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MOOCs are a rumbling. For those following them or participating, so called Massive Online Open Courses might feel they are coming of age. I’d bet they are far from the horizons for most educators. I think the most important stuff about MOOCs is in the middle.

Tim Owens has nicely frames some issues with MOOCs and his post is well worth a read. As is David Wiley’s series on his opinions of MOOCs (with the expected usual word matches with Stephen Downes).

To me, the acronym is become a bit of an albatross or something that has less meaning than literal, and perhaps some day may just be an alias, or reference to the concept than an explanation itself. I agree with David Wiley that the “M” is rather like one of those appendages that has no purpose:

“Massive” does not modify “open” in any meaningful way. “Completely open” I would understand. I’m sure someone hoped to gain some recognition by remixing the popular term Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. But at least in that case the word “massively” does meaningfully modify the word “multiplayer.” There are 100s of 1000s of people in these games. “Massively multi-learner” might have made sense if the goal of MOOCs was to serve 100s of 1000s of people. However, “massive open” doesn’t mean anything. If you’re going to start a movement of sorts, at last pick a descriptive name. And MOOC just sounds goofy.

But I question the use of the “C” as well- not to say there cannot by open online courses, but that the “Course” model seems to be always central. From Wikipedia

A Massive open online course (MOOC) is a course where the participants are distributed and course materials also are dispersed across the web.

Of course a course is a course, but WIlbur… aren’t there other ways to leverage the structure, the spirit, the modality of open online courses in non course endeavors? Of course!

It was my conversation with Gardner Campbell that rose a spark with his assertion that we stil focus on Open Resources, rather than, his phrase Open Educational Experiences. This was amplified even more in Jim Groom’s #occupy Open Ed killer keynote – we can do so much more than just courses. We can do stuff that matters.

And that agrees with my gut that says most MOOCs are very “course-ish” – there is a syllabus (created by the course organizers), there is a regular series of sessions/lectures (selected by the course organizers). The thing unique to ds106 is that it is, to me, the least “course-ish” in design although it still is a course. Of course.

So generally the framework is created FOR learners by an individual, or group, or organization. And that is okay, do not get me wrong- someone/some place decides they have an educational offering that would have value in opening up to an internet audience, fantastico. We need more.

But until last week, I wondered if there would be anything that pushed the “C” right off the edge, and focus most on the O and the O.

David Kernohan, maybe just tweeting in the breeze posts:

I can only guess what he had i mind (well he actually blogged in quite clearly) but in this #occupy moment, when there are serious doubts about the sustainability of our way of life, isn’t there a rich place to be exploring, sharing ideas about how the economy works? Can there not be anything more important to us now?

And why not see of the elements of an open course from ds106 might work in another discipline? This played out completely free form openly in the Twitter

Even if nothing pans out, I totally dig how an idea can bubble and bounce in this space of creative colleagues, draw in new people, and grow like a flower or some mutant virus.

And so it has- check out

My wonder is, how “course-ish” will this get?

Here’s a dream I have- there is a an open space for people to put out all the kinds of things about Economics they want to know- markets, how trade deficits work, heck, even the Smoot-Hartley act — a chance for people interested in this experience to help define what it becomes.

Then pair this with people who have the knowledge/experience to guide us through a shared learning experience, and a place to dump, and share resources. And some sort of ds106 assignment creation bank, and we put those skills of ds106 creativity, making visuals, audio, videos, mashups, to work on creating understanding of the topic.

It need not have a rigid course format, does it? Does it have to be a course at all?

Maybe it does. Maybe it works best. I don;t know. I am just wondering about the assumption that a Massive Online Open Experience need be a course.

What it ought to be, is again, where I fall to some musical metaphors.

Its like joining a band. A band of minstrels, gypsies, pirates, or just rock and rollers.. how cool is it to be part of a band, maybe a small tight unit, maybe a massive one?

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And that, to me, is what ds106 does that no other MOOC does- it makes you want to Join Together with the Band

When you hear this sound a-comin’
Hear the drummer drumming
Won’t you join together with the band
We don’t move in any ‘ticular direction
And we don’t make no collections
Won’t you join together with the band.

See, the band is in motion. It’s got no led direction, and is not about the money.

Do you really think I care
What you eat or what you wear
Won’t you join together with the band
There’s a million ways to laugh
Ev’ry one’s a path
Won’t you join together with the band.

The not caring about what you eat or wear (or blog or tweet) is less dismissive but more that it does not matter, you are welcome. And laughter (fun) counts. A lot.

Everybody join together
Won’t you join together
Come on and join together with the band
We need to join together
Won’t you join together
Come on and join together with the band.

You don’t have to play
You can follow or lead the way
Won’t you join together with the band
We don’t know where we’re going
But the season’s right for knowing
Won’t you join together with the band.

It does not matter what you do, play/dont play, lead/follow — and I love this ” the season’s right for knowing”

It’s the singer not the song
That makes the music move along
Won’t you join together with the band
This is the biggest band you’ll find
It’s as deep as it is wide
Won’t you join together with the band.

“It’s the singer not the song”— dig that? To me, that’s again, not about the content or the resources, but how they are experienced — and so much is true about ds106 – “It’s as deep as it is wide”

So I hope that the Economooc is more like that band you want to join together with, and I’m really eager to see it unfurl, and more so if it keeps in this organic mode.

Or as David Kernohan wrote:

Like many of the finest things in life, #economooc began in a twitter discussion with Giulia Forsythe. Both of us are enjoying the creativity and peer learning that ds106 exemplifies. And both of us want to learn more about economics, this crazy collection of academic theories which seems to run the world and could lead either to utopia or apocalypse. We’re both happy with self-directed learning, but would appreciate peer support and expert or non-expert comments.

I can dig it. See what you think- head over to

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An early 90s builder of web stuff 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. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. @Alan the focus on ‘courses’ is troubling to me, because (whether or not it’s the intention) it often sets the expectation of: ‘here is a predetermined pathway or narrative through a subject area that will communicate the ‘accepted by scholars’ canon relating to that subject area or topic.

    In the uncourse approach I tried around, I had a vague idea of the topics I wanted to cover (the syllabus was mindmap with maybe 10 ‘chapters’ and 5-10 ‘sections’ in each chapter) and then just started documenting my learning about them. The uncourse was thus just an unfolding of my own learning journey through the topic, and was open to influence from anyone who cared to comment, as well as anything I picked up on that happened to be in the air/news at the time.

    On a day to day basis, I think both our blogs do this… they record our own fumblings, learnings, eureka moments etc as we struggle to make sense of the world that interests us.

    I don’t know if you regularly use the Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange sites, but I find them a great place for getting answers – and mentoring – around a lot of technical/programming issues. The space is set up for people with specific ‘learning issues’ to get help, and a bit of mentoring/explanation on the way. (IMO, a lot of Stack * answers read as mini-tutorials.) To a certain extent, you could use Stack * questions as a question bank, with example answers available if you want to check your answer. If you think your answer is better than any of the other answers, you can add it, and if the question is a live one, your answer may well get marked by other people (questions and answers can all be voted +1 or -1).

    Stack * pages also support comments, though I guess for a learning context you might want to be able to spawn discussion pages around a question, a bit like in the MediaWiki model, although maybe allowing for more than 1 discussion page per question page (so eg folk could discuss a particular answer in one page, or compare answers on another discussion page).

    From my own perspective, as a self-directed learner, courses don’t really work for me… I tend to set my own questions and then try to figure out the answers (often calling on third party resources rather than trying to think it through!) So a loose network when I can find folk who are interested in the same topic as I am who I can bounce questions off tends to work for me.

    This works for me as a lifelong learning strategy too, and the commitment is pretty much mine to make (I have spectacularly failed to commit to, or engage with, other peoples’ schedules as set down in ‘formal’ MOOCs).

    Where I think it doesn’t necessarily work is for folk who aren’t autodidacts. They do seem to value the idea of ‘taught pathway’ they can rely on. So maybe for them, following an uncourse set up as a team blog authored by a group of folk who are committed to documenting their public learning journey would work out?

    Pacing may also play an important role. When folk are blogging a learning journey, it’s created – or unrolled – in real time. It has some some of momentum, sort of engagement by the creator, who you might expected to be willing to engage in conversation about the topic because they are currently trying to get their head round it, and may it find it useful to talk. If the learner-creator(s) publishing the uncourse has/have some experience of teaching, it definitely helps, because they can document their learning in the form of teaching resources that unsophisticated learners will find more useful than ‘learning’ resources.

    After the fact, the uncourse resources are still available to others, although direct engagement in discussion in that space may not be as likely.

    One or more structured pathways through the legacy resources will also be available if links were used appropriately during the creation of the uncourse. These can be replayed in the time dimension – if that’s the sort of structured help you need – using things like serialised/daily feeds [ ]

    Of course, the most effective way of taking a legacy uncourse might be to start blogging a new one that in the first instance at least raws heavily on the one your following…

    I’ve been rambling for a too long.. I guess I’m not after a space, I’m after teachers learning in public and letting me tag along…

  2. As I’m sure you know, moocs tend to come in two basic flavors. xMoocs are course-based and Coursera moocs are probably the prime example here. cMoocs follow the constructivist educational philosophy, and are very free-form. They were the first kind of mooc offered and have been around far longer than the Stanford and Coursera variety.

    The model here is to present a theme and lots of resources for exploring it, then let the participants see what they can do with this information. The ultimate goal is creating a group of connected learners who share material, discuss the topic, experiment, and bounce ideas off each other. These groups often continue to stay in communication long after the “course” has ended.

    Gamesmooc has been operating this way for over a year. It’s a constructivist mooc for educators who are interested in using games in school and in the ways games can transform the school experience. Participants include people from award-winning organizations like WoW in Schools, Institute of Play, and 3D Gamelab, plus hundreds of K-12 and higher ed folks from all over the world. The general feeling is far more like a serious gaming guild than a university classroom or a Coursera mooc.

    A group like this devoted to economics could do amazing things. I wish you the best with this exciting idea.

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