This week, I became part of the incessant march. I participated in a MOOC (a Massive Open Online Course), but not just any MOOC: a MOOC about MOOCs. I started out knowing very little about MOOCs other than that they were big, happened online, and becoming increasingly popular. I also had serious doubts about the kind of learning that could take place in them. Could they really go beyond sage-on-the-stage (or on the screen) teaching? What I learned from MOOCMOOC is that they already have (though not in their best-known corporate manifestations). I came away from this course believing that while MOOCs cannot replicate, and should not replace, small face-to-face group discussions, at least in the study of literature and creative writing, they can enhance these discussions and can be a valid space for learning on their own when such discussions are impossible, impractical, or simply undesirable.
That shift began as I learned about the different kinds of MOOCs. I had heard the most about corporate or xMOOCs (such as those organized by Coursera and Udacity), but other MOOCs follow the connectivist model introduced by George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier. They developed cMOOCs back in 2008. As so often happens, the real disruptive and innovative model came first and was later watered down and tamed into something corporate. In an essay on which I was one of hundreds of collaborators, we described the difference thus:
Tanya Roscaria posits two main types of MOOCs: the xMOOC and the connectivist MOOC (or cMOOC). The xMOOC “emphasizes content mastery, centralizes courses on one website and uses automated grading tools to support hundreds of thousands of students.” The cMOOC, in contrast, emphasizes social learning and participation, as Roscaria explains, relying heavily on social media and syndication to decentralize the learning process. xMOOCs often position the instructor as the source of expert information, whereas connectivist MOOCs emphasize students as equal contributors to the learning experience.
In cMOOCs, participants create knowledge together; in xMOOCs experts deposit knowledge into the minds of their students. (If this sounds like Paulo Freire, that is no coincidence.)
But I didn’t just learn about MOOCs during MOOCMOOC. I also used a number of digital tools for the first time (or, in the case of Google Documents, for the first time in a specific way) and so learned by doing. This included making my first Storify:
In departments and schools of English, we often talk about the communication skills students develop, both written and oral: given how much communication takes place online, we need, too, to be teaching digital literacies and skills that go beyond the blog post. This is one of the reasons that, having experienced MOOCMOOC, I want to MOOCify future courses. I also think that enrolled students will benefit from connections with a wider variety of peers; in traditional creative writing workshops, students are often exposed only to perspectives similar to their own: the opinions of 18-25 year olds with enough economic privilege to be in university. There are exceptions, of course, but bringing some of the discussion online and opening it up would make those exceptions less exceptional. Moreover, MOOCification could be a way to connect peers in different geographical areas and to share resources between universities.
Finally, MOOCifying courses creates a public good. This is both a radical act (sharing resources from the university with people who might not otherwise be able to afford access) and a practical one in an age when university funding is endangered. People are much less likely to want to de-fund an institution when they directly benefit from it.