MOOCs: Community as Curriculum
Like many educators I know, the start of 2013 has been about MOOCs. I’ve been participating in #etmooc — the Educational Technology & Media MOOC started by Alec Couros, Alison Seaman and a great team, and #edcmooc — E-learning & Digital Cultures, organised by another great team at the University of Edinburgh (and hosted by Coursera). Both have gotten off to lively starts, with thousands participating and activity spread across Google+ Communities, Twitter, Facebook, course blogs and thousands of participant blogs, among other places.
Before diving headlong into Digital Storytelling (Week 4 of #etmooc) and metaphors of the Future in Digital Culture (Week 2 of #edcmooc), I’m pausing to reflect on the learning process, or rather my personal learning process in these courses. I’d participated in other connectivist or cMOOCs previously but only intermittently; a few sessions each of Change11 and #CFHE12 last year. To be honest, I didn’t make a full commitment to either, but in each case I engaged with new ideas, new blogs and new people — all of which was valuable.
My intention this time was to bring something different to my MOOC participation: focus. Even without participating in every webinar, watching every video or reading every article or blog post, I intend to complete each course from start to finish. Like many other participants, my goals at the start were mixed. I want to learn more, through engaging with others, about the areas being explored in each MOOC (connected learning, the open education movement and digital literacies/citizenship in #etmooc, digital and learning cultures in #edcmooc); to contribute to conversations and sessions in areas where I have experience, both as a learner and a teacher (e.g. digital literacies, digital identity); to learn more, through both observation and participation, about organising and facilitating large, open groups of learners; and to challenge my thinking and reflect on my own learning processes. I may already consider myself an open learner and digital scholar, but the more I change my practices — the more I “unlearn” — the more I uncover assumptions and practices which can be (need to be) challenged even further.
Three weeks into #etmooc and one week into #edcmooc… and the water is fine. I started with #etmooc and the energy created there has been phenomenal. In some ways, this has detracted from my #edcmooc experience in that I have less time — but in other ways there is great synergy. This is partly because many people are participating in both MOOCs, but that’s not the only reason. Although I wouldn’t always choose to participate in two MOOCs at once (!) I’m finding that it is possible to be in two MOOC ecosystems at once and to participate and collaborate in and across both.
In Dave Cormier’s excellent #etmooc session on Rhizomatic Learning last week — the source for both the title of this blog post and the quote by Alec Couros in the image above — he reviewed his 5 steps to succeed in a MOOC: Orient, Declare, Network, Cluster and Focus. As I’m experiencing, first in #etmooc and now in #edcmooc, connected learning can be powerful when it progresses to networking, clustering and focus.
For me this has happened around digital identity — a focus of much of my own learning, teaching and research. Through both Twitter and the Google+ communities for each MOOC, I’ve found others thinking and engaging with the course ideas who are reflecting particularly around issues of identity and digital identity. I’ve engaged in some great discussions after reading thought-provoking blog posts by Angela Towndrow on understanding digital identity and connection, Carolyn Durley on developing a voice as a connected learner, Jen Ross (also a member of the #edcmooc team) on online teacher presence, and (via Jen) Amy Collier on the online teacher’s body. Blogs, and the ensuing conversations, have become my prime place for conversation and learning in both MOOCs.
This mightn’t be the same for everyone — but that is the power of open and connected learning. We define our own paths, we make our own connections, we chart our own learning journeys. At the risk of conflating these two MOOCs (there are, of course, differences), in both #etmooc and #edcmooc there is a strong sense of connection and community, despite the huge scale. Regular sessions — webinars, Twitter chats, Google+ hangouts — are like social glue, as Alec Couros describes, objects for sociality and study. The networking and clustering continue in smaller interest-driven groups. Of course not all participants will have the same experience and as the number and variety of MOOCs (both ‘x’ and ‘c’ varieties) expands there’s still much to learn about MOOCs and scale, accessibility and sustainability. However, in the face of the very public failure of another Coursera MOOC this week, #etmooc and #edcmooc are examples of how connectivist MOOCs can work well to facilitate powerful learning.
Quoting Dave Cormier: “If we make community the curriculum, membership becomes how we scale. It’s all about belonging.”
Image source: CC BY 2.0 Catherine Cronin