, but I hadn’t felt like I’d gotten the ingredients in just the right ratios prior to MOOC MOOC.
MOOC MOOC: [gobbles up all the ratios]
JESSE: As Chris Friend remarks in the video he made for the first MOOC MOOC, “The best conversations become tangents on tangents.” Without clear outcomes determined at the outset, the outcomes of MOOC MOOC arose during the course directly from the experiences and contributions of course participants. Chris continues, “With the ability to eat up everything in its path, the @moocmooc monster reflects the actions of the participants within this course…. The blog posts we write, the videos we make, the tweets we send out. All of these get gobbled up by the @moocmooc monster and become a part of the learning experience. ”In MOOC MOOC, we resisted the common impulse to put ourselves at the head of the class. Instead of using video lectures, or even video introductions, we encouraged students to create the videos, to show us where learning was happening and what the outcomes of the course seemed to be. Toward the end of the week, we involved participants in an exercise of reflection, where they told us and each other what they’d learned and how it would apply to their work, teaching, learning, and lives. The results were dynamic, diverse, and truly inspiring. Some of this is illustrated in the various data Sean and I include in our recent article, “MOOCagogy: Assessment, Networked Learning, and the Meta-MOOC,” although part of our point in that piece is that there is a kind of learning that data and analytics can’t quite capture.
SEAN: I’m going to second Jesse’s comment about MOOC MOOC being the first online course that actually made any sense to me. But I’m going to follow that up with a counterpoint. MOOC MOOC drove some people mad. And, honestly, it was designed to allow for that. As facilitators, we not only stepped down from the podium, we also encouraged an environment of rampant invention, unregulated dialogue, and spontaneous combustion. We wanted people to have to find their way through this course because only by doing so could we find out what the course was or what any massive learning experience was. We looked to the group to set objectives and guide each other, and to create the learning for themselves.
JESSE: As a group, we were capable of doing an exponential amount of work, shredding the MOOC to bits and strewing its carnage about the internet. The MOOC was truly dead by the end of the course not because we’d murdered it but because we’d moved so far past it in our thinking. For example, the course (and its participants) inspired our thinking about MOOCification, which basically means leveraging the best pedagogies of MOOCs in our on-ground and small-format online courses and laying the rest to waste.
MOOC MOOC: [said at the end of his first week-long romp] I say, we will have no more MOOCage. Those that are MOOCs already, all but one shall live.
JESSE: No matter how much he might insist otherwise, MOOC MOOC has a pretty bottomless glass of slobber. He continues to eat — continues to tromp about the internet — and continues to ask important questions of me. The community formed by the various iterations of the course persists, and I’m certain the MOOC MOOC monster will find many more ways to return. I’ve got kind of a crush on him, I must say, so I have doubts about my ability to keep him at bay for long.
4. What are your thoughts on MOOCs in general? How did this affect your approach to this one?
SEAN: The MOOC ambushed 2012. Silently, stealthily, it snuck up on the world of higher education, moved into our houses, ate our food, and made itself comfortable. A lot of folks laughed when the MOOC showed up on their doorstep, some folks welcomed it in, and others quickly changed the locks and installed security systems against it.
JESSE: I’m incredibly wary of MOOCs, but I also refuse to make neat and tidy judgments about learning interfaces and platforms. I have endeavored to approach MOOCs with curiosity rather than suspicion. For me, this means being open to new pedagogical approaches but also willing to gut them — to rearrange their innards — at the first sign of meanness. Pedagogy is, in fact, the constant rearranging of the innards of teaching and learning. Pedagogy never rests, never makes its mind up about anything. The MOOC is a shifting signifier with no clear (or monolithic) signified. When we talk about MOOCs, we are actually talking about a lot of different things, few of which actually have anything to do with MOOCs at all. The first sentence of my first article about MOOCs proved true: “MOOCs are a red herring.” What I like about MOOCs is the conversations they have raised and the new alliances that have formed in their wake. For example, K-12 is talking to higher ed in different ways, and the MOOC has had something to do with that — at least for me.
SEAN: I said in the last iteration of MOOC MOOC (a charming 24-hour trainwreck of a MOOC) that “the MOOC is dead.” And I really honestly believe this. Not that we won’t keep doing massive open online courses, but that the mystery of the MOOC, that which made education quiver in its boots during 2012, and that which promised so much “disruption,” is no longer the living, fire-breathing thing it was. The MOOC has become something manageable, something we we can mine for data, and something that simply isn’t — and never was — all that innovative. But even as I say that the MOOC is dead, I want to say too that there’s a lot to learn from its autopsy. I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of all the MOOC revealed about how, where, why, and to whom learning happens. I feel like the MOOC phenomenon stripped something bare in education, startled us out of a kind of complacency, and now we have an opportunity to reexamine how we approach the whole endeavor of learning and teaching.
JESSE: Lastly, if you want more, we’ve gathered together everything published on Hybrid Pedagogy about MOOCs.
MOOC MOOC: [in his final nod after the June 2013 iteration of the course] “O brave new world, / That has such people in’t!” #moocmooc
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