I cut my teeth in the classroom teaching The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In both high school and university classrooms, the conflict between Malcolm’s formal and informal learning experiences always becomes a central topic of discussion. Malcolm adapts to new environments constantly throughout his young adulthood, choosing new clothing, practicing new speech, acquiring new skills, and carefully studying the power structures around him. Throughout the text, I ask students: “Is this learning? and if so, how is it different from the learning that happens in school?”
“What we’re experimenting with is the dissolution of the boundaries that an institution controls that permit or inhibit learner interaction and to have that exclusively under the control of the learner.” ~ George Siemens
“Writers,” I used to tell my creative writing and composition students to “invent writing as they do it.” No one taught Shakespeare. No one taught Milton. No one taught Shelley. No one taught Woolf. Sure, they may have received solid educations for their time; but no one taught them to do what they became known for doing.
“A class is a process, an independent organism with its own goals and dynamics. It is always something more than even the most imaginative lesson plan can predict.” ~ Thomas P. Kasulis
The role of the teacher has changed, or is changing, or could-maybe-might-be changing, depending on your perspective and your attachment to traditional teacher-student models. Where we teach affects how we teach; the technology available to us in our classrooms or on the Web alters our approach to instruction. Staying calm in the face of this mushroom cloud of new technologies and new approaches takes effort. But one thing is clear: as teachers, we have a job to do. All these new resources, all these new avenues for delivering instruction demand decision making on our part. It is up to us to make our classrooms more open, more engaging, more shared. Our students are no longer students, they are participants. And we are no longer teachers, we are “chief learners”.
These are exciting times for educators, but it remains to be seen how these developments will change the structure of education, influence the purpose of institutions, and shape the role of the professor. These developments may feel threatening, but they also offer exciting opportunities to reach a much larger and broader audience with our lectures, to spend more time advising and mentoring students, and to improve the overall learning experience for all.
Critical reflection is an important part of any learning process. Jack Mezirow states that “Critical reflection involves a critique of the presuppositions on which our beliefs have been built. Learning may be defined as ‘the process of making a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of an experience, which guides subsequent understanding, appreciation and action’.” To reflect is to enter a space of co-incidence, where the beginning of the learning process, and its end, meet to consult about the result of that process. Without reflection, learning becomes only an activity -- like viewing a reality TV show -- which was never meant to have meaning, but was only meant to occupy time.
“In self-trust all the virtues are comprehended. Free should the scholar be,--free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom … Brave; for fear is a thing which a scholar by his very function puts behind him.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”
When I say that the MOOC is dead, what I mean is not that nodal online learning will cease. There are many very successful MOOCs out there that will likely run again and again, providing opportunities for participants to connect with one another, with a community of ideas, and with the vast resources of the Internet. However, the furor around MOOCs during the last year has centered almost exclusively on the MOOC-as-college-course, the MOOC-as-threat to higher education, the MOOC-as-disruptor, instigator, interloper, monster. That is the MOOC that has died; that is the MOOC that never was alive. It was a MOOC that was a concept only, not an artifact, not an experience, not a thing. That MOOC was the MOOC of our worst nightmares, and the object of our projections. The MOOC that higher education has belittled, fought against, and denied is one that never existed, except in the wild imaginations of tenured professors and Frankenstein pedagogues. And so, while that MOOC was decidedly always already dead, it did manage to give birth to some very interesting, very important offspring.
“Try as they might, MOOC-makers like Coursera, EdX, and Udacity cannot keep their MOOCs to themselves, because when we join a MOOC, it is not to learn new content, new skills, new knowledge, it is to learn new learning. Entering a MOOC is entering Wonderland -- where modes of learning are turned sideways and on their heads -- and we walk away MOOCified.”
This is not every learner, but it is a learner who has been largely untapped by an academic system that relies on a different kind of commitment to the authority of the teacher and the completion of a course or course of study. This new student (who is not actually new, but who has always been around in the form of the lifelong learner) is part of a whole networked learning culture that has been educating itself for some time.
“All of these people share a desire to learn, not for credit (the course offers none), not for a conventional grade (there are none assigned), and not because they paid tuition (they didn't), but simply because they want to write, share their writing, and improve their talents as writers.”