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.

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10 thoughts on “Make the World a Little Smarter

  1. Hi! Dave. What a beautiful way to make a request for participation. I enjoyed your post and enjoyed connecting with you on #thoughtvectors earlier in the summer. I love the idea that as we engage in dialogue and learn together we make the whole world a little smarter…I have an idea for some DS106 art to unpack it.

    I am really excited about #ccourses as a hashtag classroom that grows into something larger than the few weeks of the course. I was hopeful some of my colleagues at my university might join and create a local cohort, but it is not to be yet… I am looking forward to the learning and look forward to getting to know you a little better too. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

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    • Thanks, Mariana. I will almost certainly post more about individual thought and community thought, and their relation to modes of thinking. I too would like to see stronger, ongoing communities grow out of MOOCs. I look forward to thinking with you. πŸ™‚

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  2. I’m interested that you’ve had good experiences with MOOC discussion forums. That hasn’t been my experience at all, at least in xMOOCs. I find them cacophonous and alienating. I suspect this is because I’ve had educational and online experiences which denigrate repetition – the norm has been that we don’t just repeat what others said, we ask new questions and provide new answers. This might be where the cMOOC focus on blogs instead of forums is a good thing – what’s the harm if my blog post happens to sound a lot like yours?

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    • Thank you, Joe. I find MOOC forums “always rewarding” — but usually far from perfect. I skip over anything that doesn’t look interesting. I do find repeated questions a little annoying, but I still reply to unanswered ones. I don’t mind similar answers, since small changes in wording can make a huge difference. The forums are always missing features that would make them more useful and pleasant. That’s a topic for another post. [Sorry if you got this twice; technical mistake on my part.]

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  3. Dave, I loooooved this post. I agree with so much of what you’re saying, including how writing is so much better for debate than speech (and also more “fair” in some ways, because no one can interrupt the other, take up the space of another, prevent another from speaking, more or less). I also am a big fan of the practice of taking notes of important nuggets of our learning and posting our half-formed thoughts online – blogging is wonderful for doing that πŸ™‚

    Can I tell you that when I first started reading this post, I thought you were one of the #ccourses facilitators? I’m still not sure that you’re not, because calling oneself a full-time student… I think I started being a full-time “learner” as soon as I finished my PhD! πŸ™‚ Thanks to twitter and cMOOCs for expanding those opportunities for learning in connection with others all over the world – I look forward to following your blog πŸ˜‰

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    • Thank you very much, Maha. I look forward to more of your posts as well. (I don’t know if you realize it, but I think you have a talent for encouraging participation.) It’s interesting how many similar points I’ve noticed between #ccourses posts already, even before the course has officially begun.

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      • really? I encourage participation? πŸ™‚ I’m flattered. You did say you felt “compelled” to reply to my lurking post, but I thought that was sort of tongue in cheek, that I shamed people into responding or something πŸ˜‰
        I’ll just take the compliment and shut up. Thank you πŸ™‚
        P.S. I was a computer scientist in my past life (as an undergrad) before I switched to studying education (kept running away from computers, did my PhD thesis on completely un-tech things, then ended up back in the ed tech field… ah well)

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  4. Hi Dave – I have enjoyed reading this post. Like Joe – I can’t cope with MOOC discussion forums. It’s interesting how ccourses has put an emphasis on blogs. The very first MOOC I did, CCK08 (Connectivism and Connective Knowledge) in 2008, had both discussion forums and encouraged participation in blogs, but in following iterations of the course dropped the discussion forums. I’ll look forward to reading further reflections on how you find ccourses. Thanks for your comment on my blog. Jenny

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    • Thank you, Jenny. I guess I’ll count myself lucky that I can ignore the flaws in MOOC forums and enjoy the gems I find in them. I don’t think a forum would add anything to connectedcourses.net. But it would be a real loss to many of us if xMOOCs didn’t have them.

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  5. Hi Dave,

    Thanks for sending me a Twitter notification about the #CuriousCoLab MOOC. It led me to your blog from last year. I enjoyed reading it. I’ve been putting ideas on line since 1998 in a library of pdf essays at http://www.tutormentorexchange.net/library and on a http://tutormentor.blogspot.com site that I started in 2005.

    I started following many of the cMOOC guys in the late 2000s and joined the #ETMOOC, #CLMOOC and #DLMOOC starting in 2013. Each of these has used a Google+ platform to provide organization to weekly interaction and to enable people to connect with each other. Here’s the page for the #CLMOOC which is repeating again this summer. https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/111619469354411254407

    I did not see a mention of the G+ communities in your article. Are they being used in the #CuriousCoLab MOOC

    One thing I liked about these MOOCs was the use of participation maps to show where people were located. Since these cMOOCs each focus on education I was disappointed to see so few participants from big cities like Chicago, where I’m located, and where inequalities in education opportunities are severe.

    I really appreciated Maha’s comment about using writing to communicate ideas because everyone has a chance to talk at the same time and express their own ideas. The challenge is motivating more people to engage, including more of the people who need to be involved in solving complex problems.

    I’ll look forward to following ideas you and others are sharing in the coming weeks.

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