I can tell you right now, the posts in my blog are going to be a bit of a drunkards walk. There will be a common thread (or several interweaving threads) but the freedom of just writing means I’ll be following my random thoughts a little. You’ve been warned!
So what’s on my mind now is the vibe I’ve been getting from the MOOC students, the MOOCsters. I don’t know why but I’ve always been very lucky to have a great rapport with my students. Somehow, even with new students in each class, we soon seem to be resonating with one another. I think they get that I genuinely care, and that I truly feel privileged to have a “job” that involves stimulating their minds and provoking thought. I, in turn, try hard to understand where they’re at, to see my class through their eyes. And again, with just a week or two of interaction we somehow come to feel like a class, not a prof in front of a bunch of students, but a community of people learning together … there is that mojo! This despite the fact that my classes typically number well into the hundreds of students (i.e., 300 – 1900).
Going into my MOOC experience I couldn’t help but wonder if these students would be different. They certainly were not going to be the 17 – 19 year olds I am accustomed to. Would English proficiency be a major problem? Would there be a sense of distance and coldness given the medium? Most important, that vibe that I so feed off, the resonance I can typically feel between myself and my students, the mojo, would that be gone? If so, would this course lose the fun I usually feel while teaching?
Well, two weeks into the MOOC and I am happy to say as loudly as I can, I love these MOOCsters! At some level I shouldn’t have been surprised. They come because they want to learn. Yes they are a varied group. Some have plenty of time to spend on the course and don’t mind the sort of complexities I tend to bring into their world (more on that later!) whereas others are trying to fit my class into an already busy life, and this latter group finds ambiguity and change more difficult to deal with. Some are highly proficient in English, others not so much. But despite all that the level of respect, mutual support, and community that I feel two weeks into this course is inspiring to me. The mojo is there, despite the interactions being totally online, and this is really nice to know.
So maybe I will leave this blog on that point. MOOCsters rock, especially my Cognitive Cannibals! They appreciate the opportunity made available to them, they are engaged in the experience, and while they sometimes criticize specific aspects of the course (as they should!) they are consistently respectful and friendly. In subsequent posts I’ll explore some of the worries over MOOCs, mostly coming from within academia, but it is important to stress that the basic premise of MOOCs is to provide a quality learning experience for free to people who might not otherwise have access. This is no shadow promise. It is real, it is happening, and the students really appreciate it. And from my perspective, it’s certainly fun!