Disequilibrium, the #diffiMOOC and Peer Review

I was privileged, last year, to attend a conference at Liverpool University. I attended several presentations. I expected presentations similar to U.S. conferences. I expected to be told the results of the research, and I expected challenges would be defended – much like I, as a doctoral student, defended my dissertation research – or like I defended research when presenting in an international format.

Not so. By the end of the day, I was uncomfortable, but impressed with this model. The presenters focused on research in progress. They were not defending their methodology or results. As members of the audience commented, the researchers were making notes, acknowledging the validity of the concerns or observations stated, and outlining the manner in which this feedback might change the design, focus, or interpretation of the research. It was refreshing – amazing.

I discussed this with my colleagues in the UK and they didn’t see anything innovative or remarkable about this model. I take that to mean this is a common model in the UK. At the time I shared with my colleagues that in the U.S. we do research in our “ivory tower” – usually not seeking any feedback until we are done. In fact, my dissertation chair warned me never to share my data with anyone, at any time. The fear of being challenged is a real one. Truth alert – I think many of us suffer from “imposter syndrome”.

At ASTE last week (yes I am still ruminating on ASTE) I had the opportunity to present our strategies and thoughts about the Connectivist MOOC – and our initial results. I was challenged by some of the experts in the audience. One question I was asked, which I am still struggling with: Why don’t we teach ALL courses this way? Why focus on technology courses, or courses about MOOCs and Online Teaching. I retorted out of reflex – “I could never teach Instructional Design in this format! I’d have to go back to the CMS and the book.” After the presentation several people approached me, commiserating – It’s unfortunate that the diffiMOOC elicits such enthusiasm, while the Instructional Design class is perceived as “set in stone” and essentially boring. (This is my translation of their comments – they were much kinder than that!)

As I reflect– I finally identified my reason for discomfort and the essential question at the bottom of it all: How can I teach the Instructional Design course as a MOOC, when the essence of Instructional Design hasn’t seemed to work in my MOOC? How can I model Instructional Design when it isn’t working for me out in the wider open world?

During our presentation, very tech savvy students shared that the very vastness of the MOOC seems to interfere with their abilities to interpret the assignments. It took three weeks, easily, for the most accomplished of us to get into a routine as a class.  I wrote this class in the same way I have written every other; however, it generated more questions and confusion than any class I have written since 1998, easily.

Another concern I have, which stems from the Google Docs fiasco of several weeks ago: When questions of scale arise – to what point can I rely on one tool, design in that tool, and expect that it won’t crash? If Google Docs can crash from a surge of users, then anything can! Currently I have students select their own tools. In essence, I am designing on the front end (instruction) and on the back end (assessment). What happens in between is the student’s responsibility. I do facilitate Twitter and create announcements, reminding, cajoling and and in rare cases, urging students to remember deadlines. Still for the most part – in-between is out of sight for me.

I’ve been working through this for the past week. Finally, as a result of the peer review I encountered at ASTE I am beginning to see this situation as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. I am not all the way there, yet. However, if students design their own communities in tools such as Edmodo, they could exhibit good instructional design – and this design could be an authentic assessment in the class. I’m still flummoxed about what good instructional design will look like with a MOOC; however, maybe this will be a re-focus of my research. Selfishly, my current focus is the role of the instructor in the MOOC, and strategies to enhance retention. I feel I need to know about that before moving further into this brave new world.

Many thanks to my ASTE peers who expanded my thinking along these lines.

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