Inside of a MOOC: A First “Feldgang”, Post MOOC and Beyond Cycle 6

Van Gogh, “Den Feldgang”


From my personal and professional experience, our systems of education are profoundly inequitable. When they do work it is for an elite while simultaneously providing the illusion of a way up and out for the most of us. Do I have to cite the global litany here? I suppose so. Poverty rules the globe and hunger, too. Our food systems are corrupt and our health care systems are either deadly or non-existent. Schools work for a few. Climate change, war, terror…this is the collapse of norms and values that Johan Galtung called ‘anomie’ and the loss of social structure that he called “atomie”.

This formed the dark background that was mine before I joined in with a group of pioneering teachers working under the banner of the National Writing Project. Our goal was to create a ‘connected learning massive open online collaboration’, a CLMOOC, for eight weeks this summer as a proof of concept for teaching the principles of connected learning espoused in Mimi Ito’s research for the MacArthur Foundation. It had a much deeper personal purpose for me–nothing short of an attempt at personal and professional revolution, total transformation.

I have been teaching in one form or another for over twenty years. I have watched schools fall apart, disrupted by the crumbling social and economic fabric of local and regional agricultural communities. This is not a new observation, but what I was asking myself was the next logical question, “What is arising from the rubble?” I hoped that this new creature with the unflattering name, a MOOC, run with a new engine, connected learning principles, might be my Phoenix personally, pedagogically and professionally.

Spoiler alert! It was.

I have been reading Alexandra Horowitz’ book On Looking as I have contemplated the huge task of drawing out reflections on #clmooc. Her idea is to approach her own environs much as she did in her earlier book, Inside of a Dog. What I am proposing is to do something similar and call it “Inside of a MOOC”. She posits twelve different ways of looking at her city environs. I think I will do it differently with the help of leadership innovator Otto Scharmer. I am setting forth on some “feldgang” or field walks where the land is the MOOC.  I will stop and look at discrete parts of that field much like a farmer observes a square foot of pasture or a clod of earth.

Of course, I am a beginning fieldwalker regarding MOOCs in general and CLMOOC in particular. In fact,  even though I was there in CLMOOC from start to finish, Horowitz might write that this is not always a plus. She takes her own walks with eleven other expert seers whose vision and whose “deformation professionnelle”, the tendency of the expert to filter all life through that expert lens (the carpenter-hammer-nail problem), may deepen as well as limit the view.

I don’t have access to different expert seers, but I am hoping to develop lots of ways of looking at this particular ‘blackbird’ in much the same way that Wallace Stevens did. Now to feldgang number one. (BTW, I am anxious to see what other kinds of field walks my fellow facilitators have made.)

I have been lurking on the CLMOOC Google+ Community since it “ended’. I teach five university general education courses from August till December. My focus is on at-risk learners and they keep me hopping. I just haven’t had much time for reflection and connection, but I am teaching and applying what I learned about creating communities from CLMOOC this summer. I decided my first feldgang would be the omega of the course–Beyond Cycle 6.

The first post I saw was from Kevin Hodgson calling me (and all CLMOOC community members) to a Vialogue conversation. I am drawn to this particular piece of software having been an evangelist for its use since it came out. Kevin’s  invitation has depth and pull for me because vialogues are something we have shared many times before, so we have history. Community is all about shared experience, but it is also about ‘anteing up’ to play in the game. I owe him my attention.

His invitation leads me out of the G+ community into the Vialogue community, one that allows me to annotate a video. In this case the video is about ds106’s future as well as its past and present. This is of particular interest to the facilitators. Why? Because we used it as a model for our community’s values and structure. In a way I guess Kevin is hinting that we need to drop back into the community and ask similar questions.

So I do… the video with Anya Kamenitz asking for introductions. Reminds me of the Google Hangouts we all participated in this summer. If I were to describe how learning felt during CLMOOC eight week run, I would have to say that it felt like a Google Hangout–on the edge, planned but with the potential for chaos (what some folks call ‘chaordic’ chaos+disorder), and full of creative pressure and fun. I can sense that in these three creators of ds106.

Anya Kamenitz asks, “What was the original idea of this course?” I really wasn’t part of that discussion in the making of CLMOOC. That predated me. I think some of the facilitors were involved in that discussion in early 2013 with NWP folks Paul Oh, Christina Cantrill, and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl. All I knew was that we wanted to help a bunch of folks (we knew not how many) learn about connected learning principles and values. And I had no idea what those were specifically either. I had my own ideas about connectivism from my research and reading on the net and from the work of Downes and Siemens as well as that of informal learning advocates like Jay Cross, but I had never read Mimi Ito’s research nor knew all that much about the MacArthur Foundation’s connected learning initiatives. I couldn’t not know about those principles and values now if I wanted to. I have internalized many of them.

Kevin responds in the vialogue to the interview by approving of the push back by ds106 against the early digital narrative models that the Center for Digital Storytelling presented. It occurs to me that our MOOC represented a push back as well against non-convivial xMOOCs. That push forward for conviviality was never articulated as such when we started, but it certainly is what resulted when we birthed the love child of ds106 and connected learning.

Conviviality is a term coined by Ivan Illich in his book Tools for Conviviality. In his ‘Introduction” to that work he defines convivial “as a technical term to designate a modern society of responsibly limited tools.” When you have and use convivial tools you know that they are convivial because, as he puts it, they lead to “eutrapelia”–graceful play in personal relations. No one thought they were doing that at first. We took tools that we hoped would scale in a humane way (Google+, WordPress, Twitter) and that would work within the human scale we had predefined. I think that is what we managed to do in the end-create graceful play within a community of human scale. Now I know why I am a serial MOOC dropout. The MOOCs I abandoned were ones that were not convivial. That is whu the “c” in cMOOC stands for “convivial”.


I know I will return to this Vialogue because ours was a parallel journey , but for now I must continue the feldgang. I see Grammasheri is posting like a loose cannon. The post here is about Dot Day and another two about Connected Educator Month. I think to myself how I have not kept up my end of our connection, one that started last August during the first Connected Educator Month. And what the hell is ‘dot day’? I pick up these posts like a ‘point hunter’ picks up an artifact from a newly turned field. There is so much here that connects, that shows how to connect, that models all that is good about the MOOC but that also makes me realize that we are only as good as the people we have faith in.

Dot Day is a day of making. If nothing emerged this summer it is this: graceful play is the foundation of learning. I know that as sure as I know Sheri Edwards exemplifies it. And just as was done with so  many convivial ways and tools that our community share this summer,  Sue Stinson took the idea behind dot day ( and expanded it into a service project. I have seen this pattern repeated so often in the MOOC this summer that I almost want to call it Sheri’s Rule. Behind this rule is a set of values about the world that many ethical systems share including the connected learning values and principles we elaborated on this summer. Beyond Cycle 6 is a good figurative phrase about learning and education in general. What is the value of what we do if it cannot be extended meaningfully into the world. That is the pattern I see repeated in the MOOC and that I am trying to extend into my local fields.

I continue my fieldwalk through Joe Dillon’s “riding the dragon” post. It took me to his blog where I commented, “Joe, I finally saw this on the #clmooc and I have made it part of one of the field walks I am making back through the MOOC. I love how so much of real substance rests underneath your dragon riding. Minecraft, blogging skillz, metaphor, digital storytelling–it is really quite profound and that isn’t even the tip of the dragon’s tail, is it? Moldbreaking stuff, Joe. Thanks.” The beauty of a digital feldgang is that you can pass through to other fields for a quick check of the fertility there. And it is very fertile ground on Joe’s blog. I think this ‘rhizome’ effect is one of the most interesting ones from the summer. Each post is part of a larger system of roots extending above and below. And the whole rhizomatic system is supported by the convivial tools we chose and that we used within a philosophical system of connected learning. It was a safe, replicable, and fertile soil for growth.


I decided to scroll to the bottom, the beginning of Beyond Cycle 6 where I was responding to Bart Miller’s post on his blog about music he was scoring for string quartet. I asked him to keep us posted. So I decided to ask again. We are living in the future of our Summer’s MOOC. We are the emergent truth of it. I want to know how Bart does with the score even if it doesn’t work out and I want to know how CLMOOC folds into Connected Educator month and Educator Innovator. I want to know what is beyond Cycle 6. I participated in the MOOC to knock myself awake and I write this to knock myself awake.

I don’t think we can lead exclusively or even mostly from the past anymore. In an age of disruption we struggle to avoid the icebergs of pathology that many of the current MOOCs represent. I have been reading the work of Peter Senge, Joseph Jaworski, and Otto Scharmer for the past ten years and finally understand what they mean when they say ‘form follows consciousness’. Or as Scharmer and his colleague Katrin Kauger say in their new book, Leading from the Emerging Future, “The quality of the results produced by any system depends on the quality of awareness from which people in the system operate.” CLMOOC created a space that allowed for all participants to develop a shared conviviality that included the ideas of graceful play, shared duty, happy accident, open accepting discourse, and a larger faith in the humanity of connected learning values and principles. And the road that we continue to makes goes on in unexpected and powerful ways within and beyond Cycle 6. I look forward to the next feldgang where I will look into the first cycle. Hey, I can time travel here if I want to, besides I have already had one walk in Cycle One that I can return to.