TL;DR version: In this blog post I reflect on what I believe to be the most essential question behind development of a MOOC, or an open educational resource - WHY? I've been receiving this question a lot lately and wanted to share my thoughts on the work we've completed, and where we're headed.
Over the past couple of months I’ve been feverishly working on polishing up the Online Research and Media Skills (ORMS) MOOC. A MOOC is a Massively Open Online Course. As I’ve stated frequently in talks and interviews about the ORMS MOOC…”it’s not massive, it’s online, it’s open, and it’s more of a community than a course.” Instead of parsing out the terminology about the naming mechanism, I usually focus on the fact that it is an open educational resource. Recently I’ve seen other blogs and discussions commenting on the what and how behind development of MOOCs. To me the key reason has always been the why behind development of a resource like this. In recent talks I have received the following question from friends, colleagues, strangers, and family – Why in the world would you want to build an open educational MOOC?
I think this question straddles a few different areas. The first layer of this question I take to be – Why would you openly post this material online? The second layer of this question I usually get as people push a bit further is – Why would you take the time to do this? There are usually many other layers that exist given the population that I’m talking to: Why build a MOOC? Does your university know you’re doing this? Don’t you sleep? So what?
Why did I want to build an online, open educational resource?
For me the evolution to building a open educational resource, in this instance the ORMS MOOC is a simple one. I’ve always been in believer in openly sharing ideas with the intent of helping others…and improving my own thinking. I don’t think anyone gains my holding their ideas in a vacuum and doling out incrementally. I would rather build an open resource that people can use if they believe this work and the included ideas are valuable. I think the framework included in the ORMS model is very valuable, and will help out teachers in their classrooms globally.
The ideas behind the ORMS MOOC came from work I’ve been compiling with Greg McVerry over a series of years. The ideas represent time spent researching, working with students, working with teachers, talking it out over long car rides. What we’ve come to is a research tested instructional model for empowering educators to use digital texts and tools in their classroom and professional life. We’ve been presenting these materials in workshops, classrooms, institutes, and online in various forms for years. In each one of these instances we develop a blog post or two, build a Moodle/Wikispaces/Google Sites page, and share the materials via Twitter to participants. The challenge that always nags at me after I drive away from a talk is that the learning and dialogue has effectively ended after our time is up. No matter how many times I share my email address, Twitter or Google+ info…people rarely reach out for more support. In research we conducted on teachers and their acquisition of new and digital literacies we realized that people need extended exposure to this type of learning and work. They also need a chance to share their ideas with others…talk things out…see what others have done with this work.
While looking for a possible solution for this I stumbled across the Google as a Free LMS Community. In this group I came to an epiphany. I realized that I could cobble together a series of free digital texts and tools and build my own learning management system (LMS). Ultimately, this LMS would be open, online, and free…much like the fabled MOOCs we see popping up all over. Development of this ORMS MOOC would serve a couple of purposes for me. First, it would allow me to build an online learning community to connect learners across different workshops and institutes with teachers I’ve never met before. Teachers from my workshops could connect online with students in my classes, and share ideas for using technology in teaching and learning. Second, it would allow us to document learning and showcase work product completed by others. Good teachers borrow…good teachers also need to see what others have done with these ideas. An online learning community allows us to continue the dialogue after the day has ended while stockpiling work product to use as an exemplar. Third, it would allow me to polish up my skills with building an online learning infrastructure…and provide an exemplar for others to follow. This work has extended my own thinking about teachers constructing their own learning management systems. I believe that teachers can use technology to empower their students and open up the barriers in their own classrooms. I think that first we need to think about empowering our teachers to effectively use technology in their own practice. This is the impetus behind development of your own digital learning hub as your create and curate your online brand.
What are the next steps?
So now we’re coming to the end of development of the ORMS MOOC. We’ve developed a series of digital badges to promote learning, dialogue, and community. We’ll be running a final set of people through the MOOC and beta testing the environment and badges to get it ready for a first launch this fall. Now that we’re coming to the end…or the beginning of the ORMS MOOC, I’m sure I’ll continue to be asked many of the same questions as I was before. The answers to the why question should be different for all people…but I think it should be asked.
For me it’s a simple answer to the question. I think the ideas we present in the ORMS model are powerful and beneficial for classrooms globally. At first I believed that the initial launch of the MOOC would be greeted by a resounding silence. Instead I have received a ton of interest from educators globally that would like to test-drive the MOOC and get involved in the learning. Of course I would love it if you brought me to your building as a consultant and had me walk you through these ideas for a week or a weekend. I would also love it if you came to my university and sat in classes for a semester. The challenge is that life sometimes offers geographical, financial, and time constraints that preclude people from bringing me in face-to-face. I wanted to develop a learning tool that individuals could use to build their own skill-level in the comfort of their own home…sitting on the couch reading their Chromebook or iPad. I think with the ORMS MOOC and the associated open badges we’ve built just that. It will be interesting to see how this giant experiment plays out over the next couple of months.
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