We, as tutors in this MOOC, are learning a tremendous amount; both in the matter of the substantive topics that that MOOC seeks to address, but also in the matter of what a MOOC is (or might be) and how its environment and processes can be configured in conception and design, and orchestrated in practice. One important area of learning for me has certainly been about the business of cultivating and managing the expectations of course participants. Not that one doesn’t know, as a teacher from other areas of one’s practice, how important this is, but rather that such planning is usually able to be predicated on one’s knowledge of the learner group. One makes assumptions, of course, but the domain knowledge in which those assumptions are grounded, is usually relatively sound. In the context of the massive, all bets are off.
I was particularly helped in this thinking by a strand of forum conversation started (my thanks) by Gary Kirk. The tone was generous, accepting that this was probably (it is) the first time that this course has been offered. One respondent (Elizabeth Hayden) on the thread indicated that the disconfirmation of expectations might not be the worst thing that can happen – one might be pleasantly surprised. There were other important issues raised, such as “time” (how much of it to devote) from David Alexander Young, and “evolution” (of a course, as a work in progress) from donnastitches. Perhaps another post.
One particular suggestion from Gary Kirk, although clearly helpfully offered, I would be reluctant to run with. The suggestion is that the descriptions of the course, and the briefings about its conduct, should be edited to remove references to “we” and to substitute them with references to “you”. The expectation that should be cultivated then, would be that the tutors would not be present; would not be very visibly joining in. That manipulation would provide a more helpful set of expectations of what could reasonably be found to be the case on a course with some 40 thousand participants.
There has been a great deal written about “presence” online in general, and the notion of “teacher presence” in an online course in particular. That is not where I want to go with this brief post. Rather, it is a simple appeal. We, as tutors, would like to remain “We” as members of the total participant group. Even though we (the tutors) are a tiny minority (the “staff/student ratio” here is 0.0001 – I calculated it) we don’t want to be “Them”. I, for one, have found much that I feel affinity with in the forum posts, blogs and Tweets, although I have not been able to go everywhere in the course, or even to leave a trace in those places that I have gone. I’m assuming that that is the experience of everybody. But I would still want it to be “Us” on this particular exploration. Of course the role of the tutor is different. And I also see other people who are taking up distinct and different roles within this corporate group. But we are all in this together.