Diigo and Wikispaces and WordPress, oh my!
Groups and Reader and Livetext, oh my!
Tweeting and Blogging and Posting, oh my!
In August, I was standing in the copy room at UAS, probably getting a new pen, since pens are elusive beasts, and I can’t seem to keep up with one for more than an hour. My colleague Virgil Fredenberg approached me and said, “I want to create a MOOC.” I had been toying with the idea of creating a MOOC since last year’s ASTE conference, and said – “I’m game”. Shortly after that conversation, the #diffimooc was born. We applied for and received an Innovation Grant from the University of Alaska Southeast. We researched and joined MOOCs. We brainstormed and planned approximately once per week from September until January. You’d think with all that planning, this MOOC would be the perfect experience! But it couldn’t be…we’re out on the edge – that means we’re finding the bumps in the road…
As we go through this experience, I’d like to outline as well as I can the bumps and the breathtaking points of interest that we discover along the way – in the name of transparency for those who are in the #diffimooc (especially those taking it for credit, who found themselves unexpectedly in this experience), and for those who are considering and are designing their own MOOCs.
The Underlying Theory
Our MOOC is a connectivist MOOC. We are social constructivist teachers, and the theory of connectivism fits well with our own ideas of teaching and learning. However, we do know that novice learners need additional direct instruction in some cases. I am not one who believes that this is always needed. I do believe that especially in our technological age, there are learners who don’t want to be told how to do things. They’d rather figure it out for themselves. (I am one of those learners :-)). I also know that our learners are teachers who will be required to learn on their own, and I feel we do teachers a disservice when we deliver information (see my recent post about the NET GEN in my classroom). But I know that we have to gain confidence in our ability to learn with and from technology. When we aren’t confident, a short video can help. Videos are more associated with xMOOCs; however, our course certainly isn’t an xMOOC. The xMOOC uses video to “deliver” information, and then tests competency at the end. It’s a linear experience. Our cMOOC is a multidimensional experience. It’s very Piaget.
We learn as we challenge our existing frameworks of understanding to accommodate new information. This framework of understanding is called a schema. Imagine a schema with information being blasted at it from all angles. Some information will “stick”. Some will fly by because prior knowledge isn’t there, and this information is beyond the existing cognitive structure. Still other resources will be transferred into the schema as a result of interaction with others or with the technology. Motivation should occur since so much information is available, at least some will be appropriate to the existing prior knowledge and can be added to the existing schema. This is the way I see information abundance and learning in our cMOOC.
Moving from theory to practice…Challenges
This first week of the #diffimooc was filled with challenges for the teachers enrolled as they became accustomed to the multiple tools and log-ins they needed for successful engagement in the MOOC. While we didn’t restrict students to any one tool for curation (Diigo, Pinterest, etc), or Blogging (WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger) these were still new tools for most of the teachers enrolled in the MOOC. We anticipated they would be new for some of the users enrolled in the class, and planned accordingly. We took a page from the xMOOC book, and created videos to assist. My own challenge was to be brief and to the point! I was successful in keeping most videos under 5 minutes.
As I oriented students to the experience, however, I created a 30 minute orientation video. This was a tragic mistake which I will not repeat! Because the video was 30 minutes most students (I suspect) didn’t get through the whole thing, and may not even have explored the rest of the page to find the other (much shorter) videos! This is Instructional Design 101 and I am embarrassed to have made this obvious mistake! In the future, I will have a “Table of Contents” at the top of the page which links to the information on the page so that students can easily find the important information. I’ll also include the length of the videos (i.e. 3:56) in the table of contents. This will help me to be brief. These videos should be 3 minutes MAX. I am working on it…
To be fair, we really underestimated the support learners would need to begin learning these new tools and applying them to a learning environment. We also underestimated the number of tools we recommended that would be perceived as “new” to our learners. Their challenge in the first week was to get accustomed to several new tools so that they could manage the information abundance of our cMOOC. I have to admit the first week was somewhat frantic! In trying to give students the tools that would assist them in success with the ongoing MOOC journey, we created some issues with cognitive load.
In the future, we will scaffold this experience differently. I think outlining one tool every other day for the first week might work. That way enrolled teachers won’t be faced with four tools to learn all at once (if they are unfamiliar). Perhaps each twitter chat might focus on the “tool du jour”. Our intentions were good – but our assumptions were not. As we tried to overcome unintended consequences – we created some as well!
On the positive side of things – as we move into the third week of the class, and we focus on tools that might be used to organize our learning, our teachers are doing really well! The tools are no longer “new” and the non-linear design of information retrieval in the course seems to be becoming more natural as well. Some students created videos that illustrated their Alaskan lifestyle in subsistence communities very different from our own. We have also begun to share some great resources with each other. The #diffimooc chat has focused on tools for creative student learning, the importance of knowing our learners and even some Native Alaskan language teaching supplements! What a great way to keep these languages alive! Finally, teachers are beginning work on the Wiki page which will share their collaborative web pages, lesson plans and resources with other teachers. Soon, this page will be public – and I will share it with all. Right now we are still in the organization stage 🙂
In addition, we identified a blog of the week for the first week of the MOOC. This is an exemplar that meets, at Target Level, all of the requirements of the Blog Rubric. (I took to heart Grant Wiggins’ post a few weeks ago about the use of rubrics without anchoring models.) This week the honors went to http://annekurland.wordpress.com/ who demonstrated well her learning, the way she learned with others, and demonstrated a strong voice as she responded to the essential question: “What are the attitudes I will need to be successful in the cMOOC?”. In the future, I would like participants to nominate a blog entry, and then vote so that they might be more a part of the process of choosing the blog entry of the week!
I appreciate so much the support and mentoring of others as we move through this experience! I am happy to share what I learn about MOOCs as we go through this process, and also am happy to share the wonderful work that the persistent and stellar teachers enrolled in this experience will produce.
Onward and Upward!