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