A well placed sardine can…yes it can #edcmooc

As we end the final week of EDCMOOC – a week devoted to the final assignment and in which my teaching role was perhaps pushed further to the ‘side-lines’ – I find myself lured into considering the kind of things we might have achieved on this course.  The following comment, from CourseTalk, has given me much to think about in this respect:


While, as I have made clear in previous posts, I welcome criticism, the above observation has become particularly cherished.  Despite my genuine respect for Wilko’s concerns, the analogy is, for me, undoubtedly complimentary.  From the outset of planning this course, we have been very much interested in challenging the boundaries of what is possible with an ‘online’ course, and this description seems to encapsulate these attempts very satisfactorily indeed.  I use the word ‘challenging’ here intentionally, aware of its vagueness.  ‘Subversion’ might be another term appropriate to our strategy, although I wouldn’t necessarily use that here lest it be taken negatively.  Our relationship with Coursera is of course a partnership and collaboration, within which we are both working to confront assumptions about what is possible with digital education, and our intention is to productively experiment with the platform for the benefit of those learning with it.

Neverthless, Wilko’s above allegory is a fantastic way to begin considering what we may have achieved with the EDCMOOC.  Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ of course comes to mind, and perhaps other Dada works comprised of ‘readymade’ found objects stated to be art – this is presumably the trend which is being referred to.  I am of course not attempting to equate our five week course with such a movement, however it may provide a useful starting point to consider our course.  As described in Sian’s earlier post, we did indeed structure our course around objet trouve – open source resources on the web – and presented or curated these objects *as* our course.

In this sense, we did indeed smuggle a sardine can into the Coursera platform, and presented it as a course.  However, what Wilko fails to include in his compliment is the conversation that has been happening in art since Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ in the early twentieth century; that of the relationship between the object itself and our appraisal of it.  To attempt to crudely shoehorn such an idea into the discussion of our very own EDCMOOC, would be to say that there is a conversation to be had about the content of a course, and the discussions and responses that happen around them.  To privilege course content as being in possession of essential and hallowed qualities, anterior to the ways that the viewer approaches it, is to ignore all the ways that knowledge derives from processes that involve human interpretation.  Just as an everyday object with a non-art function can change depending on the context in which it might be placed (a gallery), or the interpretations which might arise in response to it, so any object can prove the most stimulating educational resource.  Just think what kind of issues could be brought to fore in a consideration of the humble sardine can: industrialisation, mass production, globalisation, fishing stocks and quotas, human relationships with animals, to name but a few over-generalised topics.

Before I take this artistic analogy too far, I must say that I don’t think the EDCMMOC has been particularly radical. There is of course a much more revolutionary history to the MOOC, in which our offering is merely a ‘hybrid’, trying ‘very hard to subvert its own conditions of production.’  However, given the relatively experimental and emerging format that is the MOOC, about which my ever insightful colleague Hamish has been known to paraphrase Zhou Enlai, declaring ‘it is too soon to say’,  I hope that we have indeed done something to subvert the idea that MOOCs are incontestable lectures, alongside which our interpretations, creativity and oppositions are secondary.

What has been most thrilling for me in this EDCMOOC are the thriving tweets, blog posts and group conversations that are orbiting the Coursera site.  Thousands of them.  That is the power, and value, of a well placed sardine can.

Jeremy Knox

Building a better #EDCMOOC?

One of the most interesting aspects of my participation in this course so far has been the attention paid to the MOOC format itself.  In a course about education and technology, discussion of the MOOC seems inevitable, but also pertinent to our focus on cultural influences and ‘e-learning’ histories.  Perhaps most significant has been the interest in developing strategies for ‘dealing’ with a MOOC, both from a student and teacher perspective.  It comes as no surprise that a significant proportion of EDCMOOC participants are educators interested in how they might go about delivering such a course.  We are asking ourselves the same questions as we explore the new territory of the MOOC, and it has been a privilege to read numerous responses from a broad spectrum of experienced educators.

I’ve been thinking about this relationship between content and process, and I keep returning to this useful Wallwisher which I came across the other day.  While this, and other great posts like it are helping me to think through the experiences of designing and teaching a MOOC, I have some concerns with a focus on process.  Strategies for teaching people ‘how to MOOC’ often appear disconnected from ‘content’, and indeed this attention to ‘process’ is what the connectivist-informed MOOCs have advocated.  At its extreme, this approach seems to disregard the centralised curation of content in favour of strategies for independent information retrieval.  Learning to use social media is clearly important in this kind of course, however many of the suggestions for building a better MOOC appear engaging enough to constitute a five week course in themselves – an indication, I’d suggest, of the depth and merit of these strategies.  Given the incredibly diverse skills apparent in EDCMOOC participants, crucial questions are emerging for me this week regarding this relationship between process and content.

For the moment, one of my main concerns with ‘process’ is the assumption of a ‘right way’ to go about things.  For me, this seems to tap into the same inferences as the ‘digital natives’ debate; that there are people who know how to use technology correctly, and hence can get better ‘results’.  I’m slightly wary of an orientation towards achieving the ‘right’ answer through a ‘correct’ aggregation strategy.  While I value the articulation of strategies and the circumscribing of approaches, particularly in relation to the overwhelming information coming together in the EDCMOC, I’m also concerned with what is lost in such classifications.  The ‘correct’ way to use Twitter, for example, should perhaps be contested, rather than reduced to a bullet pointed list.  In the same way that ‘digital immigrants’ are devalued, strategies which call for the ‘technology savvy’ to teach others seems to diminish the worth of a fresh insight, an alternative perspective, a view of technology that does not come from ‘within’ technology.  EDCMOOC participants appear to be rich and varied, and it is perhaps from diversity, not homogenisation, that we can learn the most.  This week I’ll be looking out for the ‘mistakes’…

Jeremy Knox