Starting the MOOC I have found to be interestingly stressful; exciting, of course, but also rather scary. This has not been primarily about the technical aspects of the process, but rather I have felt all sorts of worries about what would be expected of me, and whether I could cope. The tension in the chest, as I sat online on Sunday evening, waiting for things to go live, was palpable, and rather surprising. I was, I realised, physically scared.
One initial model of what this (teaching on a MOOC) might be about was that you design your course, then “wind it up, and let it go”. This is the sort of “light touch” tutor engagement which many assume to be the essence of the MOOC. I have always felt that the teacher – online or off – should be seeking to move to the periphery of activity, and to let the agency of the students drive the learning engagement, but that this should never be felt by the students as a withdrawal of the support and encouragement that they feel that they need and deserve. This is the matter of the cultivation of teacher presence that Jen speaks of in an earlier post. How was this to be enacted in the context of the MOOC?
And there is the usual anxiety about all transition points. One state of affairs pertained (pre-launch), and we have now moved into another state of affairs. Importantly, this week has not marked the start for many participants, who have been engaging and communicating for weeks, through Twitter, and other media. This has been great to watch, not only to see the energy and creativity manifest, but also to see the growth of a vibrant community of mutually supportive people, providing one another with both personal affirmation, and sound practical guidance. In other areas of our online teaching (with more “traditional” cohort sizes) we believe that this orientation, and coming together as a group, is vitally important for the learning process, and for the motivation that allows participants to persist in their engagement online. A five-week course is a very short time for such cohesion to develop, so it has been reassuring to see this happening so organically, and in advance of the first engagement with the course materials.
But there was also a danger highlighted, in that something great was already happening, which the formal commencement of the course might risk disrupting.
That possibility makes one feel reluctant to mess with, and thereby damage, a Good Thing. Douglas Adams’ Arthur Dent, from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, came to mind.
When Arthur had been a boy at school, long before the Earth had been demolished, he had used to play football. He had not been at all good at it, and his particular speciality had been scoring own goals in important matches. Whenever this happened he used to experience a peculiar tingling round the back of his neck that would slowly creep up across his cheeks and heat his brow. The image of mud and grass and lots of little jeering boys flinging it at him suddenly came vividly to his mind at this moment.
Then I see a Tweet to #edcmooc from one of our lovely alumni from our MSc programme in E-Learning, and things drop back into proportion. But then, as any reader of Douglas Adams knows, if one is going to exist in a MOOC of this size, then the one thing one cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.
So one realises that on a scale like this, the tutor is really only one other learner. One’s philosophy of standing back and letting one’s students get on with it might just work here. Of course, one has to give guidance – about where to find this or that piece of information, or the assignment specifications, or the announcements archive – but then other course members are doing a good job of that too. You are not special. Nothing to see here. Move along. Enjoy yourself. So thanks to @FrancoisGuite for the quotation from Sugata Mitra suggesting that “the absence of the teacher in the age of the Internet can become a pedagogical tool.”
The palpitations are happening less often now. Thanks for asking.