Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

The “learner’s why” vs the “teacher’s why”

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

It suddenly struck me that we’ve been focusing a whole lot on the teacher’s “why” during #ccourses, and by doing that, we might be losing focus of the learner’s “why” (except that for many of us, our “why” is about supporting students reach their own goals, right?). I recently realized that the “why” of the #ccourses facilitators (wonderful people as they are) is likely not only different for each one of them, but also different from the “why” of each of the learners, right? That’s to be expected. It’s the same in a real classroom, except that in real classrooms, there are all sorts of external constraints and learners (as well as teachers) sometimes need to “comply” with some other person’s means of assessing their learning. But in a MOOC (x or c, really), the decision of whether someone has learned lies, well, within the learner. At least, it should.

This got me to thinking what the “why” of #ccourses facilitators was. Some have shared their “why” for teaching in their f2f/paid context, but I don’t think I’ve heard enough about their individual (not collective) “why” as facilitators of #ccourses. It might be there in the video of Mike Wesch or Jim Groom that I haven’t watched. Or that I watched without focusing. I hate watching too much video, usually end up multitasking and not really watching (this is funny because i LOVE audiobooks and podcasts, so I’m not sure why video gets on my nerves; possibly coz it takes a while to load when my bandwidth gets choppy which is often these days), so I may never get around to watching it – but if it’s there somewhere, please let me know where and I’ll look for it 🙂

“Why” am I asking this question? Because there are a few thoughts that have crossed my mind as I’ve been interacting and getting close to new groups of people, and getting to know more closely some others I’ve known from before… and I was going to write a post about how to make a cMOOC or such type of course more “equitable” or more “accessible” to diverse people… and then I stopped myself and thought, “what if that’s not the aim of the #ccourses facilitators?” (it might be, I don’t know, but I mean it does not necessarily have to be). And also, I realized that I was not the only one who was a little uncomfortable with the course-i-ness of the course. That it seemed quite structured and with lots of instructor-centered stuff… leaving an impression of a “formal” course (beyond the pre-course part), even though I’m pretty sure it was not intended that way; but here’s what I’m thinking…

If I were to design a connected course (and that’s sort of what we’re supposed to think about during #ccourses, right?) how would I make it as flexible for learners’ individual needs as possible? (with the caveat that you can never please everybody, but that diversity is desirable and equity is important)

People need different degrees of structure
Provide some structure for people who need it; make sure others know they have permission to work outside any structure and pursue their own path (Terry Elliott and Mike Caufield are writing interesting blog posts about structure these days – and I’m really happy of my role in “connecting” them to each others’ simultaneous writing on the subject; that’s connected learning).

Respecting diversity with course materials & activities
This means providing shorter and less academic as well as longer and more academic readings. It also means allowing for non-verbal, non-academic, or non-native speakers’ engagement via video and audio options (although these are difficult for people with poor bandwidth) – not only in course materials, but also in activities. This also means allowing learners to pursue different activities and readings and still feel they’ve engaged (e.g. #octel had these clearly laid out as separate things so people could choose); #clmooc did a great job of combining low-investment visual/textual combinations of activities that people could pursue alone or in groups (I consider #ds106 as exemplary of this, even though I only look in occasionally; I heard Phonar did a good job of this, but never had a chance to look in). It meant that I could almost participate every week even though some weeks I did so alone, with little time, and other times I spent the whole week engaging. I love how low-investment, high engagement the #whyIteach activity has been in #ccourses. It made me feel engaged and connected SO MUCH MORE than listening to the hangouts (can’t focus, have a time delay, so twitter stream is in advance of the actual audio!). I can imagine, though, for other MOOCs, that I may not want to participate at all except for the hangout part 🙂

It’s really important, I think, that if you’re going to provide lots of options:
a. That learners are absolutely CLEAR they don’t have to do all of this; and
b. That reading through the options is not itself a huge time investment; and
c. That skimming through the details of the options is not a huge time investment (e.g. if all the readings are full-length books, how do I choose which one? Need annotation and shorter options; if all the videos are hour-long, how do I choose which one to watch? Need some guidance)

Respecting diversity in comfort with openness/publicness
I totally understand some people’s preference for everything they do to be in the open, at least with open, connected courses. But I also respect the need sometimes for smaller, more private spaces, where some people will be more comfortable participating than in the wide open public. I don’t see much of a contradiction here. We can all have twitter and blogs to interact in the open; it’s totally acceptable for me that some people prefer a private g+ or facebook group – not only for privacy (as in not letting just anyone read) but also for community (smaller numbers of people engaging more frequently helps make things more manageable – I know that was the case for me via rhizo14’s facebook group – even though it was actually an open group and all my facebook friends were able to “look in” so it wasn’t really private). Laura Ritchie on Twitter y/day talked about providing a “home for everyone” – so that each person can choose who and where to engage.

Creating low-noise spaces/literacies?
I need to think about this one a lot more. I don’t want talk of the need to provide low-noise spaces to silence really hyper-participatory people like me; but I also don’t want the noisiness of ppl like me to be a barrier to other people’s participation. In a real-world physical classroom, I’d have to ask some people to talk less so others have space to speak. Online, the space is nearly infinite (but if you have a syndicator like in #ccourses, you can still end up filling it up if you’re talking too much), but noise means people need help filtering it. I’d rather spend my time helping newbies obtain the digital literacy to filter the information overload, than spend time asking people to stop talking or make them feel guilty for it.

I personally do a lot of non-hashtag side conversations on Twitter, and lots of DM and email with smaller groups or individuals. Those are actually the ones that build community (outside of cross-blogging/commenting) because they also allow space for discussions not necessarily connected to the course we’re taking together, and more about each other AS PEOPLE.

Respecting diverse cultures
This is actually a lot tougher than it looks. It means recognizing that a lot of the ideas and approaches in these cMOOCs (and more so in xMOOCs) is US- or at least Western-centric, often male-initiated (well intentioned and non-patriarchal as they may be), and considering ways of making them less so. I’ve written with Shyam Sharma about this (here and here) and I think the more you allow participants to create content and pathways, the more you’ll be sensitive to the needs of participants of other cultures. You can’t anticipate it, and you’re likely to make a huge mess of it if you try to do it in your head because, well, you’re not “us” and to be honest, we love you, but you don’t understand “us” on our own terms… nor do “we” understand each “other”. But it’s in allowing the diverse voices within us to have a space (even if it’s an English-speaking space because it’s the only language we have in common) and voice, that alone helps to enrich the online space with the diversity that’s in it. That’s where www.edcontexts.org is for – providing that space. And we’ve used it, for example, to highlight contextual nuances of taking part in MOOCs (here’s a post on #clmooc and memes). A really good MOOC facilitator is good at recognizing the contributions of people from different cultures and bringing those back into the mainstream conversation rather than leaving it on the margins. Some people are really good at this; others are not.

Guilty-free engagement
Different MOOCs do this to varying degrees. #ccourses is not the first MOOC I take where they tell you you’re free to come and go as you like, where they tell you it’s OK not to participate actively, that there is no failure in the MOOC, etc. etc. Some of the best writing on this topic was Mia Zamora’s “guilt-free” zone piece. How well a course can live up to that rhetoric – that’s a tough one. I still don’t know if I’ve ever not felt guilty for not engaging fully in some way, or for not having done the readings, or whatever, even though I know I should not feel that way.

I don’t know that I’ve said all I need to say, but this post is long enough as it is…

20 Comments

  1. Pingback: jaapsoft2

  2. Hi Maha
    Really happy that our reflection is er…reflecting our concerns.

    Playing with letters with Juliette gives more time to let it all mull.

    Am thinking music just now.

    Perhaps the most important question of “connecting er people” 🙂

    Will be back!!

  3. I love this post.

    I thought I was the only one who does not do well with the video chats…..

    • Haha i thought i was the only one, too! Thanks, Susan 🙂
      It’s like supposed to be some ppl’s highlight of the week, but the highlight of my week is interacting with ppl like u 🙂

  4. I have begun adding group annotations to this blog post. Here is the group page for those who might want to join our Diigo group and comment along with us: https://groups.diigo.com/group/ccourses

    I think annotating this way is superior to commenting. I suppose it is commenting, but carefully targeted to responding to a specific sentence or as fine-grained as the choice of a word. Downside? While it is a public group it does call for an investment in learning how to annotate with Diigo. My experience is that that investment pays back royally. Positive and negative? It is messy, especially when you get tons of annotstors in the group.

    I love the annotated link tool that allows you to send a cached link to anyone to view even if they are not a Diigo user: https://diigo.com/04j3l2. I love how you can scrape all the comments and highlights out and then repurpose them. It would be so much fun to try a project where each of us would do group annotations, turn them into a blog post and then create a zine or storify or use WP Anthologize to create an epub with all the posts and then commentary at the end.

    Ok, sorry Maha. This has become some sort of recursive monster of a comment about comments within a comment. With no real comments about what you wrote in your comments box. Technically, I think this might be a Klein bottle or s moebius comment.

  5. I am with you on that! Love the connecting with you.

  6. Thank you for this, Maha. I see it as a strong signal that we need to work much harder to make better connections between the course facilitators and other participants. Thanks, Terry, for starting the Diigo group.

    • Thanks, Howard. You have been extremely responsive and the embodiment of engaged co-learner even long before #ccourses started officially (as have many others). I think many of the points I make might have resonance for other MOOCs as well, not just this one 🙂

  7. @laura_ritchie ur “home for everyone” tweet helped me put together thoughts i had been banging around for a few days. Thank you 🙂

    — via twitter.com

  8. I love your list of ideas for running a cMOOC – some is what I would have written had I time and reason to think about it, but you’ve included some things I hadn’t considered. My own challenge is to take some of these cMOOC principles and translate them for a course for academic credit, where students seem to crave structure and checklists. They are in for a big surprise, but I am hopeful if I design it well, they’ll come out the other side learning a lot more than if I had created a more traditional syllabus. The course is on e-collaboration, so there is a lot of synergy between method and content. Your post will give me some food for thought when I get down to the particulars. Thank you!

    • hey Catherine, thanks, and I’m glad this resonated and helped at the same time. I’m also always interested in how much of this can transfer into for-credit courses – would love to hear more about how this works out for you. I have only ever tried doing little parts of it.

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