#oclmooc and Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses): Connections, Learning, and Lazy Enthusiasts

September 25, 2014

In the world of connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs), the days are beginning to blend seamlessly together.

Immersed in the opening segments of the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) over the past few weeks and diving in as a “co-conspirator” at the formal launch of the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) in an online session this evening is leaving me a bit breathless. Dazed. Inspired. And ready for even more after seeing and hearing keynote presenter/facilitator Dave Cormier dazzle participants with an overview of how to learn effectively within connectivist MOOCs.

Part of the thrill of learning from and with Cormier, of course, is knowing that he is the person credited with coining the term MOOC in 2008, as we are reminded in a wonderful and concise overview of the development of MOOCs posted on Canvas. The “What Is a Connectivist MOOC?” page online, with a link to his “What Is a MOOC?” video, has been a magnificent starting point for any of us interested in understanding what MOOCs are and how they work. So spending an hour online with him and more than a dozen other trainer-teacher-learners exploring how MOOCs fit into our learning landscape reminds us –as another MOOCmate observed this week—that “massive” doesn’t need to mean “massive numbers of people”; it can mean “massive potential”—as in potentially transformative.

oclmooc_logoMembers of our #oclmooc community of learning—like the community of learning that is developing in #ccourses—join these sessions to become more conversant in online learning and all that connected learning suggests and offers. And the learning in embedded in the experience of participating in the sessions since we interact in online environments including Blackboard Collaborate and Google Hangouts while carrying the conversation outside the virtual classroom by way of live interactions on Twitter. And we continue the learning, conversations, and collaborations—we can’t have one without the others in the world of connected learning—via postings in our Google+ #oclmooc and #ccourses communities, via blog postings where learners respond to one another and carry conversations across blog sites, and in many other ways.

This extended online connectivist network, Cormier reminded us, is never coherent; it’s always “messy” and “real”—“like life.” But that doesn’t mean it’s incomprehensible or impossible to navigate. In #oclmooc, we have our base camp in a WordPress site that allows us to provide and access updates through a table of contents extending down the right side of that home page; it’s a great resource designed to help learners keep their bearings whether they are completely new to the course or returning days, weeks, months, or even years after its initial offering. In #ccourses, we have a similar base camp that operates at an even more sophisticated level; the table of contents extends from left to right near the top of the home page, and engagement begins directly below that banner in the form of continually updated links to blog postings and tweets that create the rhizomatically-expanding connections between those who are actively participating in the #ccourses connected-learning experience.

If all of this somehow suggests that we are in an era of abundant learning and opportunities to be connected within our communities of learning, we are right where Cormier has tried to lead us. Reviewing centuries of learning methodology in a very brief presentation, he suggested that we are returning to what we once cherished in face-to-face verbal engagement. The twist that connectivist MOOCs provide is that we no longer have to be face-to-face for that level of engagement, he reminded us. The rhizomatic nature of learning within connectivist MOOCs, he continued, makes our learning wild, uncontrollable, difficult to manage—and powerful. And at the heart of the process is the realization that “the community is the curriculum,” he said.  (The community, as I noted recently in an article for the New Media Consortium blog, is also immersed in creating the “textbooks” that facilitate our learning, with the MOOCs functioning as multimedia and multifaceted textbooks developed by the communities of learning themselves. Cormier quotes his colleague George Siemens as saying that MOOCs are “the Internet happening to education”; I would add that connectivist MOOCs are communities of learning happening to textbooks, and every active participant is, in a very real sense, a co-conspirator.)

ccourses_logoAnyone new to connectivist MOOCs had, by the end of the session, not only been engaged in helping create the learning experience through contributing to content within online whiteboards, but had also heard Cormier recap five learning tips he includes in his online video: take time to become effectively oriented to the learning landscape rather than letting it overwhelm you; “declare” yourself within your learning community by sharing information about yourself with your learning colleagues; network by posting content and responding to content posted by others; “cluster” by working within subgroups of the learning community rather than unrealistically expecting to read and respond to every online contribution; and “focus” in a way that keeps you from burning out and succumbing to the idea that you have better things to do than to stay with the learning community as long as it is continuing to support the learning needs that initially attracted you to the MOOC.

It’s the job of learners to give each other a chance to know each other, he noted, and it’s essential to engage with a broad range of people: “You can’t collaborate alone!”

As if to remind us that we are our own worst critics, Cormier facetiously referred to himself as a “slacker” as the session was reaching its conclusion. When pressed, he attempted a clarification: he’s “lazy,” but “an enthusiast.” Which, in the world of connectivist MOOCs and connected learning, may leave us with a wonderfully apt description that applies to each of us—“lazy enthusiasts”—which keeps our collective sense of humor intact while we navigate those wild, uncontrollable, difficult to manage, and powerful learning moments that are endemic through courses like #oclmooc and #ccourses.

N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.


MOOCS: Additional Reflections on Great (and Not-So-Great) Expectations

August 23, 2013

We’re far from finished with our efforts to determine how massive open online courses (MOOCs) will fit into our learning landscape, recently published articles and personal experiences continue to suggest.

A MOOCmate’s engaging “A Record of My #ETMOOC Experience, 2013”; a Chronicle of Higher Education article suggesting that “The MOOC ‘Revolution’ May Not Be as Disruptive as Some Had Imagined”; and my own extensive and ongoing reflections on  #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC developed and facilitated by Alec Couros and his wonderful gang of “conspirators” earlier this year) and R. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class” (a MOOC developed and delivered under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies) help us understand why MOOCs continue to provoke strongly positive as well as intensely negative reactions among those drawn to the topic.

etmoocThrough her thoughtful and encouraging “A Record of My #ETMOOC Experience, 2013,” Canadian educator-philosopher-writer Christina Hendricks provides one of the most encouraging in-depth surveys I’ve read from a MOOC participant. The article is a great example of what a well-facilitated MOOC delivers in terms of learning that produces quantifiable results; it also draws more attention to the #etmooc community of learning that continues to thrive in Google+, on Twitter through the #etmooc hashtag, and through other online exchanges. The concrete results, from that MOOC that fostered explorations of educational technology and media, include blog pieces that are, in and of themselves, learning objects organized through a wonderful blog hub hosting more than 3,300 postings from a group of more than 500 individual contributors; videos that can be used by other learners interested in exploring educational technology and media; the thousands of tweets that provided learning resources and extended conversations among learners worldwide; and examples of tech tools used to produce learning objects by learners engaged in learning.

Hendricks concludes her “Record” with the suggestion that “[t]hat’s it for my ‘official’ participation in ETMOOC, but I am certain my connections with others will continue…”—as fine a tribute to effective and engaging learning as I can imagine reading.

Steve Kolowich, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month, offers a different view with his opening sentence: “In California, the MOOC revolution came to a halt unceremoniously.” He accurately describes how a state legislator and educators at San Jose State University backed away from the strong support they had been expressing for MOOCs just a few months earlier, and cites problems the university had with its initial MOOCs: “…a lower pass rate than the face-to-face version” of a course and “similarly underwhelming outcomes” in other MOOCs offered through the university.

Students who earned university credit will, he notes, “get to count those credits toward their degrees,” but those who opted only for certificates were left with little to show for their efforts, the chair of the university psychology department was quoted as suggesting: “You can’t take that and get a cup of coffee with it.”

That can’t-get-a-cup-of-coffee approach, for me, illustrates why reactions to MOOCs in their still-early stages of development continue to vary so widely from person to person: Those seeing them only in terms of academic credits while ignoring the positive learning experiences they can produce are justifiably unimpressed; those of us who are motivated by a desire for learning and participation in effective communities of learning find ourselves amply rewarded by and enthusiastic about what we experience—particularly in the connectivist MOOCs that can foster high levels of long-term engagement.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_LogoParticipation in the “New Librarianship Master Class” MOOC is offering a view from a position somewhere in the middle of the to-MOOC-or-not-to-MOOC debate. Far less connectivist in its approach, New Librarianship is centered around online pre-recorded lectures and quizzes—but that doesn’t mean that self-motivated learners didn’t find ways to push it a bit toward connectivist interactions. When many of us leapt beyond the confines of the official course bulletin boards and found ourselves engaging with the instructor and each other via Twitter, the levels of engagement began to flow as they did (and still do) through #etmooc. Tweets provided links to related material, inspired conversations through cross-postings on blogs, and even drew comments from people not formally enrolled in the master class—an amazing demonstration of how learning benefits from permeable (physical and virtual) walls. They also reminded us that those initially involved in the development of MOOCs saw these levels of connection/engagement as integral to this type of learning rather than viewing MOOCs as just another way to transfer onsite learning into an online environment.

The writers of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project  2013 Higher Education report note that “George Siemens and Stephen Downs in 2008, when they pioneered the first courses in Canada…envisioned MOOCS as ecosystems of connectivism—a pedagogy in which knowledge is not a destination but an ongoing activity, fueled by the relationships people build and the deep discussions catalyzed within the MOOC. That model emphasizes knowledge production over consumption, and new knowledge generated helped to sustain and evolve the MOOC environment…. As massively open online courses continue their high-speed trajectory in the near-term [one-year] horizon, there is a great need for reflection that includes frank discussion about what a sustainable, successful model looks like” (pp. 11-12).

Pieces like those produced by Christina Hendricks, Steve Kolowich, and many others contribute to that frank discussion; reports documenting the importance of preparing online learners for their online learning experiences point to the obvious need to support learners in whatever venue they decide to learn. All of these efforts have the potential to inspire us to continue deeply diving into the intoxicating waters of training-teaching-learning and helping us become members of dynamic communities of learning—and they make us far better learning facilitators and learning advocates capable of serving the learners who rely upon us.

N.B.: This is the twenty-third in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc and the ninth in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


Connected Learning, MOOCs, and #etmooc

February 3, 2013

Since the best MOOCs (massive open online courses) appear to be rooted in connected learning, it’s no surprise to me that my current exploration of MOOCs through participation in #etmooc—the Education Technology and Media course organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators”—is leading me (and approximately 1,400 other learners) into an engaging exploration of connected learning.

etmoocIn the course of participating in or watching the archived version of Couros’s 100-minute interactive presentation on the topic, we are not only exposed to and inspired by a variety of ideas from Couros-as-instructor but also by the reactions of participants whose comments remain visible in the typed chat that occurs as he is speaking and interacting with learners. And if we follow any of the numerous links posted in that chat, we connect our learning to other online learning opportunities ranging from TED (Technology, Education, Design) talks to articles by other educators, e.g., Dean Shareski’s piece advocating that we document and share our own learning experiences with others so that we develop a community of learning in which each learner’s experiences become part of every other learner’s experiences—much as they do through #etmooc.

Furthermore, if we expand our personal learning environment to include the recently-released Digital Media and Learning Research Hub report Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design posted on the Connected Learning Research Network site, we can’t help but walk away from this multi-media experience with a great appreciation for what MOOCs are already doing to foster first-rate learning experiences.

The Connected Learning report itself should be required reading for all trainer-teacher-learners since it offers an engaging peek at how the world of learning is evolving: “This report investigates how we can use new media to foster the growth and sustenance of environments that support connected learning in a broad-based and equitable way. This report also offers a design and reform agenda, grounded in a rich understanding of child development and learning, to promote and test connected learning theories (p. 3),” the report writers promise—and we’re not just looking at ideas applicable in academic settings; there’s plenty to digest here for anyone involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training).

As is the case with well-designed MOOCs, connected learning “seeks to build communities and collective capacities for learning and opportunity,” the report continues. It “includes the ideas that everyone can participate, learning happens by doing, challenge is constant, and everything is interconnected”—which, when you get right down to it, is at the heart of the sort of MOOC that Couros and his colleagues are facilitating through #etmooc.

Connected_LearningPart 2 of the report takes us to the heart of the possibilities connected learning offers: “The trends we are seeing in today’s new media environment present new risks, but also unprecedented opportunities in making interest-driven, engaging, and meaningful learning accessible to more young people”—and, I would add, to adult learners as well. “[C]onnected learning is defined not by particular technologies, techniques, or institutional context but by a set of values, an orientation to social change, and a philosophy of learning….In many ways, the connected learning approach is part of a longstanding tradition in progressive education and research on informal learning that has stressed the importance of civic engagement, connecting schools with the wider world, and the value of hands-on and social learning (p. 33).”

By the time we reach the end of the report, we have a clear understanding of the challenges and the rewards of adapting connected learning wherever it can be applied: “Online information and social media provide opportunities for radically expanding the entry points and pathways to learning, education, and civic engagement. Further, there is a groundswell of activity in diverse sectors that are taking to these connected learning opportunities, ranging from entrepreneurial young learners, open and online educational initiatives, technology innovations in gaming and other forms of learning media, new forms of activism, and innovative schools and libraries. The connected learning model is an effort at articulating a research and design effort that cuts across the boundaries that have traditionally separated institutions of education, popular culture, home, and community. Connected learning is a work in progress and an invitation to participate in researching, articulating, and building this movement (p. 87).”

We’re also left with 11 pages of resources that could keep us busy for months or years if we wanted to engage in further explorations of the topic. But for now, I’m left deeply appreciative for the rich variety of resources this particular part of #etmooc has provided. While working my way through this first of the five #etmooc topics we’re all exploring, I watched that archived version of Couros’s introduction to the subject; followed links from his presentation to articles in the New York Times, George Siemens’ elearnspace blog and some of his writing on connectivism, and other online resources; watched a TED (Technology, Education, Design) talk delivered by Clay Shirky on “How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World”; and viewed several graphics that added texture to what Couros was presenting.

All of which raises a very interesting question inspired by a learner’s comment in the session typed chat about how some schools are still blocking access to YouTube because it is not seen as a serious provider of educational opportunities, and also inspired by the still prevalent assertion that Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other social media platforms are little more than frivolous time-wasters: if your school, university, organization, or business is still blocking access to these resources, how long is it going to take before you realize that you are cheating your learners—and yourself? 

N.B.: This is the second in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


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