Oscillating Wildly

Over the last week I have been struggling with my position as #crit101 Course Leader. The underpinning principle of the course is that it is, for want of a better acronym, a cMOOC (of sorts). While it is not massive, it is certainly open, online and a course. Moreover, it is a course about independent learning, offered to students on an opt-in basis. And with a little *c* it was built on connectivist principles, valuing peer-to-peer interaction and collaboration. However, I have found that encouraging interaction between participants is a challenge and that their reliance on me as the expert in the room (metaphorically) is quite significant. In part, I recognise that, this is due to the way I have constructed the course but it also reflects how challenging some of the participants have found learning in(ter)dependently.

One participant stated:

“I have enjoyed that fact that we can do it in our own time and also it’s up to us to complete assignments on time, there’s no nagging!” (Harris, 2013 via Google+)

This is exactly what I wanted to hear and reflects my own experiences of participating in these types of courses. However, while this has clearly worked for some, it has not worked for everyone and has pushed me into a role I did not envisage playing. Do I nag and chase up participants who are missing deadlines or not joining in with their assigned groups? Or do I let things be? If I choose the latter some of the paprticipants may not complete the course? Does that make the course a failure? In the end, I have succumbed to my teacherly nature and sent emails or tweets, gently reminding participants about the work; what will happen if they don’t complete it, etc.

As another partcipant then asked:

“What happened to independent learning?” (Sutherland, 2013 via Twitter).

A good question!

As a researcher, and in the way that I have positioned myself in this first version of the course, I am caught oscillating wildly between teacher, facilitator, guide and participant. I want to be more guide and participant but instead find myself wavering between teacher and facilitator.

One of the problems is that I have not defined what success is, in terms of the #crit101 course. In part this was purposeful. In my efforts to enter into an open and objective research process I wished for the two versions of the course to run, collecting the data based on what happens, allowing me to reserve judgement until I have analysed and evaluated it.

However that is not easy when you have built something from the ground up. Not least, something that reflects your own values and beliefs about education. In many ways I am too close to this project. There is too much of me in it. When a participant misses a deadline or doesn’t join in with a part of the course it feels personal. It feels as though I did something wrong. I should know by now that that this is not the case; that in education and research there are a wide range of variables that can not be accounted for, but nevertheless I feel compelled to intevene rather than let things be. And don’t get me wrong, I know that no matter what happens I will have to analyse and evaluate the data, presenting what happened, openly and honestly.

In an effort to combat this I feel that it is necessary to re-position myself for the second version of the course, reducing expert input and increasing participant interaction. To achieve this I have settled on a number of changes, including:

  • Pre-recorded weekly lectures – rather than live ones
  • Two x Twitter discussions – to encourage more regular interaction between participants. I am also considering the use of break out groups
  • Creating comment groups – stealing profusely from Alan Levine (Again!) I intend to put participants in smaller groups to comment on each other’s blogs
  • Switching week four’s ‘Reading and Analysis’ assignment from a solo activity to a paired activity

It is my hope that these changes will not only help me to redefine my position within the course but also bring the version two of the course closer to the connectivist *MOOCish* principles on which it was built.

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James Michie

Husband, Educator, Writer, Runner...

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