A blog post that will substitute for now for working on various MOOC projects

I am in the midst of what I have dubbed “sabbatical lite.” I finished up my quasi-administrative duties as program coordinator this summer and passed that baton on to Steve Benninghoff. This semester, I’m only teaching two classes because I’m getting a course release (more like payback) for MA projects I’ve directed over the last few years. Both of these are undergraduate courses and one of them is online. This is all setting the stage for my sabbatical proper, which will begin in January and go until next August.

It all makes me very nervous. I have had this song going through my head for weeks now:


On the one hand (the hand full of fear and dread), I worry a lot about squandering my release and coming out at the end of it with little to show for my time. I have learned over the years that I am the kind of person who gets more things done when I’m busy, and when I have too much time to waste, I waste too much time. Or I procrastinate by doing non-writerly things. So getting to August 2015 with not much accomplished but a really clean house and some more blog posts is a very real possibility.

On the other hand, I realize this is a “problem” that many (most?) academics would love to have, and really, the stakes for me are shockingly low. My sabbatical proposal is about writing a book about MOOCs, but I also kind of feel like I have already earned this based on things I have already done recently. And the dirty not so secretive thing about sabbaticals is it’s not like I’ll be in trouble if I don’t come through with what I said I was going to do. It’s not like the powers that be are going to say “hey, give us back that free time!”

If I’ve learned anything from my previously mostly squandered sabbatical and from observing my wife’s productive and simultaneously relaxing/recharging experience this past winter and summer, sabbaticals are more than about completing a promised project, and the institution knows that. It’s about slowing down and taking time to read and think, time for some introspection, etc.

As it is, I’m in the midst of three MOOC projects that aren’t even connected with the book proposal: I’m going to give a talk at the upcoming Cultural Rhetorics Conference at Michigan State; I’m working on a chapter for an edited collection about MOOCs that’s being edited/put together by Liz Losh; and I’m going to be presenting at the CCCCs in March in Tampa. I’m also probably going to be somehow involved/presenting at HASTAC when it’s at MSU in the spring. So that’s plenty, I think.

I wasn’t a particularly good MOOC student this past summer, a classic case of good intentions and the road to hell. The Internet History, Technology, and Security turned out to be a little more boring than I was anticipating, but I did think Charles Severance did a number of interesting things. A lot of the class materials were very “wiki-like” in how they were curated by students, and he did these little videos of he posted of office hours he held at different places around the world. They were kind of hokey– him holding a cell phone camera and recording whoever showed up at a Starbucks in New York or Singapore or whatever and mostly show students waving at the camera– but at least there was an effort there at making connections. It was also interesting that I think that Severance’s class was the first one I’ve seen where he linked to the Facebook page that sprang up as a result of the class.

I was an even worse MOOC student in the University of Iowa “How Writers Write Poetry.” I guess I found the class kind of boring and a little depressing, to be honest. The poets giving various video lectures (and that’s pretty much the content, various poets giving various lectures) were all quite earnest and well-intentioned, and I suppose for the person/potential poet who was seeking these words of wisdom from another poet, they might be useful. But learning about writing poetry (or any writing activity, really) by watching a video is sort of like learning to dance while remaining seated or learning to cook without eating. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense, which to me speaks to the possibilities and affordances of MOOCs. Let’s just give up on the notion that every educational experience scales because that’s silly and was never true. Instead, why not concentrate on what does scale, perhaps something like an Internet History class or maybe even something more straight-forward like a first year writing course?

And I also found the course depressing because the emptiness of the discussion forums. Basically, these were for students to share their exercises and other bits of poetry. They were heartbreakingly empty. To be fair, I need to go back and look at them a little more carefully (I think this and the Severance class might figure into one of those previously mentioned smaller MOOC projects), so it might not be as bad as it looked at first. But there were so many posts that had zero or maybe one or maybe two responses.  So there were all these people who wrote their one little line and shared it with the universe of the class and heard nothing back. Not a peep. Talk about being alone in a crowd.

Anyway, in the spirit of getting back into the swing of things with MOOC-ness, I’ve signed up for two new Coursera courses, Social Network Analysis and Foundations of Business Strategy. I’m interested in the social network class because (at least this is what I’m getting from the summary) it seems like it might be a MOOC I can imagine assigning in some of the classes I teach. And I guess I’m interested in the business class because I’ve always had a bias against the premise of studying business as an intellectual/academic pursuit, but I’ve never actually taken a course in business. More on that soon, I am sure.


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