The Truth about MOOC MOOC

by Sean Michael Morris

The truth is there have been other MOOCs about MOOCs. Almost all the early connectivist MOOCs pioneered by folks like George Siemens and Stephen Downes were, whether explicitly or implicitly, exploring the form, the pedagogy, and the process of MOOCs. The information about MOOC-style learning those courses generated is substantial. And you'll definitely find the fruits of that work peppered throughout MOOC MOOC. Similarly, the newer MOOCs -- such as those offered by Udacity, edX, Coursera, and others -- provide new information about what is possible in MOOCs, what happens when they aim to be corporatized (and, down the line, monetized), and what students and other participants both look for and prefer in a massive open online course.

It would be easy to contend that, at this early stage in their evolution, that every MOOC is a MOOC about MOOCs -- that every MOOC is a MOOC MOOC.

At the same time, we are unaware of anyone who has done a MOOC specifically about the MOOC phenomenon. A MOOC that explores unhesitatingly -- even a bit recklessly -- the potential, pitfalls, drawbacks, and advantages of this approach to teaching and learning. MOOC MOOC aims to expose all of us to the grand experiment of MOOCs by participating in that grand experiment, albeit in a concentrated, one-week format. 

The Laboratory

While designing MOOC MOOC, we investigated a lot of other MOOCs. One problem we consistently encountered was knowing, once we landed in the course, what to do first. For that reason, we chose to set MOOC MOOC within the Canvas learning management system. Here, we were able to make as clear as possible the steps everyone can take to participate how they want to.

There are obvious problems with containing something as expansive as a MOOC within an LMS structure. Canvas is particularly good at keeping an open door to the rest of the Internet; but even so, we have devised plenty of ways for all of us to connect with one another outside of the LMS. We'll be collaborating in Google Docs, discussing our ideas on Twitter, creating movies to share on YouTube, and more. We're all encouraged to blog, post, tweet, and communicate every which way with each other all week.

The Experiment

This MOOC is an experiment. Not a "will it work?" experiment, but a "let's test an hypothesis" experiment. The hypothesis is the MOOC. The tool we're using to test it is MOOC MOOC.
Because it's an experiment, we expect a certain amount of failure. We don't set out to be proved right, necessarily, nor to be proved wrong. We set out to test, to try, to witness, and to reflect. We think it's important to risk failure by pushing the boundaries of the form, by questioning its nature and purpose, because only then can we understand its capacities, and where its potential lies. So, when something doesn't quite work the way we hope, let's take that as part of the experiment -- something to reflect on, consider, and maybe reinvent so we can try again.

The Chemistry

MOOC MOOC has prepared the chemistry set. There will be plenty to mix, stir, pour, and combine -- more, in fact, than some of us may have the stomach for. Make no mistake, there is work here: the work of discussion, collaboration, invention, de(con)struction, and reflection.

Your first decision when entering this, or any, MOOC is to decide how you want to participate. Will you throw yourself headlong into the work with us? Or are you a lurker? Either way, there's something for everyone. No matter how you participate, you'll become part of the chemistry, part of the fusion we're testing. 

One of the biggest criticisms levied against online learning in general, and MOOCs in particular, is that the act of learning feels isolated. Students find they are unable to interact with their instructors (sometimes stuck behind the fourth wall of a prerecorded video), or with each other. Threaded discussions can only go so far to create a sense of community. But we believe that community is integral to learning -- especially online -- and that it is equally possible to form virtual communities as it is to form on-ground communities.

And so MOOC MOOC is all about discovering the community -- and the bold experiment -- you've come to be a part of.

Some Additional Material to Explore

Jeff Dunn, “A Quick Guide to the History of MOOCs
George Siemens, “What is the Theory that Underpins Our MOOCs?
Bonnie Stewart, “The MOOC Is Dead, Long Live the MOOC
Jesse Stommel, “The March of the MOOCs: Monstrous Open Online Courses
Dave Cormier, “What Is a MOOC?
Dave Cormier, “How to Succeed in a MOOC


The Provocation of MOOCs

by Sean Michael Morris

MOOCs provoke. They provoke anxiety. They provoke humor. They provoke horror, apathy, bemusement. But whatever else they provoke, they provoke a response. Educators may not love them, futurists may consider them a solution, students may (and often do) get lost in them. Whether MOOCs are here to stay, or if they’re just passing through, they’ve already changed the conversation we’re having about education.

In some cases, MOOCs aren’t all that innovative for online education. Some very-large-scale courses have employed few innovative technologies, relying on threaded discussions, broadcast-style video lectures, and standard, paper textbooks which students purchase locally. Other MOOCs seek to create a bridge between human learning and the Internet, connecting people and resources virtually to compound learning, and create a slightly chaotic, exponential experience for participants. Still other MOOCs go on continually, seeming to become more a lifestyle than a course.

Regardless of their presentation, duration, or magnitude, though, MOOCs change the way we think about classrooms, students, teachers, outcomes, content, the institution of higher education, and more.

“I'm generally pretty reluctant to compare MOOCs with what went before,” says Stephen Downes, one of the innovators of connectivist MOOCs, “and I'm generally pretty reluctant to suggest how MOOCs improve on the previous model, because what we're trying to do with MOOCs is really something very different from what was attempted before. The best practices that previously existed, insofar as they were best practices at all, were best practices for doing something else.”

Within MOOCs lies not an improvement upon the classroom, nor a substitute for higher education, nor a reduction of all things pedagogical. Within the MOOC lies something yet unstirred, yet unrealized. And that potential requires different personal, pedagogical, administrative, and institutional approaches than we’ve practiced before.

What are those approaches? What potential lurks within the MOOC?

We can begin simply, with an assertion made by George Siemens and Stephen Downes, that MOOCs facilitate “knowledge production rather than knowledge consumption”, and that this automatically shifts the pedagogy from teacher to student -- or rather, participant. Those who join MOOCs -- whether they actively fill up discussion boards or whether they “lurk” in the course, contributing little, but learning a lot -- are those in whose hands the content truly lies. Like an organized conference or seminar, MOOCs begin with a premise and a structure, but outcomes can’t be entirely predetermined. We find out what we’ve learned once we’ve learned it.

This is the approach we should take when entering a MOOC... And one we should consider when engaging with the idea, form, and approach of MOOCs as a strategy. We will only discover what they are when we make them what they can be.

Some Additional Material to Explore

Marc Bousquet, “Good MOOCs, Bad MOOCs
Sean Michael Morris, “Broadcast Education: A Response to Coursera
Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel, “Udacity and Online Pedagogy: Players, Learners, Objects
Hundreds in a Google Doc, “A MOOC by Any Other Name
Maria Andersen, “Recipe for Free Range Learning
Alison Seaman, “Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy
Melonie Fullick, “Following the Herd, or joining the merry MOOCscapades of higher-ed bloggers


Institutions and Communities

by Pete Rorabaugh

“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

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?”

Schools as we know them are relatively new. Horace Mann, who sat on the first state Board of Education in the U.S., popularized and promoted the concept of public education in the mid nineteenth century. Almost 200 years later, contemporary critical pedagogues blast most models of public schooling for its complicity in institutionalized inequality. John Taylor Gatto argues in “Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Currriculum of Compulsory School”: “School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.” Gatto taught in public schools for 26 years, and, after quitting in 1991, became an advocate for radical school reform.

So what is a school? If compulsory public primary and secondary schooling is inconsistent or, in some places, broken, where can we look for effective school models? Do institutions of higher ed do it better? What about beyond the formal school? Is a Karate studio a school? What about a skate park? Do graffiti artists working together constitute a school? Is a library a school? What about a MOOC?

Open access education has been a central component of the web since way before the MOOC model arrived, as evidenced by Patrick Masson’s most recent blog post “I’ve been in this really good MOOC for the past 20 years, it [sic] called the Internet.” Masson argues that MOOCs are a fad-ish marketing tool for universities and that communities like are older, more open, and more functional educational experiences. He asks, “What specifically are the goals for MOOCs and the institutions that provide them?” The implication is that online education gets diluted when it becomes institutional. It’s too much flash and not enough pith.

xMOOCs and cMOOCs

But let’s consider the value of institutional MOOCs (xMOOCs). In a recent #digped chat on the value of video lectures nested inside MOOCs, David Stavens at Udacity linked to this:

In the video, Udacity brings some muscle to the lesson. Flying to the Netherlands and capturing footage of unicyclists juggling flaming torches might not be in the budget for The script, the multiple camera effects, and the narrator are all thrilling additions to what we might receive in a textbook or threaded discussion forum. In short, Udacity has money to spend, and, in this case, that capital translates into a more engaging lesson. Anyone can read the script of the lesson here, but that wouldn’t compare to seeing the equation walkthroughs and the quaint windmills that the videos offer.

Institutional MOOCs, like the ones from Coursera and Udacity, are predated by the connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) pioneered by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. In a Huffington Post article introducing the #Change11 MOOC, Downes remarks: “knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. Knowledge, therefore, is not acquired, as though it were a thing. It is not transmitted, as though it were some type of communication.” The connectivist MOOC model is radically uninstitutional, an intellectual adventure enabled by social networking and zero-cost digital publishing.

In “Occupy the Digital: Critical Pedagogy and New Media,” I worked to tie together the strands of critical and digital pedagogy. Digital spheres offer new opportunities to explore the work that Paulo Freire began half a century ago -- the same work students do when they tease out the value of the education that Malcolm X received on the streets of Boston and Harlem -- the same work that many of us want to see happening in authentically engaged learning landscapes, whether physical or virtual. That work -- the analysis, remixing, and socially engaged construction of personally relevant knowledge -- often happens when the institutional framework is disrupted, diverted, or left in the dust.

Yet, the institutions remain because they make a compelling case to students and faculty -- to donors, investors, and the press.

Some Additional Material to Explore

Howard Rheingold, “George Siemens on Massive Open Online Courses
Stephen Downes, “Welcome to the Change MOOC
Pete Rorabaugh, “Audrey Watters Wrestles with MOOCs
Alan Dunn, “Udacity -- The Future of Education
Jacques Berlinerblau, “Survival Strategy for Humanists: Engage, Engage
Sebastian Thrun’s interview on Tech Crunch
Frances Fukuyama, “A Conversation with Peter Thiel


Participant Pedagogy

by Jesse Stommel

Learning is a stunt. We learn best when asked (or when we ask ourselves) to do something at first unimaginable. This is exactly the reason I’ve begun to wonder whether classrooms should be made to look more like reality cooking shows. On these shows, tasks (like the “Quickfire challenge” on Top Chef) have discrete parameters, sometimes only vaguely defined. “In 20 minutes, you will make _____ using _____ without doing _____.” It’s often as simple as that. The tasks are not mapped for contestants. There are no examples, rubrics, or assessment criteria. The chefs are given a space, ingredients, and tools, but they are not given elaborate instructions. They are not told which tools to use or how to use them. After a 20-minute flurry of chopping and fire, the chefs are not evaluated objectively, nor are they scored on some predetermined scale. The judges pick the winner by taste, noting their impressions -- their subjective experience -- of the food. Meanwhile, viewers judge the contestants by the character of their flurry, the keen slice of their knife, the quips they spit as they juggle arugula and salmon meat.

One of the rules of most reality cooking shows is that the chefs are not allowed recipes. They are expected to improvise in the moment -- to follow unexpected twists w/ unexpected food. They are subjected to feats of imagination, as should students be. I recently found myself in an exchange with a student about the “formatting requirements” for an essay assignment. She was rather insistent in her demand that I reveal my expectations, whether or not the paper should be 12 pt. font, double-spaced, w/ 1” margins. My response was that I had no specific demands for the work -- that she should format her assignment in the manner that felt right to her. What’s most important, I said, is that she give careful consideration to both the form and content of her work, but that I had no pre-determined or arbitrary set of formatting requirements. My instructions were intentionally vague, providing only just enough detail to make something happen, ideally something I couldn’t plan for.

It is often a force of will for me to keep from explaining -- to keep from providing details that carve out the space for learning too distinctly. What I expect from students, more than anything, is that they take their learning into their own hands -- that they do the (often difficult) work of finding the right tools and the right recipes to meet the very loose demands of an open-ended task.

No Head of the Class

I ask my students to be participants in, and not subjects of, their own learning. In Chapter 3 of Net Smart, “Participation Power,” Howard Rheingold writes, “In the world of digitally networked publics, online participation -- if you know how to do it -- can translate into real power. Participation, however, is a kind of power that only works if you share it with others” (112). Digital space allows for (and even demands) a new level, and a new kind, of participation. There is no “head of the class” in an online learning environment, not even the illusion of one. Students must, instead, construct their own strategies, without a recipe, in the moment. And they should even be called upon to help map the terrain in which that can happen.

Teo Bishop asks, in “A Letter From a Hybrid Student,” “What is the place for a student in a discussion about learning in the digital landscape?” Put simply, pedagogy is the domain, first and foremost of students. Teaching is not an act with any intrinsic value. It’s only useful insofar as it works to facilitate -- to build a space for -- learning. However, student-centered does not mean teacher-absent. The notion of participant pedagogy does not undermine or eliminate, but rather clarifies, the role of the teacher, which is to model -- to embolden other learners to experiment more (and more wildly). The other role of the teacher is to provide a safe space for the activity of the class -- a safe space for the risks students are asked to take.

The phrase “active learning” has become a cliche’, because all learning is necessarily active. It simply isn’t “learning” if it’s not. The term “participant pedagogy” suggests something more than just active learning. It suggests learning that is both active and also reflective, both lively and also voracious. Howard Rheingold calls this “deliberate participation” (145). Critical pedagogy asks teachers (and institutions) to examine their own practices, but it also asks students to examine those practices and to mold them to fit the specific needs of their specific situation. Learning demands both intentionality and play. Likewise, the contestants that come out on top in reality cooking shows are the ones that don’t merely follow directions but carefully and creatively reimagine them.

Some Additional Material to Explore

Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel, “Participant Pedagogy: a #digped Discussion” and the storify of the ensuing #digped chat
Howard Rheingold, “Toward Peeragogy
Pete Rorabaugh and Jesse Stommel, "Experiments in Mass Collaboration"
A video account of one of the classes described in the above article
Anya Kamenetz, “The Edupunk’s Guide to a DIY Credential
Stephen Downes’s review of Kamenetz’s guide


Learning Outcomes and Assessment

by Petra Dierkes-Thrun and Robin Wharton

As Cathy Davidson argues in Now You See It, our current assessment methods are conditioned by the needs and values of the industrial revolution (Ch. 4, “How We Measure”). Teachers grade students in the way the USDA grades beef. We are expected to sort students into categories so prospective employers, graduate institutions, their parents, and even the students themselves can see how “well” they did in our classes. The grading model presumes the audience for the grades we assign are consumers of, not agents or participants in, the learning process. It also assumes the teacher is still the sole arbiter of wisdom and judgment when it comes to assessment.

Yet why does the system automatically assume that we, the teachers, are in a better position than our students or even a broader public to evaluate the results of their learning process? If actors beyond the classroom are interested in the outcomes of our classes, then why don’t they participate in helping students comprehend and meet those outcomes? Shouldn’t taking responsibility for one’s learning necessarily imply acquiring the ability to assess it? And shouldn’t students feel a sense of accountability for their own work that goes beyond “pleasing the teacher” and shows their awareness of a larger public arena of readers and thinkers on the internet who can see their work?

Assessment is an essential part of pedagogy. We need to assess our students in order to understand where they are in their learning process, so that we can best figure how to meet their needs as learners. We also need to provide them with feedback and with opportunities to give and receive peer feedback in order to help them understand how assessment works, model the process for them, and give them space to practice it. We question, though, whether we need to continue “grading” in the traditional sense -- that is sorting students into categories for audiences beyond the classroom.

We need to reconsider our assessment tools and processes, not abandoning the vital work of assessment but updating it to meet 21st century educational goals and challenges. Our assessment methods should also take advantage of 21st century learning technology. The advent of the MOOC changes the way we consider assessment, its purposes and applications.

Reinventing Assessment

We need to invent new, creative, challenging forms of assessment that address not only individual but also group- and project-based learning. For example, given the recent experiments with rubrics training and peer grading in humanities MOOCs, it is already becoming clear that the traditional essay format doesn’t work well. This is not just because one professional teacher, a teaching team, or a handful of peer graders won’t be able to give expert individual feedback or grade large numbers of essays in a short time.

Problematically, some of the current peer grading experiments want to train peers to grade just like the teacher would, effectively assuming that producing teacher clones should actually be the goal of peer review. As a recent New York Times article stated, in this model “students first hav[e] to show that they can match a professor’s grading of an assignment, and then grade the work of five classmates, in return for which their work is graded by five fellow students”. But “what would happen to a student who cannot match the professor’s grading has not been determined.”

Even more important than critiquing the pedagogical shortsightedness of this particular model, however, is thinking about the traditional essay format itself in the MOOC context: it may actually not be the best tool to use in humanities MOOCs, since it does not fully capture the multi-faceted, multi-pronged, versatile nature of online learning. It is typically a teaching and assessment tool geared at individual, in-depth writing and research skills and does not measure or encourage collaborative, spread-out, project-based writing. We need a larger toolbox for assessment methods and critical thinking in MOOCs that more adequately meet the demands of the digital age.

Personalization matters: giving students choices (but not letting them drown in them); making sure they get feedback on individual as well as on group and project performance; making them feel supported and heard on multiple levels -- not only the teacher, but other students and occasionally, the larger public outside the MOOC, which may become the addressee or the prompter of individual or class writings and research projects.

We need to take the challenges MOOCs present as a chance to radically question, debate, and enlarge accepted pedagogical best practices. Many things we already know about good higher ed pedagogy -- we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We can draw upon sound portfolio- and studio-based pedagogy when thinking about how to give students more agency in learning environments and designing new assessment tools. Service learning pedagogy can teach us how to involve the public beyond the classroom in productive, pedagogically sound ways. Writing and composition pedagogy provides literally decades of experience from which we can learn as we design peer-to-peer assessment methods. And there are amazing new ways to use the new technology to teach close reading of literary and other cultural texts (such as films, images, objects) online.

The Wide Open Classroom

We should welcome, explore, and exploit the power of large numbers and diverse backgrounds in open discussion. Forum conversations, social media networks, blogs, and other forms of participatory media demonstrate how interactive debate thrives and amazes with the sheer variety and diversity of participants’ interests, questions, expertise. When the physical classroom is thrown open to the world, it makes itself vulnerable to some chaos, but it also explodes with creativity and new thinking from which all participants can ultimately profit. This is a huge strength, not a threat to traditional humanities learning, which values and encourages different viewpoints and the honing of rhetorical and argumentation skills (the power of words and imagery to persuade and prompt empathy in another). At the same time, we may need to think up new ways to keep discussions productive, not to control but to creatively mine chaos.

Giving due attention to the scholarship of teaching and learning can help us to meet those challenges common to traditional classrooms and MOOCs alike. It can also help us to appreciate those attributes truly unique to the MOOC environment. For instance, MOOCs present us with the dazzling diversity and uncertainty of students’ knowledge levels, personal backgrounds, purposes, and motivations for taking the course. They also pose new, but nevertheless mundane technological challenges to the traditional teacher who has to rethink “business as usual” when preparing class. And they showcase students’ often amazing ability and motivation to get involved and help each other (for instance in debating and answering peers’ questions before the teacher or TA gets a chance to weigh in). In this, they unwittingly practice another old pedagogical truism: that one only truly knows well what one has taught another.

Some Additional Material to Explore

Steve Kolowich, “Without Credit
Steve Krause, “MOOCs and Prior Learning Assessment
Cathy Davidson, “How to Crowdsource Grading
Sir Ken Robinson, “Changing Education Paradigms” (RSA Animate video)
Dave Cormier, “Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum


Inventing Learning

by Sean Michael Morris

“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

“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.

So much of learning is a creative, inventive act. When we take ourselves out of what Melanie Booth calls the “delivery / teaching / pour my knowledge out of my full head into their empty heads paradigm of education”, we discover that learning happens of its own accord, outside the parameters of our lesson plans, assessment tools, and expected outcomes. Often, what students learn in a class is less what we taught them, and more what they taught themselves, or what we didn’t teach them. For this reason, we must approach teaching and learning as an activity that takes place just this side of chaos, just this side of unpredictability.

I like to imagine that MOOCs are a creative act, almost a sort of composition in and of themselves. They’re a composition that begins with one person or a team of people who design the course; but no MOOC is truly finished until the participants have had their say. To be creative in course design is to be both author and audience. We are the author of the themes and ideas behind the course, and the audience to how students / participants interpret, mold, revise -- and what they fashion from -- those themes and ideas. This is true in a classroom. This is true in a MOOC.

Perhaps what frightens us most about MOOCs is the loss of control. In the new model of online pedagogy, the classroom has exploded; or rather, theories of classroom practice, in the absence of a brick-and-mortar classroom, have fissioned, detonating a havoc of new approaches. Hybrid pedagogy, open source content, and of course MOOCs have some some of us thrilled and some facing an existential crisis.Stephen Carson and Jan Phillipp Schmidt note, in their article “The Massive Open Online Professor”:

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.

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”.

In the MOOC model, learning happens within the array. It is the result of the chemical reaction between materials, a multitude of online resources and delivery systems, the instructor’s subject matter expertise, and participant interaction. So, when we undertake a MOOC, we have choices before us. We can provide loads of content to “pour … into their empty heads”, we can have well-tailored discussions with specific parameters, or we can allow participants to create their own content as the course goes along, discussing with one another wildly and in many forums, depending entirely upon the participants’ needs, desires, and imaginations.

Teachers and pedagogues can no longer expect to affect learning all on their own. Instead, we need to open the conversation of pedagogy to our students and to the larger extra-institutional community of learners, to step away from the podium and let someone else have the mic for a minute. Or, better yet, pass the mic around. We are learners again, as well as leaders; experts, as well as students.

And we must invent learning, invent teaching -- invent MOOCs -- as we do them.

Some Additional Material to Explore

Jesse Stommel, “Online Learning: a Manifesto
Chris Friend, “Guiding Principles
Mike Caulfield, “The mixably Open Online Course (mOOC)
Teresa Chahine, “Pushing MOOCs the Last Mile
Audrey Watters, “The Language of MOOCs


Reflection as Learning and Teaching

by Sean Michael Morris

“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”

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.

Critical reflection is not meditation, rather it is mediation -- an active, conversive, dialectical exercise that requires as much intellectual work as does every other aspect of the learning process, from analysis to synthesis to evaluation. But in reflection, all the learned material can be gathered about, sorted and resorted, and searched through for greater understanding and inspiration. The result of critical reflection is not the same as other steps in learning, though, because it’s like the unwrapped package: we’ve spent our time undoing the tape and ribbon, ungluing the cardboard, and clearing out the foam peanuts, and now we have the item -- the gift -- which calls us into further play.

But critical reflection doesn’t just offer us a new toy to play with, it provides us with a tool we must use. We have an ethical responsibility as educators, as students, as people involved in the educative endeavor, to reflect. In Pedagogy of Freedom, Paulo Freire tells us that “In the process of the ongoing education of teachers, the essential moment is that of critical reflection on one's practice.” This is true because we must reflect upon our process, our learning, our practice, in order to push them forward. Teaching must be a learning process as much as learning is a teaching process.

The relationship between MOOCs and this reflective step in learning is untidy. Depending upon the MOOC, learning may be positioned as more instructional than dialectical. Many MOOCs simply draw to a close with a final exam or writing project, leaving students much the way a movie leaves its audience: with a resolution that is not their own, but which belongs instead to the script. Other MOOCs so strongly encourage community connections, locating learning as a process that happens when two or more points converge, that intrapersonal connections -- those most often made through reflection -- are underplayed and possibly undervalued.

But if MOOCs are to be true learning experiences, reflection must be woven into their strange method. We must be allowed to join in the process “by which experience is converted into thought, as the mulberry leaf is converted into satin,” as Emerson says. Only through reflection will we understand the nature of what we’ve unwrapped, its potential, and its instructions for use.


What is MOOCification?

by Sean Michael Morris

The MOOC is dead. It is a death that was predicted, inevitable, and one that will linger for some time, the odor of its putrefaction filling our hallowed halls. What is more interesting about the MOOC’s death than its inevitability, though, is that the MOOC was always a corpse to begin with. This is a fact we contend with as culture begins the autopsy of this educational phenomenon.

In the early days of the MOOC onslaught, Jesse Stommel whispered under the din that “MOOCs are a red herring.” And only a short time later, he and I called attention to the fact that the MOOC is not a thing. We said that,

“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.”

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.

The idea that MOOCs were something other than what they appeared to be first surfaced in our experimental, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, mini- micro- meta-MOOC about MOOCs endearingly titled “MOOC MOOC”. That week-long course -- offered first in August 2012 and again in January 2013 -- began with the premise that we did not know what a MOOC was or could be, but that it was worth exploring. Behind that premise was a sense that the MOOC-as-strategy did indeed have something to offer our pedagogies. We didn’t know what, and we let the 1,000 or so participants in MOOC MOOC figure it out.

Among those first participants were Janine DeBaise and Chris Friend, our collaborators on this 24-hour MOOC. Neither of them was interested in running a MOOC of their own once MOOC MOOC was over, but they found that the tools, techniques, approaches, and innovations that MOOC MOOC made possible could -- and should -- have a place in their on-ground courses. Essentially, they chose to MOOCify the courses they offered.

But what exactly do we mean by “MOOCify”? In large part, that’s what you’re here to discover, through invention. But for the time being, here’s a handy working definition of MOOCification:

MOOCification: to harness (in an instant) the power of a nodal network for learning. Rather than creating a course to structure a network, MOOCification relies on nodes to power a learning activity (or assignment). MOOCification also refers to a pedagogical approach inspired by MOOCs that is unleashed in an otherwise closed or small-format course.

The point of this 24-hour MOOC is not to learn to make a better MOOC, it is to learn to make better learning by using the lessons MOOCs have to teach us.

And what are some of those lessons? For one, a new learner has been unearthed: a learner who is more autonomous, who is less interested in the credential a course provides and more interested in the learning experience, and who is willing to take her education into her own hands. As Cindy Selfe, et al., discovered in Ohio State University’s Writing II: Rhetorical Composing MOOC,

“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.”

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.

And that’s another treasure the MOOC invasion has uncovered: networked, nodal learning. Or, as we knew of it before MOOCs came on the scene, social learning. People do not just learn better in groups, they learn more. Learning is magnified through the connections that people make, that they’re allowed or encouraged to make, and that are fostered by pedagogies with an eye toward interactive, student-centered work. MOOCs made this connectivity apparent through the use of social media, and in doing so, they pointed out an ingredient that had been missing or overlooked in many a pedagogical approach.

The MOOC has created debates about the ownership of ideas, the sharing of resources, the role of the teacher and learner, the notions of authorship and collaboration, the sticky mess of FERPA, and much more. When they haven’t been busy trembling or raising their fists at MOOCs, academics and pedagogues have been intrigued by issues and themes that were underlying education all along, but that the MOOC laid bare. In these ideas, notions, messes, and themes lie new pedagogies waiting to wake up. In them lie the potential to change the way we teach to better match what is really going on in learners’ lives and in our hybrid culture.

MOOCification, then, is many things, can take many forms. And it’s up to you and everyone else in this course today to figure out just what it can mean.

Some Additional Material to Explore

Al Filreis, Cathy N. Davidson, Ray Schroeder, and Ian Bogost, “MOOCs and the Future of the Humanities: a Roundtable (Part 1)
MOOCON 24 - a 24-hour MOOC conference organized by students of Social Media class in Kelowna B.C. Canada
Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel, “Digital Pedagogy and MOOCification
Robert Maxwell, “Learning Objects and MOOCification
John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas, “Learning in the Collective


Why MOOCify?

by Janine DeBaise

When I tried to think of a good model for the MOOCification of my writing/research course, the image that came to mind was the weekly Open Mic night I used to attend when I first began writing poetry. Knowing that every Thursday night I’d have to bring a poem I’d written and read it to the crowd at the coffeehouse gave me a deadline for writing new work, forced me to present my work to an audience, and gave me immediate feedback. Those weekly Open Mic events allowed me to experiment with my writing and see the audience’s reaction in a low-stakes situation.

That’s the model I used for the course I MOOCified last semester. Students in small groups chose research topics and, during the last five weeks of the course, were asked to present an element of their research every Wednesday through a link on twitter.

Here are some of the benefits I saw:
  • My students’ work received immediate feedback from the public. Since much of what my students presented was scientific research on environmental issues, the feedback gave them good insight into what it’s like to educate the public about environmental issues. If my students had presented their projects to the class, like we’ve done in semesters past, their work would have been seen by twenty students and the teacher. Instead, their work was seen by hundreds of people on the internet.
  • MOOCification helped my students learn how to be nimble writers. Every time they chose an element to try, they needed to adapt their writing to that format, always keeping in mind their audience and their purpose. Being a nimble writer who adapts to ever-changing situations is an important skill for students in this century.
  • Students chose topics they were passionate about — from the evils of pet stores to the importance of healthy fisheries — and the chance to present their research publicly via the internet motivated them to work hard on their projects and engage in our conversations.
  • Through twitter and facebook, we tapped into a network of alumni who participated in our twitter chats and other student projects. Students in my classroom connected with former students who are out in the world, doing work in the fields that my students study. For example, when my students held a twitter chat about animal shelters and pet stores, a veterinarian jumped into the discussion. In addition, MOOCification enabled my students to collaborate and interact with students in places as far away as Georgia and Taiwan. My students got a taste of how they can participate in a global community.
  • MOOCification meant that all kinds of people -- from retired folks like my Dad or homeschooled teenagers like my nephew -- could benefit from the research my students did and add their own perspectives. Anyone with access to a computer can be part of a MOOCified course.

And of course, I was a participant in this MOOCified course. I learned all kinds of interesting and important concepts through the projects that my students shared, and through our experimention, I was forced to learn how to better use social media and to navigate applications like iMovie.

MOOCification added chaos to a course I’ve taught for over twenty years. It forced me to re-think how and what I was teaching. It empowered my students. It forced us to explore what we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. We were forced to engage with a community beyond the classroom and take their feedback seriously. MOOCification disrupted classroom dynamics, shook us out of ruts, and challenged us to experiment. At the end of the semester, my students kept saying things like, “Next year, show our projects to your students and they can take this even further.”

Some Additional Material to Explore

Dominik Lukeš, “How to MOOCify Your Course and Why You Should Do It
Janine DeBaise, “Learn Like an Arachnid: Why I’m MOOCifying
Howard Rheingold, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online
Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom


How to MOOCify

by Chris Friend

In Sean’s section of this course, he writes that Janine and I thought “the tools, techniques, approaches, and innovations that MOOC MOOC made possible could -- and should -- have a place in [our] on-ground courses.” After participating in the original MOOC MOOC and playing around with various ways thousands of people could work together on a single course, I was intrigued. Something about the distance and diversity added a richness to the conversation and camaraderie. As I reflected on what made the experience so distinctive, a few elements of MOOC course design stood out: collaboration, assessment, access, and distance. At first glance, these traits are monstrous. But when we bring them into our classrooms, they become wondrous because they are unexpected.

To get us talking today about how to MOOCify our on-ground courses, I’d like to look at each of these elements in turn. You'll see below that I failed in my MOOCification experiment. I hope to cast a critical gaze on what in this process can easily become problematic. Jon Beasley-Murray, in a Posthegemony blog post about
MOOCs in the Humanities, argues against “the shallow, decontextualized, and unthinking way” MOOCs have been discussed and adopted. MOOCification must be done deliberately. Let’s deliberate.


On the first day of the original MOOC MOOC, I, a Floridian, shared a conversation with a classmate from New Zealand. We thought most of the active participants in that course were college professors who were talking about how to use MOOCs in relation to their research, and because neither of us had PhDs or active research agendas, we felt a little out of place. But rather than making us feel isolated, that distinction helped us establish the first of many lasting, productive human connections I made in that course—connections that would quickly become the most beneficial and memorable aspect of the work we did that week.

These connections are one of the greatest strengths of the MOOC model: an open classroom allows students to connect with people and other resources that are unavailable in a traditional course in ways that are commonplace in modern life. Using familiar online tools to connect with outside resources means students are exploring and learning from the world, rather than a textbook. Looking outside the classroom helps real learning happen. The MOOC approach uses distance as an enhancement, encouraging both students and instructors to look outside their local environments to find inspiration, insight, content, and connections. Make sure you check out
Janine’s section of this course for more ideas about opening the classroom up to the outside world. Her experiment showcases how MOOC principles can connect on-ground classes with distant resources and allow students to reach a wide, authentic audience with their work.


This past spring semester, I tried a MOOCification experiment. Instead of focusing on the connective aspect of MOOCs, I focused on the assessment practices made necessary by the massive, open format: participants (being the largest available source of readers) assess one another and become a massive team of feedback providers. Thanks to a crazy travel schedule that kept me away from the classroom far too often, I decided to rely on students to assess their peers’ successful completion of assignments. In effect, I tried to outsource my grading. At least, that was the plan: Students would ensure everyone did work that was up to a passing standard. I would help them improve from there. That was the plan.

The plan failed.

My attempt to implement MOOC strategies showed me very vividly how poorly I prepared my students for effective peer review. In the past, I provided
detailed feedback on submitted drafts of each assignment. Left to their own devices, my students struggled to find appropriately high standards to hold themselves to, and they often lacked the vocabulary to say how a document could be improved or the sense of authority to claim that something should be changed.

By MOOCifying, I exposed the deficiency in my approach: I need to do a much better job teaching peer review. My students had too few tools at their disposal to be helpful, critical reviewers of one another’s work while they, too, were trying to negotiate assignments. Before I tried using the MOOC approach to feedback, I hadn’t seen so clearly where my students struggled. MOOCifying my course laid bare the assumptions I made about my students’ abilities. Not only will I re-evaluate my assessment practices, but I will also change how I teach to better prepare my students for effective peer review.

The Tools

We’ve come this far discussing how to MOOCify a course without a discussion of specific technologies or tools to include in a classroom. The omission was intentional: MOOCification is a pedagogical transformation, not a technological addition. Rather than think about what new application or website has more whiz-bang effect, we need to consider how our approaches to teaching can better adapt to a connected, collaborative world. In today’s MOOCathon, we’ve tried to use the LMS as the starting point, rather than as an encapsulation of the experience. We want you to explore the issues with a larger audience through Twitter conversations and other collaborations. What role, then, should an LMS play in a MOOCified course? How can we best balance the LMS, our in-class meetings, and any outside tools we employ through our projects? What questions should we ask ourselves about the technological tools we might use when we MOOCify?

Overall, what mindset or questions guide us as we MOOCify our courses? What is our goal, and what can we gain? Despite views on MOOCs casting them anywhere from redemptive to damnable, they make us question, if not outright change, our pedagogies. What questions do you ask thanks to MOOCification?

Some Additional Material to Explore

Dominik Lukeš, “Tools of Mass MOOCification
Chris Friend, “
Everting the Classroom” or “Breaking the University
Pete Rorabaugh, “
Hack the LMS
Sean Michael Morris, “
Beyond the LMS
Steve Kolowich, “
MOOC Students Who Got Offline Help Scored Higher, Study Finds


MOOC While You Sleep

by Jesse Stommel

Online learning requires a meticulous attention to the container and the permeability of that container. We need to recognize that the best learning happens not inside courses but between them. Every course must outgrow its container. Digital pedagogues learn best by forgetting -- through continuous encounters with what is novel, tentative, unmastered, and unresolved. It’s especially important that we open our discussions of the future of education to students, who should both participate in and help to build their own learning spaces.

These are words I have spewed upon the internet over the last year, as I struggled to grapple with rapid changes in thinking about education and online learning. It began with this, the last sentence of the first paragraph I wrote publicly about MOOCs back in July 2012: “A MOOC isn’t a thing at all, just a methodological approach, with no inherent value except insofar as it’s used.” In this article, which marked the birth of the MOOC MOOC monster, I argued that MOOCs were monstrous, potentially gangrenous, but also trainable.

MOOCs and open education, even prior to the now infamous year of the MOOC, have always asked questions of me, demanding I think about teaching beyond the bodies perambulating in and out of my face-to-face classrooms. My work as a teacher does not begin and end at that threshold. Almost every course I've taught since 2001 has lived to some degree openly on the web. No matter if this sounds overly-abstract or sentimental, I must say that teaching has always been, for me, deeply ethical work. It is something I find myself doing whether I’m being paid for it or not. It is something I promise to my students even after our classes are done. It is something I do not just for the paying students at the institutions where I work. Teaching is something I do in the middle of the night when I wake up sleepless.

Over the last year, I’ve watched education rise and I’ve watched it fall. I’ve made things go, and I’ve watched them sputter listlessly to a halt. I’ve learned as much from education’s successes as I have from its failures, both of which have been grander than usual for me this year. The MOOC, in particular, has made for many a sleepless night, demanding I lay my pedagogies bare and reexamine the lot of them.

I’m an insomniac. I wear a wrist-band that monitors my sleep, and it reports hours of sleep per night for the week so far: 6h 47m, 2h 42m, and 4h 57m. I’ve had chronic insomnia my entire life. When I was younger, I thought it normal that my personality was subject daily to the pitch and throw of my head upon a mattress the night before. In college, I missed many days of school for lack of sleep. I’ve developed coping strategies, taken various medications, and I’ve mostly conquered this beast, though not entirely, as this week’s data reports.

A 2012 study, published in Nature Neuroscience, found that humans learn while they’re sleeping. And it isn’t just that sleep reinforces learning, forming neural pathways and helping move information from short-term to long-term memory, but that we can actually retain information from new stimuli experienced during sleep.

And so if learning is my business, then being concerned for the sleep of my students and fellow teachers is germane to my work. I don’t want to make better MOOCs. That is not my goal. The question I want to ask here is: how can we create learning experiences that persist beyond our ability to make them go? What kind of ethical learning experiences can we create that persist beyond the bounds of the course -- and beyond the bounds of the institution that offers the course? Can we create discussions that spread beyond our ability to facilitate them? What pedagogical techniques can we use as teachers (and as learners) to make more space for our own sleep? What work is worth losing sleep over?

Some Proposed Tenets

The teacher’s voice is not the fulcrum upon which the discussion tilts. Even as we build and guard space for discussion, we must think carefully about when and how we step back. If my goal is to foster a persistent community of learners, it is important that I not make that community reliant upon me. It is important that when I think about “peers,” I number myself among them -- with all the accompanying possibilities and responsibilities.

The teacher must be willing to “abdicate authority,” which means actively (and visibly) stepping off the stage. This does not look like absence but a reimagined sense of presence. It also does not mean that we should diminish our own expertise. Rather, the development of new expertise (not championing of existing expertise) becomes the focus. We must also interrogate the nature of authority, recognizing that abdicating authority is itself an act of authority.

We should build learning experiences that make our courses permeable, asking students and ourselves to do work both in the classroom and also in the world. A course should live outside the institution in which it’s housed, beyond the semester during which its taught, and even off the continent where it’s born. Creating conversations that bridge continents and time zones has been something I’ve found well-worth losing sleep over.

We need to create flexible learning experiences with multiple points of entry. This means recognizing that every learner is different, has different skills and background, and that rubrics and outcomes are only maps and not destinations.

Sometimes less is more. Can I say just enough to inspire a dialogue but not so much that I shut it down? Can I build a platform just big enough for something to emerge safely upon it? Can I design an assignment with just enough guidelines to inspire something truly generative? Can I model the first motion in a series of motions and trust learners to fumble their way through the rest?

Some Additional Material to Explore

Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel, “Pedagogies of Scale
George Siemens, “The Complexification of Education
Cathy N. Davidson, “Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century
Cathy N. Davidson, “On Shifting Attention
Steven Johnson, “Where Good Ideas Come From