I’ve noticed some people have been making comments suggesting that they’re learning something. It’s as though they have passed through a ‘liminal state’ (Perkins, 2006) and have found a route to help them come out the other side. Here are a few examples from the forums:
‘I have thought more about technology in our world and on-line ed in the past week than I have in the last year. Maybe its working.’ – Matthew Gorek
‘There are enough “aha’s” to sustain me and that is what I think learning is about.’ Karen Hughes
‘I think what I am just beginning to “see” is what I have been preaching for years – constructivism! ‘ – Cheryl Doran
As someone who tends towards optimism, I find this very encouraging. However, I am conscious that with a class of 42,000, it is possible to find evidence to support any of a range of responses to what’s going on, so I’m cautious about making strong claims. Instead, I thought it would be useful to reflect a little on this idea of liminality, as it seems relevant both to Week 2 as a time when students may feel lost in a mass of content, and to our themes of a potential digital future that might be bewildering and troublesome. The word ‘liminal’ relates to thresholds: a metaphor of crossing and entering new territory. The liminal state – a condition where the person is between the old way of being and the new – can be both exhilarating and uncomfortable and may mean abandoning cherished ways of doing things. I’ve also seen a fair amount of evidence in the forums of concern for loss of well-established educational practices.
Our MOOC may then be stimulating a liminal state for many students and perhaps ultimately leading to a way of thinking about digital culture that was previously unavailable. It could also be argued that MOOC itself is a ‘threshold concept’: transformative, troublesome, integrative, bounded, discursive and reconstitutive. (This isn’t a description of individual MOOCs – just the concept MOOC.) If you’re interested in threshold concepts, the link takes you to a University College London site that summarises and links to many more sources.
Because I’m an optimist, I’m hoping that many people will feel they are learning. I know from years of my own student experience that feeling stuck and perplexed can often be a sign that it’s about to happen.
Perkins, D. (2006) The underlying game: troublesome knowledge and threshold conceptions. In E. Meyer & R. Land (Eds.), Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding: Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge. London: Routledge.