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Chalk Talk with Kevin Hodgson: My MOOC experience

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I spent a significant part of my summer in a MOOC.

Like many educators, it’s been hard not to notice the cultural flash of Massive Open Online Courses that are taking college campuses and learning circles by storm. MOOCs have stirred up plenty of controversy, too, as witnessed by the move of Amherst College to reject them altogether even as the University of Massachusetts Amherst dips its toes into the world of MOOCs with a very successful Web design class.

For the uninitiated, MOOCs essentially come in two flavors.

The first kind of MOOC is a mix of a free and paid experience, run as a course through either a university, such as the TedX offerings via a Harvard/MIT collaboration, or a private company, such as Coursera, contracted out by educational organizations. These MOOCs can offer up college credit or some certification of completion.

The second kind of MOOC is more freewheeling and true to the original spirit of the movement — completely open to anyone where the expectation is interest-driven learning. This style of MOOC offers up something more intangible: experience and perseverance.

It was this second kind of MOOC, this “open” kind with a low barrier of entry and participation, that I was part of this summer. Actually, I was not just part of it. I was also one of the facilitators who designed and then helped run the program from June 15 through Aug. 1.

The Making Learning Connected Massive Open Online Collaboration (notice how we changed that last word in our MOOC to collaboration to reflect our ideals around the project) was designed to engage teachers from around the world in the art of “making” as connected to learning. Sponsored by the National Writing Project with grant funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the CLMOOC, as it was called, drew in more than 1,200 participants.

The CLMOOC is situated around a framework called Connected Learning, which values student inquiry and creation as the heart of understanding. There were also strong connections to the Makers Movement, which is a renewed push for hands-on learning in our schools. For five weeks, educators were not only making things themselves as part of the MOOC cycles of learning, but reflecting on the experience and looking ahead to how the MOOC might impact their own classrooms and lesson plans.

So, what’s it like to be part of such a huge community that exists only in virtual space? Chaotic, to say the least, but also amazingly rich and rewarding in many ways. There were so many unexpected sharing and learning experiences that we did not anticipate, and that unknown learning made for interesting twists and turns along the way.

Since our MOOC was not credit-driven, educators came and went as their time and interest allowed. Some weeks, we had hundreds of teachers involved in sharing across multiple online spaces: Google Plus, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Google Hangouts and more. Other weeks, a few dozen chimed in. Our activities ranged from using digital tools to introduce oneself to the world to hacking toys to reimagine purpose to developing a credo and belief system about learning and more. And weeks later, teachers are still sharing in the MOOC, which continues to exist online even if the formal five-week structure is over.

Like many of the hundreds of teachers who took part in the CLMOOC, I find the challenge now is to determine how to bring what we learned and experienced over the summer back into my classroom. I find myself thinking through more ways to make connections to the artistic community now and how to make stronger ties with other teachers.

I am working with other teachers from other parts of the world to develop more ways to connect my Southampton sixth-graders with other students in meaningful online spaces for authentic learning experiences.

You can access the Making Learning Connected Massive Open Online Collaboration at blog.nwp.org/clmooc/.

Kevin Hodgson teaches sixth grade at the William E. Norris Elementary School in Southampton. He is also the technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. He lives in Leeds with his wife, Leslie, and three children, Colin, Christian and Rowan.

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