De-Icing the MOOC Research Conference


Image credit: Michael Branson Smith’s awesome “Day of the Mooc”

I am currently sitting in Dallas Fort Worth airport hoping to escape the ice storm that hit Dallas during the MOOC Research conference. Despite the atypical elements, this is one of the best conferneces I’ve been to in a while, right up there with OpenEd (kudos to George Siemens, Amy Collier, and Tanya Joosten for a job well done). The quality of people was amazing and the vibe, as Mike Caulfield already mentioned, was almost dreamlike. I also had the distinct pleasure of finally meeting a number of awesome folks who I’ve been following on the internet for a long while now, in particular Bon StewartMartin Weller and Martin Hawksey.

I also met a whole bunch of new folks, and attended a wide range of sessions in hopes of moving beyond some of the MOOC-hype (which I think this conference did quite well) and look at what we’re really starting to learn from this phenomenon. And while I’m not convinced that large, corporate MOOCs are educating the world and feeding the children, I do have a better sense just how variegated coporate MOOCs can be in their approach thanks to Weller’s research. It was also apparent just how much this moment has served to reinforce the fact that online learning has arrived in the hearts and minds of administrators everywhere.

It still befuddles me just how quickly big brand, research 1 universities have been to give away the farm to third-party, for-profit platforms. Especially as the MOOC hype has been somewhat tempered by Saint Sebastian’s recent pivot (which I think was very good for the tenor of the conference more generally). At the same time Bon Stewart’s admonitions for some kind of organized response to start filling the temporary void of direction with alternative narrative still rings in my ears—and it is very much the lesson I took away from Audrey Watters keynote at OpenEd.

Finally, it was cool to see the O.G. triumvirate George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier representing their frankenstein-like brainchild 🙂 I have to take a moment to hand it to all three of them, they’ve weathered a pretty intense hi-jacking of their ideas from back in 2008 with a tremendous amount of class  (lesser folks, like me, would have crumbled). What’s more, they’re stewarding the conversation in ways I think do the entire field a great service. What’s more, Stephen Downes was really happy. I mean really happy! I guess that’s a result of him getting the well-deserved and long overdue credit and resources to really start making his orginal vision of the technological aggregation of these disparate networks a reality. Congratualtions!

As for me, well, I slayed them!

More seriously, for my last few talks  (since my University of North Florida presentation in September) I’ve been trying to narrate the progression of the work I’ve been part of more broadly at UMW. In particular, I focus on the development of projects in UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technology from the BlueHost Experiment to UMW Blogs to ds106 to Domain of One’s Own and beyond. The narrative is a compelling one, and it is an honor to represent the work we’re doing at UMW to folks from around the world. It’s also cool to situate ds106 as a creative alternative within the MOOC discourse. At the same time, I’m becoming more comfortable with my role at UMW as an ambassador for the work DTLT, our faculty, and students are doing. It always feels a bit awkward, but at the same time people are beginning to recognize and understand UMW as a hub for the “Digital Liberal Arts” in part because of these presentations—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Anyway, below is the abstract for the talk as well as the slides for the presentation. If and when there is a video I will share it here as well. [Update: there is a video recording and here’s the link.]  Now if I could only make it home.

This presentation will examine a decade worth of experimentation and development at the University of Mary Washington that has resulted in a series of innovative projects such as UMW Blogs, ds106, and Domain of One’s Own—not to mention its recent spin-off Reclaim Hosting. What all these projects have in common is they operate from a shared ethos of supporting an open environment for teaching and learning online by helping faculty and students alike exert control over the digital spaces they learn, teach, and ultimately live in.

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20 Responses to De-Icing the MOOC Research Conference

  1. Jim – you done did slay ’em real good.

    Loved your talk. Great comments from others as well. You helped expand the horizon of what can be done online, which set the perfect tone for the conference.


  2. What I really want is to be able to do that conference again. A full three days. With the same cast of characters. I’m not sure they’ll ever fund it, but it would be great.

  3. Dave Cormier says:

    Charlottetown. July. MRI14


  4. Alan Levine says:

    I can tell just from the slides how total the slaying was, an epic story that keeps going, all the way to R&U.

    Hopefully you played the entire “Tell Me More About My Eyes” clip 😉

  5. Bon says:

    loved finally meeting you, Jim, and getting to hear you slay the crowd. more, i appreciated the message you sent about the possibilities of the open web – a message that i SO want not to get lost as we begin to maybe see MOOCs take online into higher ed in a myriad of ways.

    i was glad and amazed to see how diverse those ways are. Dave seems to have his little heart set on talking about it all more in PEI next summer, so…here’s hoping you eventually get out of Dallas so you can join us. 😉

  6. Reverend says:

    I can’t thank you enough for the invitation, it was a blast and you are a mensch. Hope to do some experimentation when you settle down with that awesome crew at UT Arlington. You are in an enviable position, and again, well deserved.

    Like Dave Said, Charlottetown. It was really fun to hang out with folks and start framing out this space. And the more access and resources we have to frame the discourse, the more likely we will have some sophisiticated aggregation hubs that make the cMOOC that much more accessible.

    I think you would have liked the conference, it was a kind of post-hype MOOC discussion, and there were some many great folks there. I think George needs to have you keynote Charlottetown MRI14 😉

    @Dave and Bon,
    Count me in for Charlottetwon, and it will be the basis of another family caravan, so I’ll make good on my not being able to visit your beautiful island last Summer. You both rule, and heading up to Canada where all the magic was born would be both a privilege and a pleasure. And it’s really close to Grant Potter too, perhaps your countries single greatest superhero :0

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  9. Grant says:

    Charlottetown in July? Brilliant … carving out some come summer for #MRI14 …

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  11. Lana Rings says:

    I was one of the audience members slayed. Coming on board to find out what you all are doing in the World of MOOCs and digital learning. And so excited to have George with us – when he’s not out and about. How lucky can one get??????

    • Reverend says:

      I have no doubt UT Arlington will be doing amazing things very shortly. In fact, the crew you have on the ground has already been conceptualzing this stuff for years. Matt Croslin is just one excellent example of this. I’ll be watching you all, Wazowski!

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  13. Martin says:

    I remember seeing REM live and being disappointed. Some artists don’t add anything to the live performance. I can say to all Groom fans out there – see this guy live! He slays them.
    Was great to finally meet you – big fan.

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