Reflections on #HumanMOOC

The three-week #HumanMOOC, a course on “Humanizing Online Instruction,” is concluded.

I signed up and participated in the course because, while I haven’t taught a (fully) online course before, I’d like to do so someday and, meanwhile, I wanted to learn more about how to engage in good pedagogy online for the sake of my face-to-face and hybrid courses. I saw it as an opportunity to hear from experienced online educators and, indeed, scholars of online pedagogy, what works best in online teaching beyond telling students “here are my PowerPoint slides and a discussion board, now go to town and learn.”

The community of inquiry (CoI) framework is what most stuck with me, both because it was a recurring theme in the course and because it actually structured the course itself into three “big ideas,” with one week spent completing activities on each.

  1. Teaching presence, establishing yourself as an instructor in the online environment not as a systems administrator but as an instructor. And not only as an instructor, but as a human. In the first week I recorded a draft “introductory video” for my upcoming spring course which, even though it will be a face-to-face course, I think will benefit from having this resource shared to students, ideally before the semester begins, to outline the main themes of the course and what taking the course with me will be like. I’ll probably re-cut the video to enhance it with some slides or other written material before considering it to be the final copy. (I could also envision creating a similar introductory video for each of the course’s significant projects, too.)
  2. Social presence, creating the conditions under which students can engage and feel connected to one another in the virtual learning space. I loathe threaded discussions: I hate assigning them, I hate watching students reluctantly engage in them, and most of all I hate trying to grade them in any meaningful way, so it was especially helpful in the second week to learn about alternatives to the threaded discussion that can create social presence outside of class. Where my previous attempts at synchronous multimedia activities like online office hours have been disastrous, I like the idea of turning it partially asynchronous by using the Flipgrid video board platform. I also thought during this week about my goals for using social tools to keep my spring semester students engaged with each other outside of class — principally Pressbooks where my students will collaboratively create a “social study guide” throughout the semester and the social reading platform, where I plan to assign both the course’s reading responses and students’ peer review of each other’s projects (see below).
  3. Cognitive presence, wherein students arrive in the online environment having “brought their brains” for learning. This was the only week of the course during which I was able to participate in a synchronous activity: my schedule didn’t permit the others. (Which is a perfect illustration of the challenges my students have faced with synchronous activites in my classes!) This was also the only week where I felt like the assigned work for #HumanMOOC required a significant investment of my time to complete — but it was worth it!I find that reading, reflecting, and writing come quickly for me, and that was what much of the work in weeks 1 and 2 were (at least, the work I chose to do). But in week 3 the assignment was to create an assignment that generates cognitive presence by engaging students in peer review of one another’s work. Now that takes me a lot more time than reading, reflecting, and writing! But it got me “unstuck” in planning my semester project for the spring, and I used the assignment as an opportunity to finally get the project out of my head and onto paper.

One of the features of the #HumanMOOC course design that I especially appreciated was the fact that each week had a large variety of resources and assignment tasks to choose from — which meant that an online teaching newbie like me could find valuable introductory resources for getting started thinking about online instruction, while old hands I’m sure still found new material to deepen their practice. Instead of fitting the material to the student, this helped each student to find themselves in the material.

At the same time, though, that variety and depth would have been overwhelming were it not for the fact that there was a clear pathway created in the course leading each week to an accomplishment “badge”, and at the end of the course in an overall “community of inquiry badge.” Joke about gamification all you like, but this course had me at “badge.” And each badge had a short list of 2-3 assignments to complete to earn it, and each badge had a mixture of assignment types: discussion posts, Flipgrid, Yellowdig (which I found to be Facebook’s underwhelming doppelgänger), etc. This made the work of the course feel very manageable: I just had to find a couple times during the week each week to be active. It also was the reason I started this blog, to store and share my reflections as I learned about humanizing online instruction in a pretty open, public way.

The one thing I didn’t do as much as I should have was interact with other participants in the course. I felt there was strong teaching presence and I was reasonably cognitively present, but aside from a few blog comments, one or two discussion post replies, and some Twitter call-and-response with the course’s wayfinders, my own social presence was not as great as it could have been. I could have spent more time responding to classmates’ Flipgrid posts or their discussion threads, but often I would only learn of some good conversations in the discussion boards when I received the daily Canvas digest in my email.

Which reminds me: #HumanMOOC was also my first experience with Canvas as a learning platform. As one frustrated by the antiquated, mobile-unfriendly Blackboard distribution in use on my campus, I was impressed by Canvas’s modern feel and usability. Maybe I’ll experiment teaching a course with Canvas anyway in the near future.

Kudos to the #HumanMOOC wayfinders Maha Al-Freih, Whitney Kilgore, Patrice Torvicia, and Matt Crosslin for creating a meaningful, flexible, and engaging course that, as a first-time MOOC participant, disconfirmed for me the negative stereotype that exists around MOOCs in higher education. I think it illustrated for me both the potential of open, online education and the necessity of thinking about it transformatively: not merely shoehorning the same old teaching and learning paradigms into an online space, but building from the beginning again, outward from the student experience.

And Maha, good luck with your dissertation! I hope you got good data from this experiment! 😃

Now, what to do for MOOC number two? …

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