reviewing scale & strategy – or, how to remain sane while in a mooc

focus time folks – the sudden upsurge in numbers online in the course this week has been a bit… omg.. from a sort of manageable hundred or so using the social media, to…?? I know we have been expecting this all along, but it still feels like a tsunami when it hits!  I’m not even going to try keeping up with reading discussions now…. Dirk’s cartoon that I quoted yesterday said it all..

So, a different strategy seems called for… which is pretty good timing for me as it happens, because I’ve been feeling guilty spending so much time here the past couple of weeks anyway, and now I have a good reason to change my roaming ways…

speaking of net surfing I just went to find an image and saw that, today’s google image is in honour of snugglepot and cuddlepie (favourite storybook for little Australians, about gum nut fairies in the bush) – how cute is that?

google snugglepot and cuddlepie 2013-01-17

Anyway, I know I’ve been spending quite a bit of time each day browsing around, following links, reading blogs, reading articles, watching videos, because my connection has slowed right down, meaning I guess that I’ve used my download quota for the month –  and it’s only half way through the month!

It’s been great though – I’ve learned a lot from all the reading, and been stimulated to think about some new topics, and I’ve enjoyed it… and whenever I find something of relevance to the thesis I’m writing I can tell myself I’m doing research rather than wasting my time – yay…

As I’ve been thinking about the course objectives and expected outcomes more carefully, I’ve reorganised this blog (again) this morning …. now I think I’ve settled on a structure and a simple routine, that should see me through the five weeks of the course delivery and interaction, and the production of the assessment task. So I guess I’m ‘focused’ now…

I remind myself that the course leaders reckon we should only be spending 3-5 hours per week on this course! So my preparation for the course has far exceeded the time I’m going to spend on actually doing the course…. hmmm

So, no more browsing and contributing to such a range of discussions in Facebook and G+ for me, just a really quick browse of them every other day, grab anything that seems to fit into the story I’m constructing here in this blog, limit my browsing to half an hour max each day, and post a quick message or two to one of the social media to share only the most interesting stuff I’ve found – I don’t have time to check, but I’m going to assume that if I inter-link social media, my one message will appear in all of them automatically…

Anyway, what have I learned so far in these prep weeks? I think this blog represents it pretty much, in its page organisation and their contents, but in short…

toolbox tiny tools for online communication & multimedia text production

I thought I already was tech savvy and had a good collection bookmarked in my personal ‘toolbox’, but I’ve learned a heap from conversations in the social fora of this mooc… and I’m really developing greater proficiency in using media I had accounts with but wasn’t actually bothering to use well…. particularly the inter-linking of social media is becoming an eye opener, now I’m beginning to really see the point of it – it saves time and connects you with masses more people, fast. They may or may not want to connect with me of course, but at least I’m able to give them the choice, and I’ve started following heaps of people on twitter and have started using RSS feeds too – I never really understood what that was all about, but now I’ve started using Google Reader and I get it – it really does save time, and I need that right now.

And that’s the point – you learn at the point of need
(amazing how many educators don’t get that, and construe their students as deficient and unmotivated, when the problem is more likely a lack of discussion and good task design)

I’m becoming a better blogger thanks to this course – I’ve been using blogs for years, but not in a particularly sophisticated way, just as private journals for my teaching and research, or semi-privately to talk with a small number of colleagues.. going ‘public’ with a blog has been something else…

crowd tiny managing conversation in a crowd

trying to participate in conversation with a very large group, in the FaceBook group, has made me feel a bit like I’m back in high school really…. the sense of crowd and competition to have your voice heard… not what one has become used to in professionally organised life… both quite fun at times and quite devastating at others – as when noone listens or talks back to you, and you keep trying to say something that’s intensely meaningful and important to you and it’s either ignored or trodden on, like so many jack boots on a flower…. and then suddenly someone ‘likes’ something you put out there and it makes your day… and then you’re just ignored again…. and then someone disagrees with you in a way that makes you feel things you’re not used to feeling…. and then you have to reconsider how you have worded your own messages and worry about whether you’ve offended anyone and that’s why noone is talking to you… and then you start imagining that everyone else is more ‘liked’ than you are… this can be exhausting!… and then you think, what the hell am I thinking? I’m not a teenager, why am I having all these existential angst moments? and then you take an academic interest in the phenomenon as a coping strategy, and then you accept that this is just an upscaled and fast forwarded version of normal everyday conversational life, and  you empathise with your teenage child’s transition from primary to secondary school coz that’s exactly what it’s been like for them… and then you reflect on how they were friends with everyone in first year, and how second year brought tears and traumas and realignments as people simply had to focus on smaller groupings and make some tough stances to work out who the hell they were and what they really wanted to be talking about, because it’s in the stories we spend our lives constructing that we find the friends who help us ‘get it all together’…

So yeah, streamlined management of the tools of trade is one of the most valuable things I’m learning in this course, because I’m feeling the need to learn that right now…

peeragogy

but the big take home message is the fact that nobody had to ‘teach’ me any of it – just throw resources out there and let me find my own way to the stuff I need when I need it…. relevance of all this to my teaching and research seems clear to me, in that I’ve been thinking for years that design is everything, and this experience confirms it for me – I wanted to do this course in the first place in order to feel what it’s like to be a student again, to better understand my own students… now I’m convinced that this ‘go help yourselves and feed each other’ approach to teaching works well, when the task and conversation are designed and articulated well, which I think they are in this course.

Should I ‘do something’ to up my readership? I really am not good with that kind of thing. I find it excruciatingly  awkward and uncomfortable to be honest – the whole business of going public as a blogger has been a VERY big step and it verges on the traumatic sometimes – but this is very much one of the themes of the course, so I have simply taken an academic interest in the phenomenon and am considering the whole experience as a mini participant ethnography of my own – sort of doing an empire strikes back on the course organisers, and using their course as they are using us who would participate in it… I think their design is brilliant actually, and I am learning from it.. and have now started writing about it in chapter 6 of my emerging thesis…. I have been doing similar things with my students for some years, but not of course on this kind of scale.. but the experiment they’re engaging in, because it’s so open, is very instructive (well that’s what I would think isn’t it? It’s been designed that way…. perhaps I am in the Matrix after all)…

pop sci-fi

I’ve always been keen on science fact, but I’ve never been a fan of science fiction (notable exceptions being Dr Who, Life on Mars and the wonderfully fantastically bad and therefore brilliant Lost in Space) , and so I’ve missed most of the ‘classics’ that everyone else seems to know inside out… so I am now getting familiar with movies I’ve only known the names of in the past, and look forward to learning more

discourses from AI & ‘post-humanism’

I’ve been exposed to a fair bit of communications theory over the years in my work with electrical engineers, and of theories of ‘culture’ in my word with students of business, and always found it interesting how differently technicians and scientists and business folk often view key themes of interest to me (such as culture, communication and language)  which due to my main education I see from a humanities / linguistics perspective…. I grew up in a social-functional theory of language (radically different from the traditions in linguistics that have been dominant in the US), and always find it very easy, shall we say, to critique discussions of communication, ‘mind’ and learning that are based on other, (to me less sophisticated and robust) theories of language (or based on no theory of language or semiotics at all, which is more often the case it seems to me)…. so as I read much of the discourse in the fields of artificial intelligence, I do tend to find myself laughing out loud sometimes…. I really can’t take it seriously… but I read on, hoping to learn and find something that might challenge me and make me really think hard about my own assumptions and beliefs…. haven’t yet, but I am striving to be open minded!… meanwhile, I find that Kress’ writing resonates with me still very much, all these years later…

the mooc debate

I started reading about the mooc phenomenon in earnest about 6 months ago, and it’s from that  general interest that I found my way into this course… and I really like the way having an assignment to do is helping me shape (tame?) my thinking into an exchangeable form of some kind… some kind other than the standard academic paper that is… it’s really rather fun thinking about it I’m finding 🙂

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disruption as storytelling device

I was just listing to the radio briefly as I passed between rooms and heard a novelist in interview saying how she (and all creative writers) needs to construct a disruption in a situation in order to be able to go on to tell a story, and of course this rings true – we all know narrative technique well enough to know the importance of the initial ‘crisis’… but what interested me was how that obvious truism suddenly struck me as just as true of the sort of creative writing we are engaging in as students in this course, and how the course itself is an emerging narrative enabled by an initial discourse on how ‘disruptive’ the mooc is to everything and anything in higher education: it’s irrelevant whether we take it as ‘true’ or not, we simply need to suspend disbelief in order to engage in the joys of the storytelling… it’s like we need to construct that disruption or ‘crisis’ in our situation so that we can proceed to join in the telling of a big story – which is nothing other than the doing of this course (‘learning’ as it were)…

exploding-brain4

I don’t even see that as an ‘are we in our out of the matrix?’ scenario, because in my old age I have come to see less and less difference between fiction and non fiction, between story and history (or hers), between creative and ‘academic’ writing… it’s all just language, in varying genres and registers…. I’m in the middle of writing a thesis and have taught both creative and academic writing for two decades, to a wide range of students, for various purposes (including to ‘learn English’ and to ‘learn Australian Studies’ and to learn some ‘Science’ or ‘Health’ or ‘Engineering’ discipline they’ve chosen to study) and I believe less and less in there actually being any real difference at all… and to see more and more the cross-over relevance of analytic techniques and developmental strategies I’ve used in one area for others…

just thought I’d share that one 🙂

all we see and seem, is but a dream within a dream, as Mr Poe once so eloquently penned…

either that or I’ve just been thinking about language philosophy for too long….

this is my story:

Panel_08

to blog, to quad, perchance to deeply learn…

I’ve overspent my time allocation today already and am now getting anxious about my mind being away from my day job as I try and persuade myself that what I do here is all helpful to that, but stop I must – in just a moment, after I’ve had a brief meditation on what’s been going on!

there’s been some discussion today on the course FB page about quadblogging and why we want to give it a go, and how – and terrific contributions to the collective think aloud / write it down…. what I’m wanting to reflect on here now though, in my own blog space rather than the shared FB page, is what I’m learning and what I’m finding it difficult to learn.

I’ve already gleaned a plethora of new edtech tools – more than I can possibly keep up with the documentation of let alone the experimentation with – helpfully, Eric started an edtech Google doc so we can collectively keep the record straightish! (do we give daily thanks for the mighty hyper-link? don’t you just LOVE them?!)

but anyway, all of my explorations and comments in FB and G+ and twitter and whatever the hell else is going on has created problems as it solves others (such is life) in that while I do want to know what the different functions of the various platforms and tool types might be, I also find it extremely irritating when you can’t just find a quick answer to a simple question – like can I (or why can’t I) send a tweet to a list rather than to the entire universe? I am amazed at how quickly this environment with all its wonderful participants informs me of some things, and how difficult it can be to get information of that nature via Google…

What I seem to have learned today (though I am never quite sure really, because I simply don’t have time to read down beyond the first few items that google has engineered it to appear at the top of list when I search for something, and I am always left with a horrible anxiety that the answer I seek really is there but just beyond my reach or my capacity in the moment to think of an intelligent enough search term, and here I am feeling what it is to be a student in the 21st century… which is exactly what I joined the course in order to experience, so what am I complaining about? I got what I paid for… wait, I didn’t pay anything! well that doesn’t mean I got nothing in this case (though who knows, it may well mean I will later when Mephistopheles comes to call…

anyway, it is a good question that has been being asked the pst couple of days in our social network – what are we blogging FOR? and if we’re going to blog on the quad, what should we be writing ABOUT? and as Chris’ mind map shapes our thinking about this, I find myself putting in my ten cents’ worth about modeling literacy practices and the processes of development because that’s what I really want to blog about myself, but what I also really want to read about in others’ blogs – and that’s because it’s my research interest… and I hope I don’t bore others to death with it! but this is what i want my blog readers to read and comment on from their perspective, so that I can develop how I am writing about the things that matter to me most as an educator.

the day job for me is language education across the institution – academic literacy, English language proficiency, communications – call it what you will, I work in an institution that, like pretty well most universities in the Anglosphere these days, has a high and growing proportion of students coming into the system from backgrounds that have not quite prepared them for it, linguistically and culturally, and in which they will inevitably encounter some pretty big fat obstacles along the way, in expected and unexpected places, that they will struggle to name, let alone overcome without trauma….

And where once upon a time (apparently) people thought it would be a good idea to teach students ‘how to write an essay’ for example (or a report, or a blog for that matter) in some random optional class outside the curriculum, or behind a closed door somewhere down  a dark corridor, the trend now is (thankfully) to at least semi-recognise that it makes a lot more sense to pay attention to how literacy develops in the very contexts and moments in which it most needs to… so that ‘language education’ becomes an institutional approach to curricular and pedagogical development by and for all teaching academics across the disciplines – a matter of task and assessment design, and a matter of appropriate support just in time – ie modeling, discussing, demonstrating, engineering social interaction., and paying attention to the language in play and how repertoire might be expanded along the way in order to enable learners to complete challenging and engaging tasks…

anyway back to work for now – and if anyone can tell me how to tweet to my quad list I’m all ears!

provoking comment

and while I learn more about twitter (which my research assistant this morning also very kindly taught me a thing or two about today, and introduced me to TweetDeck… which I’ll get back to some day when I need to avoid my day job some more, but right now I’m wanting to get back into some actual work – but just before I do I just have to note that the e-learning provocateur’s post that I read today (as I was munching on my lunch after my fruitful meeting with said research assistant this morning with whom I was actually doing some work, before we got onto the frivolous topic of tweeting, she being the expert and I the utter novice) has stuck in my mind and my mind being what it is these days I figure best strike while proverbial iron’s hot or the thoughts will be thinner than air by the time I get home tonight so here I am posting again – I was planning for just one a day, I feel now like I am binging, like I’m eating the whole packet of timtams in one go… a reference all Australians will immediately understand but others may need explained) well anyway, I just want to comment on one of the many points Ryan makes in his post because it echoes something I was saying to my twitter expert friend and assistant in crime this very day, in qualified defence of moocdom, namely… about the cMOOC.

We are clearly in what George Siemens refers to as a cMOOC, not an xMOOC – or at least, some of us are. That is, one where the focus is on connected, collaborative learning rather than broadcast. I mean, as I was thinking aloud this morning, it is a month before lift off and I have already learned stuff because we’re talking to each other, and I fully expect now that this has set the scene for the whole course – most of the learning we experience will be generated by our own interactions. This interests and pleases me, because the learning experience is the very aspect I joined to investigate. I am thinking of other points raised in Ryan’s post, such as the anticipation within and around the higher ed sector that moocdom will be rapidly occupied by those who have for so long been excluded from higher education, or who have found it absurdly inaccessible (remote, expensive, linguistically challenging), even as the empire repositions itself to remain the font of all knowledge for the foreseeable future – I expect there will be interesting comebacks ahead!

What I’m really keen to observe in this mooc experience we’re about to fly off into is its linguistic nature, the degree of multi-modality, and the potential of the medium to help or hinder those attempting to engage in what is for them a second, or still quite foreign language… there is so much potential for this moocy medium to be brilliant in multi-lingual contexts, and so much likliehood that it won’t be! I wonder when the first multi-lingual mooc delivery will be… there are already moocs playing out with study groupings conducted in languages other than English, but given that the big gun providers are US and UK based, the delivery will be in the firm grip of English for quite some time to come I guess.

there is a lot of commentary about moocs of course (and I’ve just got a grabbag snippet on my moocdom page on this blog, excerpts from a much larger set of bookmarks I’ve been gathering the past few months) – but surprisingly little about the language (or have I missed a ginormous discussion somewhere? – there is this interesting post about the geography of moodcom, but what really seriously is there about the linguistics?) One person I’m aware of who’s discussing the implications is Paul Prinsloo, but the topic will be on my mind throughout this course – be warned!

the best way forward?

I’m trying to work out what works for me and the limited time I have to schedule for paying attention to this course and its growing tribe of participants – who I want to read, but I just can’t be everywhere all the time, right? I have a half hour or so a day to dip in here, that’s it. So what to do? I’ve experimented here with quickly browsing the course’s Google+ page and gleaning a few blog URLs and adding them to my blog. I have linked all the course sites to this blog for my own convenience, so that I can just bookmark my own blog and link everything else for this course there… now I note someone has posted about ‘triberr’ (thanks Eric!) and am exploring that as a perhaps better way, given that the number of blogs I might want to dip into will continue growing and I don’t want a blogroll on my site that is a million miles long…. but I’ll explore more tomorrow and make a decision – I have to get my daughter down to the beach right now – she is a rookie surf life guard, and is on water safety for the wave warriors carnival. Unfortunately she can’t compete this year because she broke a toe two weeks ago 😦 but nothing will stop here being there and helping out in the water – go girl!

one day this will all be history…

So here we are, about to be launched into a 5 week journey into who knows quite where… like most of us in this course I guess, I signed up for it months ago, and wait here patiently for take off… now just a few weeks away… everyone’s starting to be a twit and blogger about it in anticipation, so I’ve joined the ranks. May the force be with us (if that’s a good thing – I’ve never actually seen Star Wars, so I’ve no idea what that reference means… not really into Star Trek either – I’m more of a Dr Who and Life on Mars kind of girl…).

Anyway, so far the genre here seems clear. Ground control has posted some basic instructions, no detailed map yet, but some general directions:

This course will explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice

The ‘about the course’ blurb says (cut, paste, abbreviate):

“E-learning and Digital Cultures is about how popular narratives shape our ideas of online education. We’ll look at how learning and literacy is represented in popular digital-, (or cyber-) culture…. you create your own pictorial, filmic or graphic representation of themes encountered during the course, using digital spaces in new ways…”.

I went to a bit of an overview and debrief meeting yesterday at my workplace university, where a few people reported their experience doing MOOCs, and there are some clear pattern to these experiences, in terms of duration, design, delivery, collaborative assessment, joys & benefits, overwhelms & disgruntlements… so I know a bit of what to expect.

The first expectation on us is to create a blog (check), and to say hello on the course’s Google Plus page (check), and then create a semi coherent social media habitus, comprising Facebook, Twitter, Flickr etc… (to do)… thankfully I already have all those accounts, and this is hopefully a good reason to use them. So, off I go to do all that and complete task one…

Meanwhile, back to the beginning thought – that one day, this will all be history…. how better to begin a learning journey story than with a brief meditation on language?

In the beginning was the word…. I’m thinking here in terms of Halliday‘s conception of language history in 3 dimensions: how the language system evolves, how the language repertoire of an individual develops, and how specific instances of language unfold –  logogenesis – the semiotic dynamics of text and context changing together as we go with the flow…. to set the scene….

Throughout this journey into MOOCspace, I want to consider these three dimensions of language, as we endeavour to make sense of course materials and engage in conversation with one another… I’m interested to see how the course and the various blogs unfold, how my personal knowledge of the topic expands as I start saying new things, and how doing a course online with a squillion other people does or doesn’t change our sense of what it is to learn, and whether the technology is making significant changes to our collective capacity to interact and make meaning – or whether it’s not just a different mode of literate behaviour rather than a new form of life…