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Reflections on Make Cycle 1 of the clmooc, or, can I come over and play?

Written by Jeannie Bennett
July 08, 2013

note: this is a repost from my personal blog, and the original post can be found here.

The first “make cycle” of the Making Learning Connected MOOC has to come to an end, and we’ve been encouraged to reflect before moving on to Make Cycle 2.

I’ve already written here a short reflection of my first several “makes” where I experimented with various apps and platforms my fellow #clmooc-ians were using and posting to create their avatars. So, before I moved into make cycle 2, I wanted to reflect by answering a question posed to me during our first Twitter chat: what drew me to the #clmooc? That is, why am I here? Why did I join the #clmooc this summer?

And there are many ways to answer that question, so I will try to answer them all, as honestly as I can.

First, there is the literal answer, which is I happened across a the CLMOOC blog by clicking around in Twitter. I use Twitter as my news feed for things I am interested in learning about. I have cultivated a set of people I follow based on shared interests and experiences, and people who often post interesting articles and resources. Every morning I sign on and begin clicking ALL THE LINKS. I’ve talked before about my compulsion to curate and archive the entire internet. This is a daily compulsion, and every morning I sign on to Twitter, and instead of perusing the Tweets, clicking, reading, then coming back to maybe re-tweet, I CLICK ALL THE LINKS. I will end up, on any average morning on Twitter, with so many open tabs that sometimes I have two browsers open so that I can manage it all. I will go through, then, after I have CLICKED ALL THE LINKS and start reading them. Because this takes a while, I very often lose where the original link came from. That tweet has long been replaced with 50 more, and I cannot remember who pointed me to the article.

This is how I found #clmooc. I clicked a bunch of links, had a bunch of tabs open, and eventually I got to the #clmooc home page, on the day before the first make cycle, and I do not remember how, or who tweeted it originally. Somehow, I ended up on that first post, reading about the #clmooc, and at that point I had two options. I could have clicked the little “x” and moved on about my day, or I could have investigated a little further.

I also could have put into Evernote. THere is always that option. In fact… I did. I clipped the whole page and put it into Evernote. Like I said, I’m trying to recreate the whole internet in my Evernote notebooks so I can have ALL THE LINKS forever.

And, to be honest, I almost clicked that little x and moved on with my day. I am a grad student and mom of 2 young children. I have a part-time student job and I just finished (and passed!) my qualifying exams and I have a lot on my plate this summer. I need to write my dissertation proposal, make a lot of progress on my research and preliminary analysis, I have a lot to read and I have conferences I am trying to get into…plus a paper I’ve been trying to revise into a publish-able article. So my first inclination was to click the x and move on, because usually I am looking for information on the internet and not opportunities to do stuff.

But something stopped me, and I decided “what the hell.” That is the literal answer: I stumbled across it, and said ‘what the hell” and that day I set up a Google + account, bookmarked the blog and started making.

But that something stopped me from clicking that little “x” in the corner of the browser’s tab (my 10th tab I had open, I think) leads to the second answer, the motivational answer.

I want to be a teacher. I am persuing my PhD in Technical Communication and Rhetoric, and when I first started out I thought that my main goal was to be a researcher and a scholar. Then I stepped into the classroom for the first time, and found my calling. This whole development is really a blog post all of its own, and one day I will write it. But suffice it to day, my world changed the first time I ever taught a class.

Don’t get me wrong. I was awful. I had no idea what I was doing. I stumbled, and fumbled. I spent too much time developing in class activities that were all wrong and my students didn’t get. I was so anxious about being in front of a group of people in general every day, and in front of people who expected me to teach them things, that I at first wrote notes on the chalkboard. I did this so that I would not have to turn around and look at anyone. It was a hard struggle that semester to be able to even turn around and look at my student, much less get to the point where I was okay with them asking questions. Much less with actually answering them in real time without having to go away and think about a crafted response first.  I walked way from that semester with the following realizations:

  1. I don’t have any idea what I’m doing in the classroom
  2. I have a lot to learn about teaching
  3. I want to be a better teacher
  4. I learned a lot from my students
  5. I LOVED IT
  6. I want to do it again. And again. And again….

I taught a total of 7 sections over three semesters, and by the end of it, I had gotten a little better (I had really good course evals from the students, and have a lot of great feedback from them that I find very encouraging) but I am left with the following realizations:

  1. I don’t have any idea what I’m doing in the classroom
  2. I have a lot to learn about teaching
  3. I want to be a better teacher
  4. I learned a lot from my students
  5. I LOVED IT
  6. I want to do it again. And again. And again

For various reasons, sadly, my time teaching at my department is over. I am, however, having the wonderful opportunity to teach writing workshops to grad students through the graduate school, not as courses for credit but as professional development seminars. But, as I have a break from teaching, I am finding it to be a good space for reflection on how to become a better teacher. I am spending the time reflecting on my experiences and doing research on the web, and in the process I am basically making my own pedagogy course, where I am learning from my personal learning network on Twitter and in other spaces, things I never learned in the pedagogy classes I took for credit. One of the issues I had in those classes was developing my pedagogy (a written statement of my teaching philosophy). I struggled with this in both classes, because I was focused on the process of teaching a specific course. So, for example,I focused on developing learning objectives, developing assignments for students to learn those objectives and for me to measure their development, a rubric for evaluation, the pragmatics of making a syllabus, etc. I had trouble doing all of this becasue I had not yet developed a core value system for who I am as a teacher that would intersect with all the various classes I would teach. Rather, I was focusing on the subject matter of each kind of class.

Now, I am starting to develop that core set of values. One day I’ll write another blog post about that, but basically I am realizing that the core value set I am developing encompasses what is known as connected learning principles, though I didn’t have the vocabulary for that until I started the #clmooc. I knew what I was developing, but I didn’t know what it was called. And that is how I ended up in the #clmooc. Reading about it that first day, something resonated with me and I realized that taking part in this #clmooc would perhaps teach me the vocabulary I needed ot express that core value set, a chance to learn more deeply, through doing and making, about those principles, and that doing this would help me develop as a teacher. Participating in this #clmooc is about learning, about developing as a teacher, about developing my pedagogy further and in a more concrete way.

And how is it going so far? It has only been a week, and I have learned so much already in three main ways:

  1. By making. Making avatars and introductions by playing with various applications, software, platforms, etc, by having fun generating different ways of introducing myself, and by playing with the kinds of things others are posting, and remixing and remaking and revising, has enabled me to explore and learn by treating “learning” as a nexus and the “making” as a concrete node around which that nexus shifts and changes and can be accessed in different ways through the different “nodes” of the concrete thing being made. This is a different orientation from traditional classroom learning and making (which again, I will have to write about some other time, as I don’t have the space here…I am resisting going off on a tangent!)
  2. By reading. My fellow #clmoocians are now a new part of my personal learning network, and they post interesting resources and articles that I was not aware of, and through them I can explore various facets and aspects of digital pedagogy, learning, community, etc. They filter the “noise” of the web into a meaningful “signal” (as one #clmoocian put it) but they also extrude meaningful information and interpellate me as an audience, as I do them. We are cultivating each other.
  3. By riffing off my fellow #clmoocians, by exploring what they made, by reading their reflections and stories of making, through comments….I am collaborating online with a lot of different people, and we are making our own micro-cosmic social networks and nodes within the #clmooc. We are sharing, making and re-making, playing and discussing, and this messy process of incorporating others’ perspectives, playing with their tools in my own ways, re-mixing their projects or re-making my own using their tools, is making me branch out in ways I would never normally do, in a space that is positive and supportive, and encouraging reflection in an honest, safe way.

Which leads me to the final answer to the question, “why am I here?” Which is the inspirational one.

Once, I helped a fellow graduate student on a project. We were taking a class together, and one day she mentioned her frustration in developing a project for a different class. She was frustrated with the software she was trying to use to make the project, and though I am no expert at all on that software, I had used it a few semesters before. I offered to meet her on campus and work through it together. We sat there, and together we fumbled our way through the software, brainstorming possiblities for the project, trouble shooting problems. I felt like I hadn’t helped her at all. I mean, I couldn’t really answer her qauestions becasue I was not all that familiar with the software, but I had talked through her problems with her, and helped her explore the software and the problems by just clicking around, musing outloud, looking up things. In fact, she helped me learn a few things! I thought the experience had been more helpful for me than for her. But later on she told me how helpful she found that experience. More than that, she told me, in her entire time in graduate school, no other fellow student had ever helped her, or offered to. I wasn’t even in the class, I wasn’t working on that assignment, but I had still helped her.

What amazed me was how surprised she was that I had done this.

What saddened me was that this was true, that I was the only other fellow student who ever offered to help. to collaborate on something that I wasn’t even doing myself.

And that, I guess, is the main reason I’m here. I value collaboration and cooperative learning highly, and I want to do more of it (and I don’t often get that chance) but I want to learn how to do it better, and take it back to others, so that maybe one day a fellow student or colleague won’t be this surprised when someone offers to learn with them, to teach each other, to come over and play.