512px-MOOC_-_Massive_Open_Online_Course_logo.svgI began this blog a little over three years ago, and though I’ve been away for some time now, it has always been a place to which I’ve longed to return.

I’ve been busy, you see.  Because the MOOC that got me started on all of this – and got me started on this blog — literally changed my life.

The MOOC I’m talking about is ds106, or Digital Storytelling 106 at the University of Mary Washington (UMW), a course conceptualized and taught in Spring 2011 by Edupunk author and digital pedagogy maverick, Jim Groom. That semester, the course was being offered for the first time ever to both UWM students and anyone anywhere, as long as they had an Internet device and the desire to engage.

When I first heard about the course on Twitter, I had no idea what a MOOC even was.  I remember thinking initially that it something like a MOO  — those ’90s text-based renditions of Second Life.  Intrigued, I dipped into the #ds106 Twitter stream and soon found myself part of a huge globally networked learning community composed of people of all ages, nationalities, and experience levels who had assembled to tell stories using digital tools.

I think everyone onboard that semester would agree that the energy in the course was electric. We were a bunch of idealists and dreamers and artists and musicians and students and teachers — all coming together to “make art, dammit!,” as Groom so frequently admonished us.  It was fun to create and see how Web 2.0 tools could make it so easy; gratifying to share work that made you proud; encouraging to bask in the community’s generous feedback and support; and awe-inspiring to witness other coursemembers’ frequently brilliant creations.  It was a blast.

But to be a learner who was also teacher in an environment where learning happened publicly – learning in all of its messiness and proof-that-you-don’t-know-something-ness that often makes us teachers squirm – was also terrifying.  Getting comfortable with occupying that position, with being less of a “master teacher” and more of what Will Richardson calls a “master learner,” that was perhaps one of the most valuable experiences I took from ds106.  I truly believe that we could fix a lot of what is wrong with education today if someone in the Department of Ed would enlist Jim Groom as a consultant.

Since ds106, or rather because of it, I started and recently finished a Master’s program in educational technology.  In my final semester, I designed a MOOC, which just launched earlier this week.  It’s small potatoes compared to ds106 and very different.  It’s designed for educators and focuses on educational topics.  But we will be making things with digital tools and sharing them in community.  And we will be doing it publicly.  I’m hoping to be able to channel just a bit of the ds106-ness that I found so personally transformative into this course.

Sometimes I’m terrified it will all fail miserably.  And it very well may.  But whatever happens, it will be a learning experience.  And isn’t that what education is all about?

Thanks, Jim.

Category: #ds106, auged

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7 Responses to How a MOOC changed my life

  1. Kathi Inman Berens says:

    I’m delighted that you’re starting a MOOC, Cindy. Your post grabbed me, particularly the link to Will Richardson’s “master learner” concept. At the Farmers’ Market in Encino a couple of months ago (fam was down in LA for Thanksgiving) I hung out with Gene, a former HS principal who now grows & sells citrus full time. His students were literally the poorest in CA. His technique for turning that school around rhymes with Will Richardson’s idea: hiring teachers, Gene wasn’t looking so much for content mastery as for someone who was a brilliant communicator passionately interested in teaching. More and more as kids (even poor kids at underfunded schools) gain access to on-demand knowledge, I think the key element we teachers bring is our ability to synthesize, motivate, customize. Folks can get information. It’s interpretation and application that still require the collective wonder that is what you call the “electric” current of collaborative learning.

    • Cynthia Sarver says:

      I totally agree. Motivation is key. And what better way to motivate students than for teachers to share with them their own sense of wonder? Most of us get into teaching because we love learning, we’re addicted to following the path where wonderment leads us. But somehow schools (or rather schooling) work to tamp down that spirt, to short circuit that electricity, to mix a few metaphors and extend the first one. :) There are so many ways that working with digital tools can help teachers and students re-connect with all that. Thanks for your thought-provoking response, Kathi!

  2. Erin Rougeux says:

    Cynthia, was a pleasure to embark on the beginning of your MOOC journey with you for a semester. Went back through my ds106 work recently, actually. I’m trying to channel the “master learner” method in my teaching, since as a first year teacher, I know I am most definitely not a “master teacher.” Thanks for everything.

    • Cynthia Sarver says:

      You remind me of how much more I want to say about ds106, Erin. I don’t even mention here what happened the following year when you and your classmates and I all became part of the ds106 community. I often wonder how that experience has affected you all as you move forward into your teaching careers. Thanks so much for letting me know that it has “stuck.” So good to hear from you! Would love to know more about your first year and how it’s going!

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