The road to hell is paved with unbought stuffed MOOCs (and other pre-sabbatical thoughts)

I’ve been re-reading The Sun Also Rises lately as my just before sleep reading, so hopefully some Hemingway folks will understand my reference. Anyway, I find myself with some MOOCs not taken regrets and some MOOC plans that might be more unbought stuffed toys.

I had planned on taking Cathy Davidson’s “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” that started back in January; alas, that didn’t work out.  Happily for me though, Alex Reid did make it through #futureEd and he blogged about it a lot— this link is to the last in a series of posts on it.  Depending on what happens next, I might go back to his posts in thinking about that class; from what I can tell, he wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by the experience.

More regrettable for me is I didn’t follow through on Bruno Latour’s MOOC “Scientific Humanities.”  There might be some time to catch up on that one though since it doesn’t completely stop for another week or two. Like pretty much every other MOOC I’ve looked at, I think the interface is not very good– hard to follow conversation forums, not easy to navigate, etc., etc.. But I find the lectures of Latour that I have seen to be surprisingly engaging. Here’s a video from the introduction to the course:

FUN-MOOC : Scientific Humanities by fr-universite-numerique

If you haven’t heard him speak before, Latour speaks English fluently (well, with a thick French accent) and he’s quite funny in places, as in this introduction. Latour says that his MOOC is designed for undergraduates interested in “scientific humanities,” and what I find useful about his approach is it’s basically Latour explaining the more complex theories of Latour as if he were lecturing to an introductory course on Latour. I’m scheduled to teach a graduate course in the Rhetoric of Science and Technology again in the fall, and assuming I do and assuming I can get students to get access to this, I might very well assign this and do a sort of condensed version of the MOOC while we read some other Latour and related things.

What’s interesting to me about both Davidson’s and Latour’s MOOCs is they are departures from targeting “gen ed” students. That’s not really new– heck, the first MOOC I took was Curt Bonk’s “Empowering Learning Through Community,” which was clearly targeted to people who taught online and not the gen-ed crowd– but I just think that the demographics that these folks are aiming for here are the more likely future of MOOCs. And their purposes, too: both Davidson and Latour are presenting something that is sort of between a conference and a textbook.

Speaking of books, Invasion of the MOOCs seems to moving along at a decent clip. I don’t know how many physical copies have sold, but I do know there have been lots and lots of downloads, and judging from the international flavor of the retweeting I’ve done, it’s getting a fair amount of play outside of the U.S. Charlie and I did an interview with a site called Education Dive; the headline for the interview was “Invasion of the MOOCs: Is higher ed’s most disruptive force simply a fad?” It was kind of an interesting experience because basically all the report did was reproduce the transcript of our conversation. I’m glad we didn’t say anything too foolish, though I’m not crazy about the word “fad” there.  Fads are a little more inconsequential than MOOCs; I think a better way of putting it is MOOCs are another cycle in the history of instructional/distance education technologies that came in with great promise and fanfare and that was transformed into something else. What MOOCs are now are not what they’re going to be in two years, are not what they were two years ago.

Which gets me to the last point I eluded to in my post title: the “pre-sabbatical” thing. The end of this semester and the summer is the beginning of a transition for me. I’m stepping down as the program coordinator and getting geared up for a one semester sabbatical for winter 2015 (which I’m going to hopefully milk until August 2015)– and that’s my justification for this blog post really because I’m more or less “pre-writing”/pre-thinking about that during these calm few days before the storm of the end of the term.

Maybe I’ll post my actual proposal at some point. The short version is it’s a project tentatively titled “MOOCs in Context: The Rise, Fall, and Fuzzy Future of Massive Open Online Courses.” The first part of this book (I guess I’m aiming for a book) will be about MOOCs in the larger context of previous technologies in distance education– for example, the mail, which will give me an opportunity to get back to some of that work I did way back when. The second/third part will be about my own “auto-ethnographic” experiences inhabiting MOOCs for the last couple of years, and it will also be about interviews I am hoping I can set up with some the folks who have taught MOOCs in the last couple of years, particularly the MOOC faculty who taught and organized some of the courses I have taken. And the last part will be some kind of conclusion– that’s the “fuzzy” part.

I had a one semester sabbatical seven years ago and I handled that poorly. I blogged a bit about that experience, but the short version is I split my time over the course of an entire school year rather than being gone that one semester. People told me at the time that was a bad idea, and boy-howdy, were those people ever right. So that’s the first thing I’m going to do different. I’m not going to be completely gone, but I am certainly going to be avoiding campus and the like as much as possible from January until (hopefully!) August 2015.

The second thing is I am a little less ambitious about this one. Last time, I really was trying to finish/research a book, and that didn’t happen and I felt bad about that. What I’ve proposed to do this time is also to write a book about MOOCs, but I’m a little less committed to that mainly because I worry that with the downward cycle of MOOCs, I’m liable to be too late to the party. Heck, I almost feel like we were too late with Invasion of the MOOCs; will anyone care about this in three years? Including me? And in a strange sort of way, I kind of feel like I already did the work for this with the book and the CCCs article and presentations. For better or worse, sabbaticals (and similar kinds of releases and grants and the like) tend to be awarded not so much for potential work but actually for things already accomplished.

So my goal is to start thinking/writing about this now (and thus this post), and hopefully still be writing about it next winter. Though there’s something about hell and intentions in that Hemingway quote.




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