Pedagogy, Penguingogy, & MOOCs

Penguins have very particular opinions about learning and teaching. Maybe this has something to do with how devoted their elders are to raising their young.

During the first MOOCMOOC, I made a video about the environments in which I have learned; in the process I used familiar digital tools (Prezi) and unfamiliar ones. Even though this made for a valuable learning experience, I prefer text (with or without images) to video when learning—in large part because I am impatient and can read much faster than I can listen. (This preference no doubt plays a role in my failure to enjoy Coursera MOOCs, which deliver a significant amount of content by video. Does anyone else speed up video lectures?) For this reason, instead of creating a video for The Revenge of MOOC MOOC, I want instead to discuss some of my own learning and teaching preferences by comparing them with those of my friend, Pengu McHugh.

Postgraduation. #twitter via ekswitaj

I earned my Ph.D. Pengu earned his Peng.D.

Do we need institutions in order for education to occur?

On the face of it, this question seems silly. Despite our very fancy degrees, Pengu and I have both learned a significant amount outside of institutions. I have learned about other cultures by  living in those cultures; Pengu has learned to build steam-powered machines that would make Rube Goldberg proud in order to smite his enemies simply by playing around. If we think of education as systemic and organized learning, however, then the usefulness of institutions becomes clearer.

Institutions serve as platforms and as resource repositories, whether those resources are library books, physical laboratories, or funding that lets you eat while you spend long hours in education. It is easier to build linked courses within a system that you know will exist for a few years.

Strictly speaking, this does not mean they are necessary. All you really need to learn in an organized or deliberate manner is some expertise (yours, or borrowed) to help you plan, time, and access to whatever materials are needed. In Penguingogy, institutions are temporarily established as penguins gather and then dismantled after they meet their goals, which prevents the institutions from becoming ends in themselves. Not that this would be a particular danger where penguins are involved.

What kind of learning do you value most?

a baby penguin on the grass in front of a sign that says keep off the grass

Pengu being bold at Magdalen College

Penguins have no respect for rules; penguingogy situates rule-breaking as the highest form of learning. This is not always so simple as reading a sign and doing the opposite of what it tells you. To break the rules, first you have to learn what they are.

I value learning that uncovers the assumptions that we make, the limits that we unknowingly place upon ourselves or have placed their by others as we are socialized. Rebelling against these rules is essential, but it is not the end goal because as long as these rules have power that makes them worth violating, the hierarchies that build and depend upon them remain in place.

Learning should dismantle restrictive and oppressive systems.

Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks has been a major influence on both the way I teach and the way I want to learn.

Of course, I always try to learn as I teach, and I prefer learning situations in which I get to teach others even as they teach me: I want to be pupilteachertaut, to steal a word from Finnegans Wake that certainly seems Freirean. Hybrid pedagogies encourage this kind of role-sharing to take place on a broader scale.

Do MOOCs threaten institutions of higher education, or are they something that happens outside of these institutions altogether — and then, do they threaten at all?

Educational institutions that support this kind of practice will support, rather than being threatened by, connectivist MOOCs, and certainly some larger institutions of higher education are seeking ways to profit from corporate MOOCs as well. What I worry about is how MOOCs that are primarily driven by profit and size may contribute to the continued deterioriation of labor conditions for higher education professionals.

Will these economies of scale leave us with time and space to think critically about pedagogy in higher education? To experiment? Pengu McHugh asks, too, about play. How can  I even say “we” here when like so many early career researchers, I do not know if I will ever have a full-time academic position?

Pengu sometimes tells me we should run away and start our own anti-hierarchical education (summer) camp. He has lots of great ideas. Unfortunately, none of them involve how to eat and pay rent while doing so.

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