How Do You Surf Massive Waves Of Learning Online
The first ELT-T MOOC for teaching vocabulary has been an inspiration. It was in many ways a deep learning experience, an exciting leap into massive professional development online, and an experience that has changed us for the better, one way or another. This huge undertaking was the brainchild of Jason R. Levine, otherwise known as Fluency MC and knowledge entertainer at WiziQ.
Jason went from being a You Tube ESLebrity to massive online teacher-trainer in a few short weeks. He managed to surf challenges that would daunt the most intrepid of MOOC veterans. It was definitely a case of true leadership, and we all got to see how Jason rose to the occasion with the practical optimism and flexible wisdom that was called for on more than one occasion. The MOOC was driven by two guiding lights that ensured that no educational fires would be quenched on this learning spree. One was Jason’s indomitable spirit which kept all presenters and facilitators going, and the other was the spirit of sharing, peer support and passion for learning exhibited by course participants. Technically speaking, we had the support of Dr. Nellie Deutsch and our Tech team at WizIQ.
In order to give a brief overview of this MOOC experience I will cover five aspects:
Presentations, Scaffolding, Tasks, Design, Learning Spaces.
Thanks to Jason’s connections and our mutual networks on Facebook, we had a line-up of exceptional presenters and facilitators. The quality of instruction was something we certainly didn’t have to worry about, and it was truly amazing – before class, during class and after class. The experience was new for presenters, participants and facilitators alike, and we have learnt so much that we can’t wait for the next MOOC. This surge in professional awareness has left us brimming with ideas and energy, as we learn from mistakes and get inspired by future possibilities.
We were honoured by the calibre of our educators who agreed to present during the MOOC. All of the presenters have established themselves as creative innovators in one way or another, and this coming together of different talents, thinkers and doers under the same ‘roof’ to share ideas on the same topic created a vibrant snowball effect of inspiration. The feedback we got from participants was very exciting and it was obvious that their passion was a great match for the gems of insight being shared with them so meaningfully.
The simplicity of the course design was what attracted me, and it was the only reason why I agreed to be involved in the first place. Whatever ambitions I may have, MOOCing had never really been one of them until Jason swept me up into his bigger picture. Running MOOCs involves so much that I would never have dreamed that I could help run anything so massive. However, when Jason showed me the simple plan and scaffolding that would be inherent in such a design, I couldn’t resist being a part of it.
What I Loved about the Design was the Three-tiered Approach.
Pre-class assignments – presentations – post-class assignments.
I knew that in practice it would be a simple, hands-on approach to exploring vocabulary teaching. My personal experience was even better than I had envisaged. When I read the submissions for the Pre-class assignments that I’d set prior to my own presentation, I was overwhelmed by the richness of thoughts, experiences and learning shared by participants. The topic was story-telling. Basically, our course participants were sharing their own stories with us on a strong forum full of insight and reflection. A crucial thing to mention here is that I felt close to the attendees before entering the classroom , and I knew how to reach them based on the stories they had told me. Having moderated all of the other presentations on the MOOC, I can safely say that we all felt this connection. Designing simple, but effective pre-class activities makes all the difference in the world.
The pre-class activity also served as a form of scaffolding. Participants build up their own vision of the topic at hand by accessing their own resources and experience. This is shared with all of the other participants on the forum. Peer learning and exchanges of opinion then takes place. This is a foundation from which to latch onto whatever the presenters will share. Participants are primed for creating new connections and scaling the heights of greater challenge. Beyond that, of course, lies the post-class magic. Participants are highly motivated, inspired, confident and ready for anything.
The presentations were either creative , colourful, brain-friendly powerpoints or multi-media style shows. Some presenters who work mainly through video didn’t need any powerpoints and streamed their videos from the You Tube player. Multi-media is a lovely thing in the virtual classroom and this creative/interactive approach helped presenters to showcase their ideas and reach out to participants through a lively chat box. Here is a dynamic example of one of Jason’s sessions where he used both powerpoint and music.
With so many participants, the chat box was usually on fire, and it gives a new definition to term ‘speed-reading’. However, there is a cool functionality in the virtual classroom that allows one to copy the chatbox text and refer to questions or queries later in the post-class forums.
A deep principle behind the task design was ‘simple scaffolding through dynamic interaction’. This was fully-designed by Jason R. Levine and I felt fully in tune with this idea from the start.
The only way that a massive online course can succeed is through the understanding that the participants will learn from each other as much as from course leaders or presenters.
Deep scaffolding structures indicate, however, that even more ‘invisible’ learning comes from ‘learning from oneself’. The pre-class tasks draw upon existing knowledge, and encourage the sharing of that knowledge. The presentations and post-class tasks also enable layers of learning to take place. The webinars and tasks provide just enough support to channel and drive community-led creativity and productivity.
Educators may associate scaffolding with intricately designed support structures that will not allow learners to go off course or off-task. However, I think that we need to differentiate between claustrophobic scaffolding and scaffolding that lets you breathe. The right amount of support lights up the mind, and that’s when learners go off creating their own interpretations of the learning experience.
Too much support becomes a strait-jacket of the mind – it causes one to experience more perceived failure in the long-run because tasks and methodologies are too prescriptive and not open-ended. It leads to disconnection and a detached view of the learning experience. As Patrick Kavanagh, the Irish poet said “We have tested and tasted too much, lover- Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder”. In the MOOCing context, I interpret this as meaning that too much testing and prescribing in the form of scaffolding can kill inspiration. Experimenting intelligently is the way to go. At the other end of the spectrum, too little scaffolding is like bungee-jumping into a black hole.
How do we harness the right amounts of support just to allow take-off?
We do it by encouraging learners to explore and help each other while following strategically placed sign posts along the way. These sign posts should not lead to tunnel after tunnel, but may, in fact, lead to deeper caverns of knowledge, or even beyond the cave of reason to some kind of Socratic illumination.
The key to fluid scaffolding is an intuitive learning space for managing the whole course. This is where I redefined my own relationship with simplicity. Considering the fact that we had many participants who didn’t normally use sophisticated educational technology, and that we wanted to keep things simple, we decided not to use Moodle or any other learning management system.
Yet the basic course feed we used was so simple that it was confusing, so after the first week we backed up each class with a Facebook group. This meant that we could include more multi-media content, maximize intuitive community-building and keep better tabs on participants and content.
Now, I advocate complex simplicity. I want it to be intuitive, but I also want it to be rich in multi-media, interactivity, and creative web 2.0 technology. We have an edutainment learning space in mind for the next MOOC, but it will remain a secret for the time being 😉 . It will serve to supplement our virtual classroom experience and course layout on WizIQ.
The experience as described by Jason on MMVC13.
Apart from a practical overview of the MOOC experience, I wish to share the spirit of this community-driven MOOC. The unquestionable power of the MOOC came not only from intrepid leadership, and dedicated facilitation, but also from the affective contributions of our course participants.
Here’s an example of a presentation made by Fabiana Casella in connection with my last article about Why Teachers Teach. This article and concept became a source of inspiration during the MOOC entirely by accident rather than design.
Here is an inspired poem written by Da Thompson after attending my ‘Psychology of Story-telling’ class where we wrote a collaborative poem via chat box, and then forced Fluency MC to rap it for us on the spot 😉
We will be show-casing presentations made by participants in the coming week, and we are still facilitating course feeds, Facebook groups and correcting assignments.
We are also eagerly planning the next one which is very exciting as we’ve learnt so much from the glitches and issues in the first one.
None of this would have been possible without the passionate and generous facilitators who volunteered to help in this massive adventure online.
This is my message to the facilitators:
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”
~ Helen Keller
What you have done has set some ripple effects in motion and this will lead to great things for all of us, especially, I hope, serendipitous collaboration in future MOOCs.
I am also covering this ELT-T MOOC on my personal blog and will be posting regular updates on related topics. If you have been a part of any MOOC, feel free to share your experiences in comments below.