This is supposed to be an introductory blog post for the Program for Online Teaching Certificate Class. Hello/Goodbye it is– while it’s a bit early to jump over the fence (I did rad the first chapter of the book), but I am finding it’s not the experience I need. I’m on course in my usual Zero for MOOC (and now SMOOC) Completion. I’m bailing, again- it’s not fault of the course, it’s me.

And I do not want to come off as a snob like I know all this stuff, but if you are in a class, you have to take responsibility to get up and change if its not the right fit.

I am wagging, see I am friendly?

I will come back to the dog above. Wagging.

I really wanted to be part of this open course for many reasons, including my respect for Lisa Lane and Todd Conaway as facilitators. I also saw it as an opportunity to evolve my skills at online teaching, given I have done just one class so far. I wanted to stay with an open course.

What I missed was that the course is not only aimed at teachers new to online teaching, but relatively new to being online period. I am not comfortable with labels of “experienced MOOC” people and “novice”, and some of the assertions that we should be tempering our communications so as not to scare off said novices.

We are all educators. A mix is a good thing. It may be me, but I find the very usage of “novice” almost a disabling term. It tends to keep people comfortable at a low level of online ability. I started this class with the idea I was a “novice” at teaching, but I refuse to wear that as a label. In everything I do, even the things I have some skills, I have so more more to learn than I know that the idea of the labels is ridiculous.

I am always moving forward on that spectrum of experience.

Let me tell you about my “novice” students in ds106, which for some people needs to be explained as jargon, the Digital Storytelling class I teach at the University of Mary Washington. Most of my students have never done blogging, many are new to twitter, and are setting up their first YouTube accounts.

In two days of this class, they have taken control of their domain, installed wordpress, created videos, and embedded them into their blog posts. This stuff is not hard, and don’t you dare drag out that digital immigrant crap.

The students do this because they just go and try; if they do not know what a term is, they look it up. They take action, they do not wait for the course to provide.

So, I am feeling harshness coming on, but let me frame this with the approach how we each media in ds106- the first level is always noticing, listening. In photography, they learn to see details through the lens, and notice light. In Design, they learn to identify color, font, use of space. In audio, they listen first to appreciate layers in sound, foley effects, use fo background.

Frankly I am not sure people should not be teaching online without some level of basic experience being and doing online. I have no idea if this is off base, but frankly it is a major (to me) difference of doing things ON the web (e.g. putting stuff inside LMSes) and doing things OF the web. I am not saying people have to be experts at web stuff, but the web should be like a place they feel like they inhabit, not just visit or witness through a glass plate window. And you might say, that is the purpose of the course. And I hope it does help those folks.

I understand totally what this course is about, it is preparing teachers for the kind of online teaching that is done at Miracosta and many other places. It is stuff that is well designed and structured, as Lisa describes:

Unlike these MOOCs, this class is not an open framework for participating in an online community. The syllabus, unlike other MOOCs, is not just an open topic and a synchronous session (we may not even have many of those). It is based on guided exploration particular topics with a particular design of progress, particularly suited for those just beginning to teach online.

I can try, but all of this structure is going to make me loopy. It’s not my way of being. It’s not my style. I am loose stock.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

What it took an afternoon literally padding up a creek (Patapsco River in Maryland) was that this is a course that is aimed at people who wi;l teach what is, if there is such a thing, a traditional online class. I am actually not that interested in that sort of online teaching; I want to be in the space of experimentation.

I have no research papers or studies to rely on, but I go by my intuition and experience here- What we are doing in ds106 may not be the form many other classes can do, but to me, it is most close to the very structure and dynamic of the internet itself. I am not really seeing how the kind of content in the syllabus is gooing to feed my growth in such an experimental teaching space.

In ds106 we purposely challenge our students, we deliberately make them uncomfortable, so they will learn how to move out of that space on their own.

So you see that wagging dog above?

Do you know what dog it is? It’s not Lassie.

The kind of media is an animated GIF, maybe one of the oldest forms of web media that has been resurrected in a new form, one that has been at the heart of ds106 a long while.

For our assignment this week, we told our students to figure ut how to make an animated GIF. We did not provide them a screencast, a tutorial, a guide. We want them to struggle, to have to figure it out. We want them to be (a little frustrated). By them moving past that level of frustation to success is what gives them confidence to do that again and again.

To me this is the kind of modern learning that we need to be doing, because the world is changing too fast for us to be designing well formed structures.

Now here is the thing, what I find myself trying to do as a teacher is to de-program the students from they way they have been conditioned to DO school.

They get so worried about having to complete the task, to get all 25 points of credit, that they miss the real outcomes. I want my students to be trying things they have not done before, to interpret the assignments in their own way (not just “what do I have to do to get credit”). I want to free them from worrying about the frigging points! I want them to focus on their process of learning, not the products.

I want students to find their own voices in their work, and make the assignments work for them, rather than me- here’s a twitter exchange where I was trying to work this angle with a student:

And you want to know something? Alex is not in my section, he is in Martha Burtis’ section. DO you see how we are blurring the boundaries?

If one of my students might make it this far down my blog, here is a clue. If you try something and produce something that is kind fo crappy, but you can write a narrative of your process, describe the influences, the intent. you will do better in my class than someone who makes something slick but cannot talk about their process.

Well here I am at the end of a post, I keep going back and trying to take out the stuff that makes me sound like a frothing mad dog.

But here is this the thing- if a class, course, program, webinar, anything is not working for you, you have to get up and go. Who are you helping by sitting quietly and being “nice”?

So Lisa, Todd, thanks for all the fish. I am sorry.,. I am not tagging this post to the course site. This is not a criticism of the work you are doing, but an awareness of the lack of a fit for me. All me. If I can help in some way, let me know. But I won’t be in the regular mix, I have some sticks to go chase.

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by TheGiantVermin

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I knew this would happen, and I’m sorry.

    I completely agree that people who don’t know much about the web shouldn’t be teaching online. But they do, every day, at many institutions, public and private. We’re trying to do something about that. But our method has never been to throw people into the pool, despite the fact that I myself learn quite well that way. Professionals who already have a calling and are now changing environments (often by force) do not, by and large, benefit from being thrown in the deep end.

    I don’t like the term “novice” either, I don’t (and didn’t) like labeling and dividing, I am totally uncomfortable with so much of it. But at the end of the day, we are trying to do something different than ds106 or cckxx or Coursera or many of the models we’ve had to reject. I think at this point we’re closer to EC&I831.

    And of course your post IS a criticism, and of course that’s OK, and needed, and important. And thanks for removing the frothing. What would be awful is if we all went through the past few days without reflection, communication, respect, or cogent thought about all these issues.

    BTW, I’ve left several classes myself because they didn’t fit me and of course one should not have to suffer in any environment that doesn’t help one grow. (At least not now that we’re not undergraduates any more.) I recall something taught by someone called Bonk…

    And for the record, having watched your work all summer, I never saw that you needed any help being an online teacher.

  2. “is a major (to me) difference of doing things ON the web (e.g. putting stuff inside LMSes) and doing things OF the web. I am not saying people have to be experts at web stuff, but the web should be like a place they feel like they inhabit, not just visit or witness through a glass plate window.”

    Very important observation, beautifully put. I wish more people got this. Thanks.

  3. “For our assignment this week, we told our students to figure ut how to make an animated GIF….To me this is the kind of modern learning that we need to be doing, because the world is changing too fast for us to be designing well formed structures.”

    Yes. The assignment is NOT to make a animated GIF. The assignment is to figure out how to make an animated GIF. This is precisely the place where I struggle as I inhabit the web instead of just using it. I would probably feel more comfortable if you asked me to figure out how to frame a window, though I have about as many web skills as carpentry skills. Maybe more. Perhaps the trick is feeling free to fail–to think of it like paint: “It’s just paint. You can always paint over it.”

  4. I’ll miss your presence but saw it coming too. Besides I already follow your blog.

    Multiple modes = multiple points of entry, which increase access and options. I work with/blog for a number of local users who are not comfortable online (or, worse, think they are but have huge gaps in competencies) and try to accommodate all of them as best I can. Accommodating one group can turn away others. My own situation, is, of course much less structured.

    The same goes for higher ed types in my NewFac cohort and among its wider audience. Rural grannies and proffies are not as different in this as one might expect. It’s important not to let accommodating turn into dis-accommodating yourself and eating up time you don’t have to spare.

    I would also add that some of the newbies might be in the class because they are expected to start teaching online and do not have the option to do JRees imitations.

  5. An afterthought ~ somebody, lots of somebodies actually, has to work on adapting this model to actual teaching of real subjects, not just navel gazing about the process and arguing about what a mooc is and how many can dance on the head of a pin. If that’s all the model is ever used for, then xMOOCs have the ball and a clear field to run with it.

  6. Yes, I spend a lot of time away from that audience. Mea culpa.

    I do not have time for said navel gazing given I am teaching a real class of 23 real students, mentoring a few hundred other open participants, and building out the platform that enables this.

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