It’s been an interesting week! The topic was utopian versus dystopian views of technology—we explored this by watching four videos, reading a couple of articles about technological determinism, and exchanging ideas via the discussion forums, blogs, and twitter. The five instructors also hosted an hour-long Google Hangout on Friday.
While I found the videos and articles interesting, I find myself more intrigued by the structure of the MOOC. I expected a self-motivated environment, but I was surprised at just how much the learning depends on my willingness to participate. There is an implied expectation that we watch the videos and read the “core” article (there are also quite a few “advanced” articles in the Week One Resources), and there is a clear directive that we are to engage in two of the various conversations happening in the forums and on social networks. But no one is checking to make sure we do this.
I found the structure strange at first, but ultimately empowering. I began by watching each of the four films and making notes. Then I started reading the core article. And I just wasn’t into it. So I stopped reading. I skimmed a few of the advanced readings, watched another video, browsed the discussion forums. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this nonlinear survey of the materials, and I soon found myself connecting the ideas to my own preoccupations (in this case, what readings to assign my first-year composition students next quarter).
I did not choose to post in the forums, but I was impressed with how many of the responses were expanding upon what others had said, and with how many students were starting their own threads to take the discussion in new directions. I can’t help but assume that this positive engagement is the result of thousands of people having the flexibility to choose how to engage—it seems to foster an environment where we only contribute if we actually have something to say. For me, being a passive observer was sufficient because it led me to a very active (though private) application of the ideas.
Clearly, I will get out of this MOOC what I put into it. No one is monitoring me or grading me, and that’s not why I’m taking the course. Without the grades and expectations, I’m free to engage with the material and use it in a way that actually applies to my life. On the other hand, I feel like my approach makes this MOOC a supplement to work I’m already doing; I don’t know how much I would be getting out of it if I wasn’t already interested in elearning and digital cultures. But, of course, I wouldn’t have volunteered to take the course if I wasn’t interested.
Before signing off, I want to make a quick comment about the Google Hangout (which I’ve embedded below), partly because it was fascinating enough for me to sit through the full hour of recorded video. The five instructors addressed common questions they had seen arise from the community throughout the week, and gave their reactions to and reflections upon the community’s discussions, often drawing from specific blogs or forum posts. It felt like a panel at a conference, and I walked away feeling confident that the people who developed this MOOC are truly experts on the topic of elearning and digital cultures. Listening to them made me feel like I was part of something. It was exciting. The only thing I would change is to have had that Hangout on Day 1.