It all began many moons ago when I first heard of MOOCs – massive open online courses, and many of my colleagues at UT Arlington were talking pro and con about them – of course: that is what we academics do. Then we had a MOOC Conference here at UTA, and I attended for a day, before the great DFW ice storm of 2013 hit and kept me at home in front of the fireplace and on twitter for the rest of the conference.
I tend to talk to my sister about everything. She and I have been talking art, language, history, politics, religion, healthcare, and just about anything else you can think of since the beginning of time. We’ve also done entertaining together – not the food and friends kind, but the show business kind.
So she knew about my preoccupation with things educational, and of course the conversation turned to MOOCs. She had been saying for quite awhile that, although she’s written poetry and jokes and all sorts of things for years, she wanted to know more about writing poetry and read more poets.
So low and behold, one day she tells me that she’s thinking about signing up for this MOOC on Walt Whitman. So she calls me again, and she has a question about getting on to it. I get on my computer while on the phone with her, and we both get into the website, and before long she has signed up – but so have I – inadvertently. I see the “unregister” link, but then I think: what an opportunity this might be. I don’t know that I would necessarily choose this topic, but why not? I’d have at least one person in the MOOC whom I know, so I decided to stay in the MOOC. We got excited about doing the MOOC together, and so it stood.
A few days later when I was talking to her she told me that her best friend asked if she could join us. I said wow, then we’d have three people in close proximity on the MOOC who know each other!
Well, time went by, and just the other day I got this email from Harvardx telling me about the course, linking to the instructor and her video advertising the course, telling me that we’ll be visiting some of the places that Whitman frequented and wrote about, hearing from famous people, and hearing Whitman poetry during events in Manhattan. In addition, I was invited to go to the course facebook and twitter pages. I went on facebook, introduced myself, and noted that the page has access to all my friends on facebook and invites me to invite them to join. Very clever. I may actually take them up on that. Anyway, that email excited me! But, wow, one is thrown out into the wide open space of the world in cyberspace.
I had always been a solitary learner as a student. That’s the way we did things back then. I never worked in a group, I never did pair work or work in groups of three or four. I never did any kind of cooperative learning, where students teach each other. I never blogged or did a wiki for class as my students have. I’ve made my own students do it all, but I’ve always been a solitary learner. And yet I have not been so. By the second time I went to graduate school I began talking with my professors and fellow students about Dürrenmatt and his idea about “man’s inhumanity to man,” I wrote white papers to my professors and fellow students about the lecture method, I wrote my professors and told them what I wanted to learn in grad school. All along I’ve had the “long conversation” with my sister, as she has called it, and during my years at UT Arlington I’ve put white papers into the boxes of my colleagues, or emailed them my thoughts; I’ve had many conversations with my colleagues on campus and a few meaty conversations at conferences. But still … this is something new, this MOOC. How will it evolve, and how will I evolve in it?