In February, I started a MOOC called “Learning Creative Learning,” organized by the MIT MediaLab and the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU), as an experiment in online learning, and as, I guess, a way to jump on the giant MOOC bandwagon that seems to have taken the education world by storm. This particular MOOC, however, differed in several respects from the standard MOOC you hear about these days:
- It’s meta. The subject matter is learning, about how technology and the Internet can support how we learn intuitively, and you’re learning about it through technology and the Internet. Crazy, huh?
- It’s open. As in truly open — which means that it is both openly accessed (run on tools and platforms that don’t require you to pay to read or enroll) and openly licensed (the course is available for re-use under a Creative Commons Attribution license — so you could, potentially, run your own version of the course in the future). Read more about MOOCs and openness here.
- It’s about peer learning. Even though the MOOC itself is massive (24,000 people signed up), my initial interactions with it were not at all massive or lonely. The course automatically split us up into small groups via email, and my group had four people, including myself. We started our own Google+ group, where we discussed the course and shared any tasks and reflections for the week. Also, the lectures took place via Google+ hangouts, which enables peer interaction via social media versus simply watching a livestream or recorded video and taking a test on it later.
This course appealed to me because I’m coordinating the School of Open, a peer-led, community initiative that is developing online courses about what “open” means and how it can help you. Explaining copyright is already a complicated matter; explaining open licenses, like Creative Commons licenses, on top of that, can get even more heady. I figure that learning more about how we learn intuitively, like we learned in kindergarten, will help inform the design of our courses and help to place “open” in context for the average person.
In the first week, we read “All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten” by Mitch Resnick. It’s a short read, but basically asserts that the way we learned in kindergarten was through experimentation. The “kindergarten approach to learning” essentially has five elements that repeat in a cycle of sorts (but not necessarily in strict order): imagine, create, play, share, reflect, imagine again, etc. In short, the kindergarten way of learning was by experimenting, and by experimenting, those elements are pretty much a given.
The task for the second week of the course was to write about an object from our childhood that interested and influenced us, and to share that story with our small groups. This was in response to a short essay we read called “Gears of My Childhood” by Seymour Papert, which was basically about one academic’s childhood learning experience — before he knew he was actually learning. Here’s what I wrote about:
When I was a kid, I loved flying kites. We usually got our kites from Toys”R”Us for $2.99, because it was so easy to lose a kite to the Santa Ana winds (I grew up in a suburb of Southern California)–and because I was the type to get overzealous and let the string unravel too fast. Most of the time, though, I experimented with making my kite dip and rise and dip lower and rise higher each time, my most proud moments being when I could do this over and over again for an hour without losing the kite or having it crash to the ground. It was a challenge that I relished, because it was all about intuition of movement, and being able to make and correct mistakes in real time. I loved feeling the tug and pull of the wind on the kite, and using my hands to adjust the angle. Later in school, I’m sure I learned about how mathematics and physics applied to flying kites, and maybe even came across a specific problem involving kites and wind speed and angles, but I never put the two together–my experience with flying kites and what I learned in class–because flying kites was a completely sensory and joyful experience and mathematics completely devoid of either.
The irony is that I was very good at math as a kid, but I did not enjoy it. So much so that I never pursued it after it was no longer required in high school.
This exercise got me thinking about the challenges we face at the School of Open with making the subject matter applicable to “real life” settings. The School of Open community believes that open tools and resources can help make the world better, but how do we relate that in a tangible way to folks, so that learning about “open” isn’t completely divorced from practicing “open”? I think we’re on the right track so far, with courses like “Copyright 4 Educators” and “Creative Commons for K-12 Educators” — which place openness in the context of a specific profession and tries to address what educators already do in their jobs. Our community guidelines for developing a School of Open course asks, “How can open content, tools, or processes help people do what they already do better?” In these two courses, we attempt to address the everyday barriers educators come across, and how open tools and resources can help them overcome those barriers. For example, if an educator needs to find a lesson on the solar system — where can he look for something that is free to use and customize for his own needs? And through the activity of using open tools and resources, the educator can learn about “open”.
I don’t know if it necessarily needs to get any more complicated than that, at least as pertains to the School of Open. But I was interested in finding more ways we might incorporate kindergarten learning as “Learning Creative Learning” progressed…
There is a lot of debate about MOOCs these days, Clay Shirky’s article and the response to it being just two of many. I think that there can be a variety of MOOCs, just as there are a variety of real world university courses. “Learning Creative Learning” is an example of MOOC that was successful precisely because it is as experimental as its subject matter. These days, a MOOC is just a virtual extension of what an institution is already doing. A good MOOC, though, allows experimentation, just like a good course allows experimentation. And the open aspect of a MOOC (both open access and open licensing), enables that experimentation, though how the former enables it is more obvious than the latter. (If you don’t know how open licensing enables it, come learn about CC licenses and more at the School of Open!)
The fact that Canvas, a MOOC platform, supports CC licensing, is, I hope, an indicator that more and more instructors are realizing the value of making their courses openly available for experimentation.
By the way, the School of Open launched in March during Open Education Week, which means that the first round of facilitated courses came to a close in May. You can take one of our stand-alone courses at any time at http://schoolofopen.org, or wait to take a facilitated course as part of the second round in August. Courses will open for registration in mid-July, so stay tuned by signing up for our very low traffic announcements list here.