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This week is the first week of our nine-month contract for the academic year. Classes don’t start for another week, so this week is jam-packed full of “professional development” opportunities, beginning of semester festivities, and meetings galore. It’s also crunch time for finally hunkering down and finishing my syllabus for the upcoming semester.

With all of this going on, I’m still going to take the time to participate in MOOC MOOC, a MOOC on MOOCs. You can follow the discussion on Twitter (hashtag #moocmooc). The course is only a week long and was created by the gang over at Hybrid Pedagogy (full disclosure, I’ve published there). The idea behind MOOC MOOC is, in their own words:

In the interest of exploring MOOCs and the various discussions they’ve given rise to, Hybrid Pedagogy will host MOOC MOOC: a mini-MOOC (if there is such a thing), a meta-MOOC (if they aren’t all this already) -- a MOOC about MOOCs -- beginning on August 12. Over the course of one week, MOOC MOOC will explore the pedagogical approach, the sustainability of the form, and alternatives to MOOCs. 

I’ve written before about what could become “monstrous” about MOOCs (think Fahrenheit 451). I worry that MOOCs become an excuse to disinvest further in public education, leaving those at the bottom of the economic heap to interact with screen and not people. I also worry about the superstar or celebrity status that MOOCs are bestowing on certain professors. I also worry about the entire class of academic, the majority of academics, who can’t afford to give it away (like me). Is our work being devalued even more?

Far from being a luddite (clearly), I embrace the opportunity to provide accessible information to the largest possible audience. But, at the end of the day, there are still too many students who don’t know how to learn on their own after years and years of standardization. Just throwing videos, even interactive lectures, don’t necessarily solve that fundamental problem. “Access” is clearly an issue, but so is attitude. My experiment with Peer-Driven Learning has largely been a success because of my presence within the process; can low-paid “facilitators” provide the same level of guidance?

This brings me to my next adventure this week, which is that Douglas Thomas, professor as USC and co-author of A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating Imagination in a World of Constant Change is coming to campus to speak and work with some of the new faculty. I just downloaded a sample of the book to my Kindle (I won’t have time to read the whole book between now and Tuesday), and I’m looking forward to asking him the following questions, in font faculty and (hopefully) some members of the administration:

“How do you recommend that we, the faculty, adopt your suggestions (particularly play) when we are facing the increasing pressure of standardization and assessment, as well as the casualization of the professorate?”

I’ve written before that being “innovative” is not easy for the present-day professoriate. Between increased class sizes, rising service commitments, and the precarious position most of us who are teaching find ourselves in, words like “play” and “imagination” are at once laudable and laughable. I’ve written about the importance of play, imagination and creativity in my posts on Peer-Driven Learning. But I increasingly feel like I’m the exception, rather than the rule, especially because I write so openly about it. I’m not saying I’m exceptional; in fact, I’m really quite ordinary. And it’s for this reason that these sorts of innovations may never take hold; students at Duke and USC are “the elite,” while my students, well, are not.

I’ll be there on Tuesday, I’ll ask actually questions (as well as the one smart-ass question that needs to be asked. Repeatedly. Loudly. Often), and then I’ll go on Friday for our “common assessment” session, in order to report to the administration on our “student learning outcomes.” I’ll live with the cognitive dissonance because I have to, wrestling with my syllabus, trying to balance the administrations twin demands that I encourage both imagination and play while following an increasingly rigid common curriculum and assessment outcomes in my class. 

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