Tag Archives: MOOC

Pedagogy Stew: August 2013

I’m headed to my 30th high school reunion this month, which causes me to reflect on many things, including my overwhelming urge to find a copy of The Preppy Handbook (pretty sure there were no Southern Illinois locations mentioned in it, also pretty sure I didn’t catch that it was satire when I got it for Christmas, circa 1981, along with some knock-off Topsiders and a belt with little ducks on it).

I was ranked 5th out of a graduating class of about 400. I remember that because I’d been tied for first until my junior year, when I flaked out and could muster only a B in Advanced Algebra/Trig, the same in Chemistry. This coincided with the onset of that whole “imagine this graph/molecule in 3-D inside your head,” which I pretty much totally sucked at.

But overall, those pretty-good-but-not-excellent marks were just further manifestation of my lifelong urge to avoid certain sorts of difficulty.  I’m drawn to some challenges, primarily those of my own devising. Stepping off the valedictorian track involved a rejection of mastering the challenges of classes someone else chose for me. I refused to take calculus my senior year, and as I remember it, my Dad called the man who would’ve taught it (who had taught algebra to my Dad at a local community college) and they grieved together.

I can’t help wondering what kind of challenge students anticipate when they sign up for a MOOC.

MOOC is short for Massively Open Online Course, and they’re all the rage in higher education. They are available online, usually for free, from some terrific universities and professors.

The good part is having free access to lectures, assignments, and tests from some superstar professors.

The bad part is, typically, having zero access to that professor, or to feedback that isn’t automated.

The good part is how easy it is to sign up and participate.

The bad part is the incredibly high dropout rate.

The good part is that a highly motivated student can learn a lot, for free.

The bad part is that a student who is motivated to avoid the challenge of sitting in a traditional college classroom, or taking what now seems like a “traditional” online college course…this student may not be up for the challenge of learning in a less structured, less obligation-driven environment.

In general, as a college student, I’d have crashed and burned in a MOOC, especially if I were taking it to speed through requirements I didn’t see the point of.

But what if taking a MOOC were my own idea? And not required?

It might be like my sophomore English class, at that point. I insisted on doing my book reports on the silliest books—a biography of Colonel Sanders and one I still remember the title of, Sherlock Bones—Pet Detective.  But I was reading Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis and Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ on my own. A challenge of my own devising.

(This column appeared originally in Voice of the River Valley.)

Minnie the MOOC

Folks here’s a story ’bout Minnie the MOOC;
she was a red hot edu-kook.
She was the best-funded epic fail,
but Minnie had enrollment big as a whale.

Edu edu edu boo
P.d . P.d. PhD
hee hee hee hee hee hee hee
oh whoa whoa whoa

She messed around with a Superprofessor
She loved him though he was a great big messer.
He put her up online and showed her
how to spread the content around.

P.d. p.d. PhD

She had a dream about real deep learning;
what she and her students were yearning.
Her institution gave her lots of press,
high hopes and her own web address.

Forgettabouta bookie-dookie oodles-n-oodles a links!
A-clickety clickety clickety hey!

He gave her citations with links for sources.
He gave her the goods from his most popular courses.
She had a million students every new semester
but 90 percent would eventually ditch her

Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee

Poor MOOC, Poor MOOC, Poor MOOC

(With apologies to the songwriters of “Minnie the Moocher,” Irving Mills, Cab Calloway, Clarence Gaskill.)

Here’s what the Digital Humanities are like for me so far:

When I started graduate school, I asked to be assigned in the smoker’s office.

“I didn’t know you smoked,” said the nice lady in charge of T.A. office assignments.

“I don’t,” I said.

But I wanted to be with the cool kids. All my friends, most of them anyway, were in the smoking office. Beckie (no longer smokes), Aron, Neil, Craig, and more whose names I’m blanking on.

This was in 1987, when smoking was allowed inside college offices. And classrooms–the first time I walked into Rodney Jones’s poetry workshop, I could barely see across the room, it was so smoky, and it took me a solid ten minutes to figure out who the teacher was, because there were three guys involved in an intense conversation, puffing away (none of whom looked like what I was used to professors looking like).

The smoking friends I now shared an office with were ones I’d met at the On-the-Island Pub, where I hung out and spent all the money I thought would last me a year after getting my bachelor’s degree. (It lasted almost six months, which actually, given my level of cluelessness and the fact that I didn’t have a credit card at the time, is pretty impressive.) So of course they all smoked.

I’m not saying that listening to all the cool kids talk about the Digital Humanities is putting me at risk for cancer.

I’m just saying that I’m not a full participant yet, just an observer.

Learning by osmosis.

So far, the cool kids seem to be saying MOOCs are

  • typically touted the most by people who understand them the least,
  • not actually good at what people want them to be good at,
  • potentially really exciting, if created by someone who understands pedagogy, cares about learning, and has experience teaching online.

Hence, I’m not willing to dismiss them as possibilities, but I’m awfully skepti-epti-epti-eptical.

I will, at some point, post something a little more substantive on this here topic. In the meantime, one of the non-smoking cool DH kids references the Hanson Bros.