Pascal le Rudulier is a fellow educator with an interest in MOOCs. As such, he signed up and participated in version one of #crit101. After completing the course he asked if he could interview me. I readily agreed and what follows is the outcome.
We covered a range of topics including: my motivations for creating the course; how I put it together; the highs and lows experienced in version one; and what I hope will come out of version two.
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.
As we have reached the half way point of Critical Skills 101, I thought it was a pertinent opportunity to reflect on how the course is shaping up; including the successes, failures and challenges that lay ahead.
There is clearly a lot of learning taking place. This is both evident in the quality of work produced and the honesty of many participants’ blog posts. In some ways the course has become more than I expected with the three tenets: “openness – social media – student voice/choice” (Cronin, 2012) being placed firmly at the heart of it. The syndication of blog posts and the decision to move to Google+ for week four’s discussion are evidence of this. Moreover, the feedback I have received from many of you has been significantly positive. There have already been numerous tweets, emails to that effect; as well as several of you expressing to me face-to-face how much you are getting out of the course.
Based on my experience of MOOCs I did expect some participants to drop out of the course, nevertheless I consider this an issue that I need to evaluate and act on. Some of you are fully engaged, embracing each week’s reading and activities with fervour. However, some of you are not. While the nature of the course speaks to independence and autonomy, one of the principle aims of the course is to encourage and develop this. Clearly, for some of you the course is not achieving this aim. Whether that is my fault, something to do with the course content or structure, or something else entirely I am not sure at this stage? This will certainly feed into my evaluation of the course once it has been completed.
One of the principles that underpins MOOCs is connectivism. It was my hope that all participants would freely interact and support each other. However, this has not been the case. Interaction between us (I include myself as a learner in this process) so far has come at times that I (as course leader) have specified, such as week two’s collaborative assignment and the weekly Twitter discussion. I do not know if this is simply to do with the fact that most of you are 14-18 year-olds. As such you have a limited experience of learning in this way. It may also have to do with the time that the you feel you can put in to the course. Most of you have full timetables as it is and this is additional learning. And I suspect that for some it may also come down to confidence. The willingness to share openly in your learning does not come naturally for everyone.
However, as Dave Cormier explains in the video below connection and collaboration are important to being successful in a MOOC. Please take the time to watch the video and reflect on your participation so far. To what extent has your approach met with Cormier’s thesis?
So success in a MOOC is about connecting. This is both an opportunity and my challenge to all of you. As week four dawns don’t wait for me to give you permission to connect with each other. Use Twitter, use Google+, use your blogs; share your docs; or use a means of communicating/sharing that suits you but don’t feel that you are on your own. Many of you expressed, in week one, that interdependence was important to being a successful independent learner. Lets put that into practice during week four.
This morning I finished reading and commenting on your blog posts from week one. They were thoroughly enjoyable to read and provided a diverse range of thought on both the motivation to participate in the course as well as definitions for in(ter)dependent learning.
Two key ideas that I felt came out of the posts were: ‘setting goals‘ and ‘pushing boundaries‘. Both concepts have given me a lot to think about in terms of how I understand independent learning.
Many of you when discussing your motivations for signing up for #crit101, set goals for yourself. Are goals integral to independent learning? Are they the starting point for the journey towards becoming a more autonomous learner? These are questions I don’t have answers for yet but they are the start to a discussion that I think we need to have. Moreover, the emphasis placed on goals bring the concept of success into sharp focus. How is success to be defined for each of you in a course that is about independence; and has no grades?
The notion of pushing boundaries is something that I had not associated with independent learning at all. However, the more I think about it, the more I feel that it might be significant. I consider myself to be a highly effective independent learner and one of my main aims is to push the boundaries and challenge myself. How integral is that in my makeup as an independent learner? The minute we decide to work within the boundaries, is that when we start to lose our independence? Is systematised education a boundary that needs to challenged in order to enable learners to become more independent?
Additionally, a further discussion that is developing is about the very nature of the course itself. #crit101 is, to a degree, inspired by MOOCs. A question that we are pondering is that of how important the ‘course’ aspect is to MOOCs and the process of independent learning. To what extent does the c in MOOC effect motivation. If I was not here responding to posts, reminding you about deadlines and lectures, would you still show up? Or could this course run through peer-interaction and your own desire to learn?
Please take some time to read over each others posts and the comments. I have left many questions to be considered and I want to know what you think. I look forward to reading your replies!
Theo Keuchel recently participated in the second edition of MOOCMOOC, a course in which I participated last August. The course explores what MOOCs are and what they might mean for education. Like myself, Theo is asking questions about whether this model of online course can work for school-age students. Obviously I believe that it can or #crit101 would not exist. Reading Theo’s post is like looking at my own checklist, I asked many of the same questions when putting the course together. In my view it comes down to two specific considerations above all others:
Do you believe that courses of this type are a valid form of learning?
Do you trust young people to participate in such a course?
If you can answer yes to the above then everything else is a matter of planning, pedagogy and technical practicality. However, the questions above strike at the heart of what I feel MOOCs are all about: Freeing learning from the confines of the classroom; bringing it to where the learners are – the connected web. Such an approach is too scary for some, too fraught with dangers. But this is the future… learning should belong to the learners. If the school curriculum can’t offer all that they need or want to learn then they should be free to go elsewhere and get it.
#crit101 is in its infancy, but it is my hope that the course demonstrates what Theo states at the end of his post:
“…we can all participate in, and help build new models of online learning.”