Openness Beyond the Course Container

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by 2493â„¢

With no sign of any waning of MOOC Hysteria, it seems like a “course” is of course the only way of convening educators online. There is some stampeded going to create more MOOCs or various anagram soups of MOONs OOs, MOOS, whatever.

Alec Couros has been floating the idea of a new one, ETMOOC:

This space will act as a major information hub for , a massively open online course focused on the use of educational technology (#edtech) and media in education. While the field of educational technology is vast, this particular course will focus on some of the recently popularized technologies, literacies and related topics such as social/participatory media, blended/online learning environments, digital literacies, open education, digital citizenship/identity, copyright/copyleft, and multimedia in education.

I’m a big @coursa fan. Few in our field gather people online as quickly as when he summons to work on a collaboratively doc. He’s a voracious twitter sharer of cool and useful liunks. There is speculation that one MOOC provider is his anagram if not, doppleganger. Heck, he is even blogging these days.

But seriously, it was his EC&I 831 that pioneered an open class, even before Siemens, Cormier, and Downes came up with the Grand Idea with a Goofy Acronym. And my current infection with ds106, mirrors more Alec’s open course, where his in person class at the University of Regina was opened up to outside participants.

So when Alec puts out a call for ideas, I’m interested, both for what he brings and what the people he brings, brings. That’s happening already, with an open Google Doc that always seems to have 5+ people in it.

In a few discussions in one of those webinar spaces, I’ve been pushing Alec to think a bit beyond the “course” as a structure. He does not have the base of a core of registered students (yes, not strictly necessary, but I think highly influential for effective cMOOOiness). I wonder really what is the motivator for open participants. People seem married to a structure of video lectures. And badges/certifications.

But more, as I did this week, why te heck does it have to be a “course” to gather interested and motivated people. What is so magical about a course, (of course… unless it is the famous talking course…. hum along).

The more I think about it, it seems more like a massive graduate seminar.

But I think it can go even farther from that.

It’s that weekly ramming speed pace that bugs me.

mooc speed

Just as a topic opens in this pace, the course zooms on to other topics. If you do not row along, you either go your own, or just give up. When not let people join the boat they want to be on, and decided where to go, how fast to row there? WHY THE BLEEP DOES IT HAVE TO BE A NEW TOPIC A WEEK? is that an educational commandment?

Rather than making everyone go on the same boat going at the same speed, why not launch a fleet of boats, ones that regularly communicate, sharing the stories and charts of places they have been, or allowing me to visit from time to time and hang out? I may be interested in some general outcomes of “Citizenship, Identity, Footprint (Overview & Implementation)” or “Literacy: Media, Information, Attention, Memes” but not enough to devote the same amount of energy. I wan to be in the same space as people who care as much about those topics as I care about web development or digital storyteling, but we are we put into one container?

Why a course?

The very outlining a course says, “We have people who something about this, whats important, they will guide you” – why not something more like an unconference (maybe an unMOOC, and Alec as smart and grabbed some cool domains) where the topics are laid out, but the questions, interests, and expertise are shaped by those who come to it?

I’m not against some amount of framing structure, as was suggested well in the webinar by Pete Rorabaugh, and I liked what the MOOCMOOC crew did by having participants actually work on creating things. This is just top of the dog’s head noodling, but what if the topics listed in the Google doc were ships launched once a week or 10 days or fortnight or…), each one has:

  • An intro video that is a trailer, it asks questions, grabs attention. It’s an invitation, not the content.
  • An online space to communicate, maybe Googl+ communities, maybe twitter hash tag, no matter.
  • A place to declare your interest.
  • A place to list your questions about the topic, what you would like to know, what the issues are.
  • A place for people to list and describe and volunteer their expertise to contribute.
  • A place to collect resources related to it.
  • A place to propose ideas of “things we can do” to make issue “X better, more understandable, etc.
  • Place(s0 to convene around this -maybe a web site, maybe a wiki, maybe a google doc, maybe synchronous sessions, maybe a webinar, maybe many of these.

Okay this is messy, so we need roles Conveners, researchers, and most importantly summarizers. We should have a core group that regularly tracks what is going on, summarizing it in a usable and networkable form (blogs? storify?) From here is something to report back to people in other “ships”.

There can still be a schedule to start these groups, but why must a schedule end them as well? Are not these topics important enough to go on? To draw in new people while have something to learn or contribute?

It’s not really radical. It’s almost, in some ways, a structure I was part of in my first job, something with a desert plant metaphor. It was not rigidly structures, and was designed to be organic, with its growth dependent on who chose to be part of it.

I am not saying that is the whole model, and I had forgotten it until madly typing this out. This is less than half baked, and totally brain spill.

Bottom line, Alec, I will be part of this no matter what shape it takes. Cause you are there.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Wetsun

But seriously, let’s bust out of the course box. It is comfortable, but hardly necessary.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com 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 @cogdog@cosocial.ca


  1. I have been thinking about some of the implications of that meeting for the past several days. I love the idea of the thing (avoids “course” for a moment) being a harbor from which ships set sail every couple of days/weeks. The structure would not necessarily be in what happens once the ship sails, but in collecting the productive “debris” that everyone leaves behind in their genius wake (curation, analysis, and dialogue). I think the tricky part will be finding out participants can jump ships or straddle two or more. Will there be too much dilution of the participant pool (too many mixed water metaphors at this point for me to continue)?

    Like you, I think that Alec’s ideas and un-leadership are inspiring, and, amidst all of the other things I will be deep into this spring (like being on the job market again), I am committed to lending my energies to #etmooc.

    1. Thanks Pete. I do know that what I liad out could likely be chaotic frenzy of boats sinking. There is something to be said for structure like scaffolds and building frames. I think a key is enough connectors/summarizers, people who will send messages by semaphore across the great expanses… okay, enough of this metaphor BS.

      Maybe it should be two layerer- run through it in a “course” format, be an intro to the topics week by week, a place to sample (uh oh leaning into metaphor territory). Rather than try to cover everything about these topics in a week, make it to surface what could be done in a more extended or open space. And then set the ships sailing after the end of the “course”.

      My main thing is I see no reason to call this a course, it is not a subject being taught, we are into students. The only reason we call it a course is because it is a familiar entity.

      I am not all the enamored by the familiar.

  2. Along with whole-heartedly agreeing with your @courosa sentiments here (his is definitely one of my online-educator molds), I like where you’re taking some of your thinking about containers *beyond* the confines of a course. It is always a fine line, I think, to provide the right amount of structure for those who need it to get (or keep) going, and the right amount of freedom for those who want to run wild.

    But where an approach of ‘true’ openness (or, if we merely follow Open through to its logical conclusions) gets us in education – especially this sort of roving, free-agent self-education – is far beyond what most of us might be able to imagine at this point. Not that we have to do away with the concept of ‘courses’ or our institutions altogether: but couldn’t each’s energy and resources be used to the greater purpose of cultivating this sort of educational commons, and giving students and participants the tools to navigate it/them?

    You raised some of these questions last year around the experiment with the Economooc, and I’ve thought about the limitations having a curriculum, and only a semester, telling me how to ‘teach’ (facilitate, really) #Philosophy12 this year. What is to stop that community from continuing its rigorous discussion of all that it means to think, and gain wisdom?

    Nothing, really.

    I will keep the blog’s ‘lights’ on, and likely try and keep the flame alive by posting relevant items I come across after the course concludes. And I hope the students who have taken the course continue to engage with the topics and questions that have come up in the last few months.

    What will probably happen, though, is that my students’ other ‘courses’ will be putting demands on their time, and mine will be doing the same to me, which isn’t really a bad thing (they are just as deserving of my and their time as Philosophy is right now). But is this really the way we should go about learning? Is this the way we *do* go about learning?

    We like to quote people like Mark Twain (or Bertrand Russell, maybe?) who say things like, “Never let schooling interrupt your education,” and smugly ignore the fact that some of what we hold as essential to teaching and learning is the greatest interruption of all.

    I’m looking forward to Alec’s course for the same reason you are, and I’ll add to that sentiment that the prospect of looking at some of these ideas with other educators is exciting to no end…

    See you in class.

  3. Ditto on the Couros kudos. one of the key people in my network. I agree with the rigid one week one topic format being constraining and inflexible. When I take a course, I do like some defined borders (because it helps me plan and commit), but there are many times when I think “wait, we’re just getting to the good stuff!” and it’s time to move on.

    What I think works is the continuous development of communities or networks of practice where the boundaries are fluid between participants and facilitators. Where there can be some room and some space to go off on an interesting tangent, or follow some topic a bit deeper.

    One of my favorite quotes recently about this came from Moodle founder Martin Dougiamas. At a recent Moodle event he said,” I’ve been part of a MOOC for 10 years now. It’s called the Moodle community.”

  4. As someone who has organized free, open, online discussions around emergent topics, and all facilitated by volunteers, for the past 13 years (yikes!) I’d say one reason for throwing a lasso around dates on a calendar is because facilitation takes time and effort. Just because you offer a scheduled learning opportunity doesn’t mean that’s where the learning and interactions start and end. But the people involved in organizing and facilitating probably need to move on.

    When I look at the tentative week-by-week outline of #etmooc I don’t see a course container at all. I see places where I might want to dive in, and a whole bunch of people I will learn from. For sure if the topics were more spread out I’d be more likely to participate.

    It feels like we need a new word in our vocabulary. ‘Course’ makes us think of all the things we don’t want. Sometimes an online conference looks exactly the same as a MOOC. At SCoPE we say ‘seminars’…

    1. Thanks Sylvia, your experience here is well grounded. I am not against have these things framed in a time line; what you say makes all the sense n the world. I am looking for just some more thought into when we want to convene people that we reach for “course”

      I am thinking of saying cupcakes—: Massive Online Open Cupcakes

      1. That’s it! Cupcakes! I’ll practice using it in a sentence.

        Not all cupcakes are the same.
        That cupcake was half-baked.
        So many cupcakes to choose from!
        That’s one massive cupcake!
        I’ll never forget that cupcake.

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