A new academic year: global, connected, creative – and not (quite) a MOOC

So, teaching starts next week – and yes, I’m excited. Been working on a new MSc module that will essentially be more of a class research project looking based around Spreadable Media (challenging the notion of ‘virality’ following Henry Jenkins et. al.). I think it could be a great way to be both hands-on creative and scholarly in approach, and for learners to develop a really deep understanding of networks, audience, culture – and of course, the social web.

However, semester 2 is going to be full-on in terms of teaching. I’ll have around 100 students on the Social Tech module, and there are so many things I want to do, amazing connections and projects to pursue – old and new – and it’s really exciting but also rather overwhelming. Having to wave goodbye to the possibility of being able to regularly engage with, and comment on, student blogs is quite a wrench (although in all honesty, following 70+ last semester really stretched me to the max…).

SO, I want to carry on developing our current model-which-has-no-name. I’m not sure what it is – it’s not a MOOC, but it’s certainly pretty open, multi-disciplinary, multi-level and networked, and builds on existing communities of practice and the mentoring that has emerged over the past 6 years (staff and ex-students -> current students). Most importantly, it’s creative, occasionally anarchic and relatively ad hoc (it would be wrong to not give a shout out to #ds106 at this point – #DS106!) – which is probably the best way to describe the way things work with our Social Tech modules…

For the past couple of years I’ve been working with @thomcochrane @mediendidaktik @marett @MaxMobile and a whole host of other people around the globe in a community of practice where we’ve had our students working together on creative social tech projects that cross disciplines, levels, time and space. I wrote about one of them here. However, to work on several international collaborations (which are essentially modules in themselves) at one time with 100 learners – hmm. Quite the challenge, unless I change the way I do things…

One of the difficulties when working on these types of projects is not so much navigating the timezones (although very early-morning/late-night hangouts when working on a few of these projects at a time does lead to a sensation of permanent jetlag…), but the staggered semester dates. However, we’ve decided to re-frame this, and so we’re now looking at the ‘tag-team model’ of education: the projects never end, as there is always a cohort to carry on, and lead into the next group, and when they overlap that’s great – that’s where the genuine collaboration happens.

I was recently most heartened to read about Anne Balsamo’s new DOCC: (Distributed Online Collaborative Course) – a project that ‘uses technology to enable interdisciplinary and international conversation while privileging situated diversity and networked agency.’ I’m a huge fan of Anne’s work (reviewed her book ‘Designing Culture’ last year, and have been recommending it to anybody with ANY kind of interest in interdisciplinarity ever since). This is the kind of model that I’m moving towards – globally connected, but with each cohort grounded with their respective institution (accreditation, QA, etc. etc.)

Alongside this, one of the (many) magical moments of 2012 was when some students who weren’t involved in ELVSS (the international mobile film collaborations) approached me at the end of July (yes, the SUMMER HOLIDAYS) with a brilliant idea for a film which required them to be paired up with ELVSS students in New Zealand – they set up a Google Doc, threw ideas around, and filming will start soon. Bear in mind, this is purely interest/passion-driven, nothing to do with an assessed module, but a genuine desire to create with people across the globe. This is the way I want things to go.

Traditionally, we deliver modules/courses, neatly chunked into 12 weeks, with units of assessment, leading to grades etc. and that’s the way things are (generally) done. I’m not saying scrap all of that, but I do think that modules are best served as springboards to other things. Increasingly, students are connecting across levels and cohorts through Twitter and now we have ex-students getting together with current students, undergrads coming to postgrad classes (and vice versa) as they’ve connected online and have a genuine interest in getting involved in other groups/further curricula outside of their taught modules (must give another shout-out to @ugfl and @watersidestudio at this point!). Obviously hashtags play a huge role in developing connections in this learning ecosystem, but it’s this move towards interest-driven projects, facilitated by network connections that really excites me.

So, the final – possibly serendipitous – piece of jigsaw (time will tell) was tonight’s Google Hangout with @courosa, @cogdog and others to talk about the #etmooc that Alec wants to set-up/explore. This was an initial meeting where we threw ideas around, and I must say it was great meeting Lenandlar Singh, who is a MOOC aficionado (as a student) and getting his perspective, alongside Valeria Lopes and @seani – always great to meet new people ☺.

Whether or not this goes anywhere (i’m sure Alec will make it work – he’s the ultimate networked teacher – i’m just not sure i’ll be able to be involved long-term due to all these other projects), it was a great convo, and I went away feeling excited by the possibilities of developing MOOC-like initiatives that aren’t really MOOCs – which is when we started talking about ‘un-moocs’. Alec went straight off and registered several ‘unmooc’ domains, and it all feels rather exciting…

Increasingly, educators are connecting; networks grow and overlap; we’re connecting diverse groups of students across the globe through both ad-hoc informal projects, and more formal approaches where they are assessed/accredited by their own institutions while working together on a common brief. It’s exciting and potentially rather messy.

I’d really love to know what you think – is it practical? How to cope with multiple projects where (for example) G+ hangouts at all hours of day and night are integral to the experience? Should we set up an informal ‘swap shop’ where our students can take courses from elsewhere, but are assessed from their home institution? For instance, I can easily imagine some kind of ‘virtual exchange’ with #ds106. But the burning question for me is: what the hell is this, and does it even need to have a name?

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23 thoughts on “A new academic year: global, connected, creative – and not (quite) a MOOC

  1. superb!
    This post to me just shows how passionate you are about your teaching and I can feel your energy!

    “Most importantly, it’s creative, occasionally anarchic and relatively ad hoc” – where can I sigh up (now that I don’t have to write for the PhD anymore I need to exercise my creativity again – I feel rusty!)

    I like the idea of a swap shop too – I can anticipate the richness of the exchanges that will happen in there.

    One thing that crosses to mind – base on what you have been reflecting on and your own practice – is in unlocking potential in learning and especially in helping them experience first hand the power of openness. That is something I am trying really hard in the 2 programmes I am running this semester. I know you have done this successfully in the past and I think it’s an example to follow.

    I’m not a big fan of MOOCs because in the past they have overwhelmed me, but I can see the benefit of it. How can we support learners to create core communities within the bigger network so their participation and learning online is sustained over time is something I would love to see develop.

    I’ll be keeping an eye on your blog – I’m sure gonna join those courses. I need to pick up when I left… 🙂

    • Hey Cris! You know, I’ve been following your #tessgta and #altsep12 tweets, thinking exactly the same thing – would love to be taking your courses! Perhaps we can think about how we can link up in some way, even just for a small 1-week project in the first instance? It would be great to have to along to the new MSc if you can make it – I was actually thinking of asking if you could talk to the group about open/digital scholarship? I think i’m due to talk to your group at the end of October – wondering if we could then have some kind of cross-over? Would love to link up with what you’re doing, so if we could find a way to get our PGs collaborating in some way that would be awesome! I really do believe that opening up across levels/disciplines/whatever can be hugely motivating for learners – opening up the learning process for both academics (e.g. PGCap) and students… all learning together. The MSc module is quite flexible in that way as it’s sort of ‘post-disciplinary’, so hopefully could be of interest to your groups (who come from a range of disciplines, right?). It would be brilliant for my group to follow and learn from you and yours! 🙂

  2. sorry to interfere with the conversation – as I often do!
    Not a big fan of coursera – actually it makes me really sad that an Uniersity in the UK has decided to join them. I don’t think they are inclusive of new students and new learners in different contexts. it’s another way of making money, imho

  3. Great post! and yes, I want to see it happen! also

    “Most importantly, it’s creative, occasionally anarchic and relatively ad hoc (it would be wrong to not give a shout out to #ds106 at this point – #DS106!)”

    #4life !!

    • Thanks D! I’m really interested in mixing up the analogue with the digital – y’know, crumhorns, that sort of thing 😉 Quite enjoyed writing tweets in pencil last week and sending them to Twitter as photos (James Michie’s idea). It’s creative, a bit of a giggle – but then also acts as a useful springboard for deeper discussions around creativity, technology, and subversion (to an extent)…

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  6. I think the only reason I stayed in the hangout yesterday was cause I saw you there 😉

    It’s easy to get caught up in Kicking the MOOCs- doing that is one of my favorite past times. Let’s at least give it some credit in stirring up the waters of online learning, and at least get people thinking more seriously about doing it well. Or trying on new approaches like broadcasting video lectures and having engagement in discussion forums, and sending out graphic forms of accomplishments.

    Frankly like you, I’d much rather be teaching/producing/creative in te online space than bantering theory. That’s where its at. on the edges where the cool kids hang out. Cya there.

    • Hey Alan – I must say I was very happy when you appeared in the hangout 🙂

      When you say ‘graphic forms of accomplishments’ are you referring to #ds106 assignments? I haven’t really done that yet, although would like to try it – our stuff tends to be straight video/audio/screencast/web, but it would be great to start visualising learnings/outputs from one medium/genre into another – genre also being key here (and I know you do some great stuff on #ds106).

      Re: online learning, I’m really into the mobile side of things – esp. when it comes to Google Hangouts. Because of the timezone issues, we’ve been finding ourselves meeting up at all sorts of strange times, which inevitably means that some people will be walking to work (hanging out on their mobile), others will be making food, or hanging with friends (ditto). There’s something quite special about connecting anyplace/anytime, as we start seeing one another’s lives rather than seeing one another sat at desks, via webcam. It seems to lead to an easy informality that can take a while to build up to via a more traditional route (regular desk-based web-chats). Not sure if there’s anything to this or not, or whether it’s just been a happy by-product of projects so far. Would certainly be interested in doing some research into this though….

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  11. Hey Helen…Interested in your comments about the new project re: Spreadable Media. As our book is coming out early in 2013, I’d be interested in knowing more about the project you’re working on. Feel free to drop me a line if you have the time. Thanks!

    • Hi Sam, great to hear from you – thanks for passing by! I’m having one of those “yay, interwebz!” moments now 😉
      It would be great to talk to you about the project – and of course your book (which is likely to become our course text). Since writing this post things have moved on a bit towards making this a global project, which is pretty exciting! I’ll google-stalk your email and drop you a line a.s.a.p

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