The title of this post is a conflation of two things I want to think about more. It also follows on, down a slightly winding path, from one of Jeremy’s posts yesterday, where he described his concern about people seeking ‘correct’ strategies for dealing with the large amount of content flowing into and through the MOOC.
First is a very lovely description of what – at its best moments – EDCMOOC can feel like. This was written by Kathy Fitch in the discussion forum, where she described witnessing and finding a sense of
joyful engagement and absorption
in the MOOC experience. She explicitly frames the pleasure of the MOOC as something that is not – metaphorically or literally – a classroom. Its excitement comes from being ‘massive’, from being a happening.
Second is an observation from Desi Pedeva about sameness – the way that MOOC participants are responding, all across the web, to the same set of resources, at the same time, in (in her view) many of the same kinds of ways. She argues that this happens in smaller courses, too, for the same reasons – the way that teachers control “the choice of what to include and what to exclude in their courses” – but at scale it becomes oppressive:
I can’t escape the feeling that my unique internal ideas have been trivialized by being exposed and multiplied by thousands on the Internet.
She goes on to argue that smaller courses avoid the “homogenisation of knowledge” primarily because they are small: “The small classes create pockets of diverse knowledge and diverse learning communities”.
So, here we have the “massive” as both an engine of joyful engagement, and an engine of trivialisation and conformity. I don’t believe that these perspectives are mutually exclusive, but I do think we are urgently required by the emergence, and our adoption, of the MOOC to consider what the implications of the “massive” may be for both knowledge and learning.
When the EDCMOOC course team started talking about developing our course, we didn’t ask how to teach 40,000 people at once, but rather what 40,000 people could do together. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted much of the work of the course to happen in the open web. But it seems to me that the thrill of being part of something so big, so public, and so distributed – finding resonances, making unexpected connections – is not without its difficulties. I think Desi has indicated one way these difficulties might be understood. If MOOC teachers and designers value difference and diversity, how do we design for this, while also for massive happenings?