Some thoughts on my MOOC experience
Posted by Melissa on August 27, 2012
As I mentioned earlier, I participated in a mini-MOOC about MOOCs a couple of weeks ago. I left for vacation before the week ended and never had a chance to reflect on my experience. I’ll admit I had (wrongly) thought most MOOCs were xMOOCs, doing nothing more than providing a way to replicate the sage-on-the-stage model of education and transmit it to vast audiences. Participating in the mini-MOOC opened my eyes to the possibilities of connectivist MOOCs (or cMOOCs). (If you want some background on these different types of MOOCs, check out the essay created by one of the groups within the MOOC MOOC providing an overview of the MOOC landscape.)
Even with the potential of cMOOCs, my week of participation in the mini-MOOC left me wondering if I would ever feel completely comfortable in any “massive” educational endeavor. Collaborating with 50+ other people I didn’t know to write an essay about MOOCs in Google Docs wasn’t exhilarating; it was anxiety producing. I’m a slow, reflective writer. I have to spend a lot of time thinking, testing a fragment of an idea, and then revising both the idea and the words that capture the idea. In Google Docs, watching words and concepts, even entire paragraphs, change, appear, and disappear as I tried to add my own thoughts frustrated me. I felt wholly inadequate. I also wondered how dissenting opinions would ever be heard when a group of 50+ people were writing and revising each other’s words to create a common document.
If collaborating on Google docs was unsettling, “discussions” via Twitter were even more so. Trying to engage meaningfully in 140 character snippets with people who are completely unknown was wholly unsatisfying. The constant barrage of tweets felt helter-skelter; it was too much, too fast, and without real connection or direction. The steady give and take, the seeing in someone’s eyes when they are lost, or emphatic, or playful, the sense of shared enrichment that arises from face-to-face conversations, those things were entirely missing from the on-line conversations. As one of my fellow MOOC participants noted, MOOCs favor those who are on-line extroverts, and unlike a real classroom, there’s no teacher to encourage the introverts to participate, to find creative ways to allow everyone to speak up, to actively work to make the classroom an inclusive space.
I may be the exception to the rule, but from the time I was in 7th grade, I knew I wanted to attend a small liberal arts college. The summer before 7th grade I attended a summer camp at a Big 10 university, and I walked away from the experience saying, “I never want to go here for college.” The University made me feel alone among thousands of students; my experience with the MOOC MOOC made me feel the same way. I felt overwhelmed and isolated, and I was without a coach (read teacher) to help me make the most of the experience. Did I learn something from the MOOC MOOC? You bet. Do I see potential for MOOCs in some arenas of higher education? Definitely. I can even imagine finding ways to interface some MOOCs with a traditional residential college experience. But MOOCs are not for everyone, particularly those who are on-line introverts and those who lack self-confidence or direction. I’m not yet convinced that Twitter conversations with thousands or Google Docs collaboration with hundreds can create the same connectedness and community that make small liberal arts colleges such a wonderful place to teach and learn.