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A group of instructors and other teaching professionals spent a week in August investigating massively open online courses (MOOCs). And some of the results were surprising.
These types of courses are open to anyone, don't charge students for registration and bring large groups of students together. Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris from Marylhurst University decided that there was a need to explore this emerging form of instruction. They led an exploration of this teaching model by starting a course on it, called "MOOC MOOC" that was sponsored by the open peer-reviewed journal Hybrid Pedagogy.
Officially, 608 people registered, but it's hard to know for sure how many people took the course because parts of it were open. Approximately 2,500 people actually participated, and probably about 5,500 people at least lurked at some point.
On the first day of the course, participants read about massively open online courses. Then they split into groups of 50 to create an essay in Google Docs about what MOOCs are. On Tuesday, the discussion focused on where learning happens, and they created videos answering that question. On Wednesday, they figured out how to incorporate different pedagogical pieces into their own classes.
"We weren't trying to tell people what MOOCs are," said Stommel, assistant professor of English and digital humanities, as well as director of the English and Digital Humanities degree program at Marylhurst. "We were trying to have people experiment with the form so they'll play with the form, talk about the form and also think about how they could use the form in their own classes."
Because the instructors intentionally didn't set outcomes for the course, participants spent Thursday looking back on their work to see what results came out of their experience. And on Friday, they reflected on what they would do if they decided to use techniques from massively open online courses in their classes.
Through this course, the instructors learned at least three lessons about MOOCs.
The personal relationships that developed in the course were the most surprising thing to Stommel.
"With this massive thing, I didn't expect the sort of level of the friendships that were developed," Stommel said.
Although the end result was surprising, the instructors did work to help the community to connect, said Morris, a partner in Hybrid Pedagogy and part-time instructor in the English and Digital Humanities program at Marylhurst. These connections are vital to good pedagogy, Morris said.
To help create these connections, the instructors hosted a Twitter social on the first evening and scheduled chats on Twitter throughout the week. The participants took it even further. Every night, they decided to debrief and socialize with one another on Twitter. And by the end of the course, they had created a MOOC MOOC meeting space using Google Hangouts to socialize and reflect on their course experience.
The course spawned the new verb "MOOCify," which means taking elements that participants enjoyed about the class and applying them in their in-person, hybrid and online courses.
"We revealed that MOOCs aren't courses in the way that we think they are," Morris said. "They actually are like a strategy; they're getting toward something rather than being something."
Instead of keeping the class contained in a learning management system, parts of it were open to the Web so anyone could interact with the content and comment on it. For example, some people outside the official course read the blogs, watched the videos and saw the tweets. Consequently their experience was more open and engaged with the rest of the academic world, Stommel said.
Stommel and Morris have decided to continue their exploration of massively open online courses, with another session planned for November. While "MOOC MOOC" was designed for teachers, a digital writing MOOC is designed for anyone who likes to write and has a computer. The "DigiWriMo" will have participants write 50,000 words by the end of the month in any form, whether it's a blog, collaborative piece, Twitter poem or essay. This class will be run on the WordPress platform, while the first one was on the Instructure Canvas platform.
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