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Hybrid Pedagogy’s MOOC MOOC – A MOOC to Learn About MOOCs

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

"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" (Morris, The Truth about MOOC MOOC).

The Goal of MOOC MOOC
While the idea of a MOOC MOOC may seem confusing, it really isn’t. It was designed by the creative minds at Hybrid Pedagogy  to explore the concept of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) by allowing educators to participate in a MOOC about MOOCs.

The writers on the Hybrid Pedagogy site have been openly critical of the MOOC concept in the past, particularly Jesse Stommel in The March of the MOOCs: Monstrous Open Online Courses. I have also been critical of MOOCs in my Education Unbound post MOOCs: More Hype than Hope! Therefore, I had a preconceived notion that a MOOC about MOOCs hosted by Hybrid Pedagogy would have a negative slant. If it did, however, that was not at all obvious in the way the course was designed, presented, or facilitated.  Overall it was a fair and thought provoking exploration of the potential and limitations of the medium. A serious attempt to make sense of a delivery method for learning that has received a lot of press and seems, for the moment at least, to be one of the ways that people are looking to reform education so that it is more accessible and more affordable.

The Structure
In keeping with their thoughtful approach to designing their MOOC, Hybrid Pedagogy acknowledged the limitations of any Learning Management System (LMS) for managing and containing a MOOC To accommodate the inherent limitations of the platform, the designers chose to use the Instructure Canvas LMS supplemented with Twitter, Google Docs, and YouTube, as well as linking to users blogs. The short duration MOOC was organized by days: Sunday through Saturday, which made for a very intense experience. Here is a look at some of the highlights which serve as a microcosmic model for planning a longer massive online course:

  • Sunday was dedicated to getting users comfortable with Canvas, doing background reading about MOOCs, linking up to user blogs, introductions and a Twitter "Social." The reading represented the bulk of the work, but featured excellent articles by George Siemens, What is the Theory that Underpins Our MOOCs?, Bon Stewart, If Foucault Ran a MOOC, and Dave Cormier, What Is a MOOC? & How to Succeed in a MOOC.
  • Monday’s assignments started to delve more deeply into the issues surrounding MOOCs. There were many excellent questions posed in the introductory article for the day which were designed to guide participants in collaborating on essays that answered them:
    • What are MOOCs? What do we think they are? What do we fear they may be? What potential lies under their surface?
    • How do we approach the MOOC? If MOOCs render our previous pedagogies dull and ineffective, how do we innovate? What do we innovate?
    • If MOOCs aren’t a replacement for the classroom in higher education, how else might they be employed in our teaching and learning?
    • Does connectivism make more sense than broadcast-, auditorium-style online learning? Why or why not? What do each offer — to students, teachers, administrators, institutions?
  • Tuesday’s assignment was to watch "The Place and Places of Learning" video, then create one of your own, and comment on others’ submissions.
     


     

    In addition to this, there was a discussion about the value of institutionally generated MOOCs (xMOOCs) and how the MOOC fits in different disciplines.
  • Wednesday focused on participant pedagogy, the idea that we learn best when we are actively engaged in solving less-well-defined problems.  Again more of a reflective day with questions to answer about the concept and an assignment to create an interactive space to discuss it with other members of the MOOC and to participate in others’ discussions. The final task of the day was an interesting call to "Do something unscripted."
  • A metacognitive day on Thursday as participants were asked to create a Storify document that reflected their learning in the MOOC.  The overall discussion centered on outcomes and assessments in a massive course format.
  • Friday represented the meat of the MOOC as participants were asked to draft their own MOOC or collaborate with others in the class on designing one. The drafts were then shared via Twitter. The reading for the day and discussion centered on the creative process and how it differs for a MOOC compared to other types of classes.
  • Saturday, the last day of the course, was a time for reflection. Participants were asked to write down and share their final thoughts on participation in this class and about MOOCs in general.

Overall this format provided an interesting arena in which to examine the conceptual ideas behind MOOCs and to investigate the medium’s potential. The readings were enlightening, the assignments prompted deep thinking about a variety of issue related to the model, and the discussions fueled further consideration about the issues. This was the ideal format for a MOOC – but what did it teach those participating in it?

What I Learned
For starters, my supposition that MOOCs can’t inspire creativity may be wrong. Certainly in the worst case scenario when they are intended to deliver a set amount of content and learning to the largest possible number of people, like Udacity, they cannot inspire innovation. In a format like this MOOC MOOC however, where the focus wasn’t on massiveness, but rather on collaboration, openness, and serious discussion, a MOOC can be an amazing vehicle for leaning and thinking deeply about something – and in the case of the MOOC MOOC, facilitating, even requiring creativity. But I think that Hybrid Pedagogy’s course is the exception rather than the norm.

Really, this wasn’t a MOOC at all if massiveness is the measurement. There were, judging by the number of people posting in the discussion forum, fewer than a dozen participants. Essentially this ended up being a week long, well-facilitated, online collaborative meaning-making session. That said, the discussion surrounding the concept of the MOOC was enlightening and opens the doorway to thinking about the medium in a new way as this quote from the first day reading illustrates:

"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" (Morris, The Provocation of MOOCs).

There really does seem to be something lost within the massiveness of free online courses that have the potential to transform learning into something bigger and more accessible than it has been at any point in our past. The trick will be in convincing people that size really doesn’t matter…but innovation, creativity, and collaboration do.

Have insights or observations to add about your own experience with MOOCs? Join the conversation on Google+ or Twitter.