Make the World a Little Smarter

Connected Courses is a cMOOC about designing and leading cMOOCs. If you are not yet participating, I hope you’ll join us. The course is a collective effort by a large group of very forward-thinking people. I am certain that you will find the course rewarding, even if you only follow it casually, whether you are an educator or a lifelong learner.

MOOC means Massive Open Online Course. cMOOC and xMOOC are used to distinguish two basic types. cMOOCs focus on open discussion and/or creative projects. xMOOCs are more like traditional classes, with lecture videos, and assignments that are auto-graded or peer-graded.

My name is David A. Hale. My main interests are computer programming and music of all kinds. I am currently a full-time student, entirely through online resources. (I also love paper books and libraries, but spend far more time on the web these days.) I’m very experienced as an xMOOC student, having completed over thirty of them from various providers, mostly Coursera and Udacity.

My first experience with a cMOOC was Thought Vectors in Concept Space. I discovered this cMOOC (and Connected Courses) thanks to Twitter, and my habit of following links that look promising. (I joined Twitter in March of 2013, after reading somewhere that it was a great site for news, resource sharing, and connecting with people you’d otherwise never meet. I was not disappointed.) The course was an introduction to academic research and writing, via readings and discussion about the visionary ideas of Vannevar Bush, Doug Engelbart, Ted Nelson, and Alan Kay. It included live interviews with Kay, Nelson, and Engelbart’s daughter and co-worker Christina.

Just like courses at brick-and-mortar schools, the quality of MOOCs varies widely. But one thing has been constant in my experience so far: course forums are always rewarding. In fact, for interaction with other students — and even with professors — MOOC forums have far surpassed most of my experiences in live classrooms. To begin with, writing is generally superior to speech for conversation or debate. In writing, words can be considered far more carefully by both the transmitters and the receivers. On the web, questions and comments can be carefully written, read, and answered by any number of students asynchronously, without taking up a moment of lecture time.

My participation in Thought Vectors was casual and limited. I watched the Google Hangouts, and took notes. I followed the #thoughtvectors tag on Twitter, and shared relevant thoughts and links. I read some blogs and final projects, and replied a few times. I was already familiar with Vannevar Bush, Engelbart, Nelson, and Kay; their names are what attracted me to the course. I became familiar with some extremely interesting people on Twitter.

I learned some very important things, which I am sure Connected Courses will reinforce.

I have long been aware of the importance of taking personal notes about everything. This is something we should be taught in grade school; not just to write down the stuff we think will be on the test. But as far as publishing is concerned, my attitude has been that writing should be as lucid, concise, and finished as possible — or else you are wasting readers’ time.

But Thought Vectors made me aware of the usefulness of putting half-formed ideas out there, so you can receive some feedback from others. Sharing your thoughts is not merely for demonstrating what you know, or building your personal brand; it’s not even merely for the joy of sharing ideas. We constantly give ourselves feedback in our own thoughts, some of it careful, some of it random. This is how ideas are born in the first place. It is how ideas grow. It is how ideas are refined. Public feedback multiplies this power. Some people may be adept at providing feedback, even if they are not adept at formulating good ideas. Even a rude nitwit may lead you to a combination of concepts that you would not have created on your own, most likely just by pushing you to think harder. (A certain college professor from my past comes to mind.)

So put your ideas out there. Be grateful for any feedback, and think about it carefully, as objectively as you can. And when you have a considerate or amusing thought about someone else’s post, or it reminds you of something or someone, post a comment and let them know.

It makes the whole world a little smarter.

I welcome your thoughts.