Reflections on teachers, and the questions that they ask

I think that two of the signs of a good teacher are the questions that they ask and the dialogues that they start. A good question can engage students throughout their lives as they gain knowledge and experiences that cause them to re-evaluate, re-answer and re=apply their responses. A good dialogue will inspire students to life- long conversations with all of their teachers, colleagues, peers and most importantly, them selves.

Although I have had my share of uninspired clunkers, I have also had the opportunity to steady and learn from some amazing, amazing teachers. I feel that I am in constant dialogue based upon many of the questions posed and conversations started. Sometimes I am lucky enough to be able top continue these conversations with my original teachers from high school and university, where we engage in conversations where we continue to teach each other.  Sometimes, because of distance or death, I am left with their original comments that I then re-interpret to apply to new knowledge or experience. In many ways, these conversations are similar to the process of learning Talmud, a Jewish text filled with commentary on the bible, Jewish law and comments and conversations between scholars of different generations. Through the way the books are studied, contemporary scholars can engage in old conversations, argue with ancient scholars and then apply meanings and knowledge to current issues.

But I digress. Because of my dissertation topic and background as an artist, I recently have been thinking a lot about the process of making art, what it all means and some of the conversations that I have had (and continue to have). Many of these conversations were started in some classes that I took nearly 30 years ago with Margaret Rinkovsky, one of my favorite art teachers at UCSC. I do nor remember how many drawing and printing classes that I had with her, but they were always filled with interesting and inspiring assignments (such as drawing a nude model completely covered with a sheet), we well as insightful and meaningful critiques and discussions. On a practical aspect, we were being trained to look and really see, to focus on the subject and style, while the theoretical aspect helped to teach us to think, to constantly evaluate and reflect on our reasons our immediate decisions based on our marks on a page or plate.

One discussion in particular that has stayed with me is on the importance of identifying our intent of making a specific drawing, painting or print. We had to identify who are intended audience was, what we were trying to communicate and how, whether the work that we were doing addressed formal issues of 2D art (such as pure composition, light, etc), or whether we were instead doing something illustrative, to tell a particular story. In very broad terms, one way that this can be described as knowing whether we were doing a Jackson Pollack style (pure formal issues), or a Norman Rockwell (much more narrative and illustrative). Many of us young art students struggled to understand and apply these issues, while some were able to understand and integrate them directly and immediately into their work. Now my memory is kind of fuzzy and I would like to think that I was part of the second group, but in all probability, I was in the first- listening, discussing, and reflecting. Doing it again, and finally gaining the insight that enabled me to begin to become more mindful of my work, what it meant and the formal and informal issues that I was addressing. Over the years, I have become clearer on the intention of my visual work, of what and how I am communicating, along with the formal issues that I am exploring. As most artists, my work is iterative- I continue to explore certain images and ideas I am curious about. Sometimes the exploration is through a series of images; sometimes it is the multiple layers that are used to construct one image.

It is the understanding of this iterative process that helps guide me through my dissertation. Knowing that I am a visual thinker helps me to actually visualize the data and information that I am writing about. I can see the major and minor ideas, the associations between themes and words, textures between thoughts, all of which guide me to construct my dissertation in a mindful, authentic, and meaningful way.

All of this stimulated by a discussion started way back then with a great teacher. The lessons in one class can be applied to many others and the work of a good teacher can inspire and teach for many, many years after the classroom.

One more related thing. Yesterday, I went to a free Latin jazz concert at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. As I sat in the sun, listening to this great band, I decided that since I am thinking and writing so much about arts education, I needed to do some art. With phone (and camera), and sketchbook, I tried to capture some of the flavor of the afternoon. Neither media was really working, until I began to think again about my process of iterative art. So, over the next couple of weeks (based on when I have time) I will be working on a composition – a blend of digital and practical to see how will I captured the spirit of the day. I have no idea what will come of it, if it will be horrible or nice, illustrative or formal. But stay tuned here; I’ll post it when complete.

For additional information about my dissertation (and to help fund me), please visit:
http://www.gofundme.com/7ijh6s

Posted in Art, education, Future Society, learning, Learning & Education | Leave a comment

Dissertation news catch up

My dissertation is a feasibility study regarding the use of technology to enable museum-school partnerships to provide arts education to underserved urban and rural communities on a regular basis (throughout the school year as opposed to a one or two day program). The main reasons for my interest are that I believe that arts education is a critical component for the cognitive development of learners of all ages. There have been many formal studies and academic research about the numerous benefits of arts education, data that will be an important component of my dissertation. For now though, I am interested in exploring the personal, emotional and psychological reasons for arts education. But before I can do this, I feel that it is important to start at the beginning and define the basic term “art”. 

According to dictionary.com (my primary source of definitions these days) art, a noun is defined as:
1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance;
2. the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures, or drawings: a museum of art; an art collection;
3. a field, genre, or category of art: Dance is an art;
4. the fine arts collectively, often excluding architecture: art and architecture;
5. any field using the skills or techniques of art: advertising art, industrial art.

Dictionary.com is fairly inclusive in its definition. When many people hear the word “art” they immediately think of the visual arts, without considering the scope of the definition, even for professional arts educators. For example, the late Elliot Eisner, who was one of the most eloquent, knowledgeable and staunchest advocates for arts education in schools, equated arts education with the visual arts. And although my own artistic and creative sensibilities lie in 2-dimensional visual art, it is my understanding and application of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence that makes me understand that different people have different ways of authentically expressing themselves in the arts- be it visual, music, dance, literature or any other creative form.

But art is more than the definitions provided above. In many ways art is like the mortar that holds the bricks of meaning together. While the sciences describe how things fit together and work, arts can provide an interpretation for why things fit and how they work. Although there are important formal aspects in the arts, such as composition, light and darkness, rhythm, and other components, the creation is really about meaning and interpretation, rather fuzzy subjects.

A while back (well, actually probably more than a while), in an art appreciation class, the teacher posed the question for us to write a definition of art. Although seemingly easy, he added the caveat that our definition had to reciprocal, meaning that whatever we wrote had to work both ways. I think that a basic math equation is the best way to describe what we needed to do:

X=Y;
therefore Y=X.

If a student wrote that art is beauty, then beauty is art. This cannot be a true statement because not all art is beautiful, and not all beauty is art. I remember that one person wrote “art is love” and as much as I appreciated the sentiment (after all, I love art), not all love is art. My own definition is that art is the result a person mastering a process where the outcome illustrate a sense of ownership of that process, a result of a conscious approach to a study of a practice where the end result is something out of the ordinary, a combination of knowledge, intuition, mindfulness and feeling.

This approach may be esoteric to some, but I think that it represents a true spirit of the creative process, and is completely inclusive to human endeavors. There is a line in the movie “Ratatouille” where the ghost of the great chef tells the rat that everyone can cook, but not everyone can be a great chef. Anyone can pursue artistic behaviors for pleasure and personal gratification, but not everyone will be a great artist. This is good though- the process of making art, or exploring a passion opens up the mind of the person doing it- they learn about themselves, and the world around them. Not everyone will be a Baryshnikov, or Horowitz, but that should not prevent him or her from dancing or making music or whatever creative endeavor that speaks to them.

An additional thought that defines an artist comes from my study of West African Dance. Everybody who participated in the classes learned, moved and had fun. But there were individuals who really captured the spirit, the motion, the rhythm of the dance and music. If complimented, their response was always “thank you, but what did I do?” A teacher explained this by saying that the music and dance has been around a lot longer than any of us, and the more that you did it, the more that you felt and became part of it.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi provides another explanation in his book “Flow”, writing that this is “the mental state in which “a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology).

Some semi-academic ruminations about STEAM

While reviewing and reflecting on arts education in schools, I am happily amazed by the variety and diversity of people and professions who are actively advocating for the return its return in the schools. There is growing understanding and acceptance role that arts play in cognitive development and providing important 21st skills in critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, innovation and more.

What is interesting to me is the actual need to reintroduce arts into school curriculum. After all, is it pretty universally accepted that an understanding and appreciation of the arts, in all media, has always been the sign of education and culture in just about every society. This has made be begin to wonder about when the arts actually began to be cut from educational budgets. Another thing that I have been reflecting on is that even with the current interest in STEM initiatives, the arts or math were never fully cut from schools. They may not have been as developed as really needed, but some sort of rudimentary for at least science and math has always existed. As an artist, I do not begrudge this, because I am also a nerd (smile when you say that partner) and understand the importance of STEM in education and society. But my heart speaks art first and I believe that the arts are of equal importance as the other disciplines, and that we really need to be talking about STEAM now.

I recently had a really interesting conversation with a guy who has put together a couple of web sites that promote STEM and provide rich and engaging lesson plans for science. One site even has an impressive section about the art of science illustration. While reviewing it, I could not help but to think about the work of Howard Gardner, who has researched and written about multiple intelligences. His idea is that although we can all learn anything, many individuals possess innate interests, and cognitive abilities. Some people think in science, some in math, some in music, some in art, etc. Like many theorists, there are those who support an idea, and there are those who do not. My own research, education, and experiences (especially as an artist) definitely put me in the former. Art can be used as an illustrative component of another discipline, but it also has its own language and power- art for arts sake.

The great Russian painter Kandinsky wrote about color that when he wanted to celebrate the beauty of yellow, he did not feel the need to represent the color as a lemon, but rather as an abstract. He also described painting in terms of music, there being a point, counterpoint, rhythm, etc. I happen to love Jackson Pollack’s action paintings. Now, with a scientific mind, we can possibly interpret them in terms of chaos theory. But at the time, Pollack was visually describing something else, a breaking of the barriers of the canvas, of formal composition. One critic at the time described Pollack’s work as capturing motion and freezing it on a canvas. I also find it very interesting that Pollack was also known as an excellent draftsman, before he began working in abstract expressionism. In these terms, science explores the “what” something is, the “how” it works, but art offers insight into the “why” and to the emotions it generates.

This is why I look at the importance of studying art, as art, in the language of art, be visual, musical, dance, theater, or multi media. I believe that the language of art is as important as the language of science in the cognitive development of a child, as well as playing a role in society. I am also a fan of multi-media as well as exploring innovative, interactive and immersive digital technologies as in the creating art. But as one needs to understand the science of how the technology works, one also needs to understand the art component of why and what it does to the individual, in many ways, the poetry of the work.

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Some personal reflection on Veteran’s Day

aug1977I’ve been thinking about a warm and breezy fall day nearly 40 years ago. I was at a crossroads outside of Nablus in Palestine/the occupied territories and was sitting in the commander’s seat of my armored personal carrier (a vehicle we called “Zelda”), the lead vehicle of a convoy of 6. The road in front of us led by the edge of a Palestinian refugee camp, into and through Nablus, ending up in Natanya, a lovely beach-front city in Israel To our right were other Palestinian villages, farms and our fire-fields, which was our destination. My driver and I were waiting for the rest of the convoy, the trucks with our crews and support to arrive so that we could travel together.

There were not a lot of Americans serving in the army at that time, so it was dumb luck that my driver was not only an American, he was a college room-mate of a close family friend who had moved to Israel earlier on. We though it was pretty funny and were joking about the university, our mutual friend and the weirdness of where we were and what we were doing.

As we were waiting, a group of children from the camp gathered around us. They did not speak- they simply stood and stared. Their clothes were ragged and their hollow stares both challenged and questioned who we were and why we, soldiers were there.

Our tension and discomfort increased and conversation became more strained. We joked about the images that we saw of US soldiers distributing chocolate to children in liberated European villages during WWII. We wished that we had brought chocolate to give to these kids.

Perhaps it was then, that the seeds of the intifada were planted. After the two wars (’67 and ’73), the military took control of an area that most Israelis never really knew about or visited. We marched though villages in full combat gear in the daytime and at night. We practiced live-fire exercises in their fields. Local residents were scared, and so were there farm animals (sometimes killed). We were an army in the midst of civilians, but there was no war except for the war we brought. There were those who believed that it was our right to be there, while others questioned the reasons and warned against. The country went the way of the former, while often branding the latter as gadflies, curmudgeons, crazies and sometimes, even traitors.

There were Palestinians and others who were militant and believed in force and violence. We were often looking for infiltrators n the Syrian border. We would usually catch them, but sometimes they got through and would attack and kill civilians. There would be some sort of retaliation and so it went. But the majority of the Palestinians were simply trying to live their lives in cities, villages and farms.

It was as if we all had this first chance to build something really good, but the scared victims became victimizers. I often wonder about those children that surrounded us at that crossroads. Ten years after that encounter, the first intfada began and I wonder how many of those children picked up rocks to throw are Israeli soldiers and settlers. And I wonder what would have happened if we had come through their villages with chocolate rather than heavy weapons.

Posted in Future Society, Israel, Peace | Leave a comment

Recent ruminations about community-MOOCs

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner speak at Pepperdine about Communities of Practice, collaboration, innovation, learning and more. Actually, it was more of a facilitated discussion with an audience of students, teachers and other educators. Their research and theories about CoP and Situated influence my own research on community MOOCs and collaboration.

Several things were said during the discussion really resonated with my own research (formal and informal) and experience. I have a long standing interest in collaborative learning activities, in particular, ways to help people from different communities and cultures to learn and work together. One of my favorite projects in the past was being an artist-in-residence at a town in northern Israel, where I had the opportunity to do collaborative art projects with Jewish, Moslem, Christian, and Druze children. By working together on large scale art projects, the kids had opportunities to chat about their lives, likes and dislikes, and look at their similarities rather then differences. It was a fun project.

My current research is, of course, much more formal, theoretical and mindful of my actions. My focus remains collaboration, in this case how community-MOOCs can be such an interesting and possible platform for large-scale informal learning environments. I think cMOOCS can be a great platform for large-scale project-based learning. For my dissertation I am doing a feasibility study on the use of cMOOCS for museum-school partnerships I. I am interested in learning what professionals in both fields think about this idea, if any have conducted one, which tools and processes were used, if there were any assessments done and if so, what and how were they done. I think that it is interesting that many of the current MOOCs are simply following an established learning/education style that is more related a traditional classroom, taught and presented in a linear fashion. It seems to me that the biggest thing that they are missing is the sense of play that can be inherent in learning. The larger the class, the more distant the instructor is from the students, a learning style that often is more of a hindrance to students in taking responsibility for their own learning, The result of applying this style to MOOCs is that more often than not, there is a very high drop out rate in MOOCs.

I think that MOOCs can be really powerful learning environments, but their use in classrooms do call into question the issue of whether schools are really meeting the needs of students, the work place and the future. My dissertation chair, Dr. Jack McManus presented at the Manhattan Beach TEDx about the need to create new metaphors for schools- what they are and what they do. Hi presentation was very interesting, compelling and thought provoking (you can see it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9mY3unDZfs&feature=youtube_gdata_player). One of his arguments is that we are no longer an agrarian or industrial society, but an informational one, and the need for developing an learning system that more truly reflects the needs for society- the ability to collaborate, use more creative problem solving, and to be innovative.

For my research I am doing a feasibility study about using MOOCs as a platform for large scale, multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary semi-formal learning environments. I also think that MOOCs are excellent platforms for project-based learning initiatives. For example, I am particularly interested in museum/school partnerships, especially on a global scale. It seems to me that a learning cooperative of 6-10 schools and museums around he world, based upon a specific topic or idea (on topic that would be interesting is the global medical, economic and cultural implications of the Black Death).

In Simon Schoken’s TED talk, Schoken describes how the students in his MOOC about programming self-selected into individual learning groups. In their talk, they spoke about the need for learners to be able to identify each other as learning partners and ways that they can discover shared interests to build CoP. Beverly spoke about the need to build relationships in complex communities- both small and large.

I wonder if it is possible that cMOOCs (community-based MOOCs) can effective platforms for creating and supporting CoPs? Is there a practice that you are aware of any particular practices or processes that would nurture the formation of communities based upon individuals finding learning partners? I see the role of the instructor as a guide on the side (as opposed to the sage on the stage), or the primary convener of the MOOC. Would you agree? In reflecting upon some of my past experiences with successful community collaborations, I see that the foundation for the success was build on the strength of the relationships and trust build (an important component of CoP). Can these types of relationships can be established online, so that they can be leveraged for a MOOC?

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Global MOOC-ology

I’ve been continuing to participate in a really stimulating discussion about MOOCs on Linkedin.  Preeti Jasnani, one of the other participants and a senior manager in Instructional Design at Tata Interactive Systems in Mumbai posted an interesting article called: Why online learning is only a first step: Technology is a way to bypass some of the great weaknesses of India’s educational system”  (http://tinyurl.com/klluvgl) .  Although the article addressed issues in India, I think that the issues actually are more global, especially in terms of connecting urban and rural, and access and limited to no access. It seems to me that the majority of the planet is struggling with costs and lack of economic resources, which limit accessibility to the few neighborhoods that have money.

I live in west Los Angles in California, where there is a mixture of very affluent and more low-income neighborhoods. Even the schools in more affluent areas are really technologically challenged with obsolete computers and networks and teachers (even young ones) who either do not know how to integrate any technology in their classroom, have no time (too many students per class), or are too busy teaching for tests (each of these problems are worthy of their own linkedin discussion). 

I think that one of the possible opportunities of MOOCs, that theoretically, they can be developed and managed by creative uses of accessible technology, such as some of the google suite of tools. MOOCs can be platforms for sharing resources across multiple schools in multiple geographical areas. A class on agriculture can bring together students from across the globe that discuss plants in their area; what is unique, what is shared; seasons, weather, weather patterns; sharing images (via phone/hand held), videos.

Benefits for teaching this way include addressing multiple intelligences, collaborative learning, and more. To accomplish this is the challenge, but not insurmountable. The need is to find like minded instructors, willing to experiment, play, develop and most importantly, to let go of ownership of the teaching process, trusting the students to create and understand content (with some guidance), open to share resources and to develop new models of funding (looking to crown sourcing as a possible model).

Posted in collaboration, education, Educational Policy, Future Society, learning, Learning & Education, Learning Innovation, MOOC, Online education, Resources, Technology & Education | Leave a comment

Marvelous MOOC Madness

I’ve been participating in this really interesting online conversation about MOOCs with some colleagues in education where I am an evangelist for using cMOOCs as a platform for multi-institional collaborative learning. Today I read some very interesting comments about “interaction among the learners and possibilities to mix all kind of documents (video, multimedia, pdf…)” by Yves Epelboin, Director NT for Learning and Teaching at Universty P.Curie UPMC, Paris and Lave and Wenger’s Community of Practice by   Samuel A. Helms, PhD from Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. These ideas resonate with me (I had some great classes on CoP at Pepperdine, especially with Drs Linda Polin, Paul Sparks, and Margaret Riel).  The timing of their comments could not be more opportune because these are some of the ideas that I have been reflecting and writing about in my dissertation.

It is no secret that I see the cMOOC as a great platform for CoPs, which would actually be more closely related to the guide on the side style of learning. Rather than presenting lectures or expecting the students to learn content in advance of the class, the instructor asks the questions and lets the students construct their knowledge, but within communities. One of the challenges that we educators face is that we understand that in many ways, the skill sets needed for the type of self-organizing that MOOCs require is in many ways very sophisticated.

Students need to know how to work collaboratively to identify multiple aspects of a specific topic or question. This will help them identify the types of interests and skill sets required to build the knowledge. My favorite example that I speak about is something like the Black Death. If we want students to really understand that period in European History, they would need to look at geography, biology, migration patterns of people (and animals), the arts, the economy, religion and more. MOOCs are really good tools for this kind of learning, and can be spread over multiple schools, institutions and even time zones.

The CoP is no longer limited to one location, but spread out in order to enable a broad approach. This is possible now because the availability in new and powerful digital communication tools and platforms. The reality is that never have so many people been able to communicate and collaborate with so many others in real time around the globe. It is sometimes possible to forget that the scale and speed of change that we are used to is still rather new itself. Old models still work, but they often need to be re-visited, re-imagined and re-applied. I can see a direct path from projects and activities that can be described by Dewey, Vygotsky, Papert and several other similar thinkers to how cMOOCs can be used.

It would be silly to say “yes” or “no” to such an approach to learning. The newness let’s us develop, identify weaknesses or problems, make changes and try again. I actually think that it is pretty exciting- we get to explore, develop, create and make all sorts of mistakes as we try to develop tools and platforms that will address learning, education and academic needs of the near future. It opens all sorts of possibilities and opportunities.

Posted in collaboration, education, Educational Policy, Future Society, Leadership, learning, Learning & Education, Learning Innovation, Massive Open Online Course, MOOC, MOOC tools, Resources, Society & Community, Technology & Education | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Post MOW 2013 reflections: MOOCs, museums and mistakes

LBy the time I arrived at Museums and the Web 2013, I was in a tizzy. I had been thinking and blogging about my presentation topic, MOOCs, museums, and schools natural partners and processes for learning for over a month, writing and re-writing my presentation.  But I was still unsure. The primary sticking point was that because MOOCs are relatively new (they have been identified and used for only about five years), they are still mostly situated in the academic world, and have not yet been integrated into the museum experience. Museums have adapted many of the fundamentals of distance education, but in general, the numbers of learners and participants do not really reach the potential level of academic MOOCs (tens of thousands).

miniMOOCWhile circulating about, chatting with old and making new friends at the conference, I listened and learned about what my colleagues knew about MOOCs. A pre-presentation lunch with my co-presenters, Deborah Howes (MOMA), Robert Rutherford (University of Colorado at Boulder), and Slavko Milekic (University of the Arts) was lively, stimulating, and very informative, as was an interview with Emily Kotecki.

I learned that while many people are familiar with the idea of MOOCs, not a lot of people have actually participated in or developed a MOOC. Additionally, there was a lack of understanding about the two types of MOOCs (cMOOCs and xMOOCs). Yet there is an almost tangible curiosity and interest in MOOCs- the technologies, applications and more importantly, about how MOOCs can be integrated into the museum experience.

In many ways, these conversations reminded me of the early days of museum web sites, when there were no real standards, and museum professionals were all busy identifying, exploring, and developing web technologies and content to promote and advance museums’ missions, for general audiences as well as museum professionals. In retrospect, one thing that I learned back in those early, wild and wooly days was essentially that the primary theme of the conferences was as education and leaning, in all of their different forms.

This conference continues to be about education, albeit more directed, focused and polished. There are sessions and conversations about technologies, protocols, and processes for educating museum visitors as well as professionals. In many ways, MOOCs are a throwback to those early days, where we were all trying to figure things out. MOOCs have the potential to be revolutionary to museum education, but in a more glacial sense. MOOCs present great opportunities for innovative education preprograms and outreach, in both informal and formal learning environments.

Like many other innovations, we need to remember that since MOOCs are new and pretty flexible, there is no one way to develop and use them. MOOCs present educators with opportunities and challenges as we adapt and mold them to fit multiple learning styles along with different types of museum education programs.

We Need to Know More

Because of their novelty, it may be beneficial to identify and define several key terms, ideas and needs that will help assist us as educators and museum professionals as well as learners so that we communicate and learn together as we work to develop MOOCs for our individual institutions and for the museum community in general. 

  • There are two types of MOOCs- xMOOCs support formal, structured, and didactic approaches to education and learning. On the other hand, the cMOOCs (“c” is for connectivist) is exceptionally suited for informal, constructivist learning environments in which the instructor functions more as a guide and “asker of questions”, and learning and is constructed by the participants and students.
  • The type of MOOC that an educator selects is directly related to the sensibility of the instructor and their institution. For example, educators who favor a didactic approach to learning will find that an xMOOC is an appropriate style to use, since it favors formal instructor led classes and assignments. On the other hand, institutions and individuals who advocate project-based learning initiatives will find the cMOOC is a more appropriate tool. In the cMOOC, the instructor asks the questions, but the students create the meaning through collaborative projects.
  • One common theme in existing MOOCs is that there is a high dropout rate of students. This can be expected, since learners may not be used to the MOOC style of learning. Because of this, the metrics that have been developed and used to evaluate onsite or distance learning programs may not be appropriate or useful.  Also, it is difficult to evaluate a moving target. I would suggest that the action research method is an appropriate model for developing and evaluating MOOCs.
  • It is often for difficult for large institutions to fully explore and develop MOOCS, because of the institutional structures and protocol that can prevent or hinder true innovation to take place. These institutions are often better suited to adapting technology rather then developing it. Yet, with some imagination and creative problem solving, these same institutions can identify ways to develop and integrate innovative technologies that compliment the institution and its mission. For example, the creation of a Department of Innovation with a small (and possibly rotating staff) can assist to keep staff interested and programs fresh.
  • As with every museum program, it is always critical to identify the target audience, but even more so with MOOCs, because this will define the type of MOOC used (x or c). For example, museum professionals may find the xMOOC more suited to their needs, while cMOOCs may better serve programs that provide museum education to distant locations.

MOOCs have the potential to add to the democratization of museums and education. They can be used for educating museum professionals, and visitors, for building innovative exhibitions and partnerships and for reaching out to the millions of people who may never experience the simple delight in wandering through an actual museum.

As museum professionals and educators, it is a salient idea to remember that MOOCs are new, especially in museum environments. The significance of this is three-fold: 1) learning is a pretty messy process; 2) we are all learning together about MOOCs and their potential to engage new and existing museum learners, and 3) there is no one single way to how MOOCs are used. Finally, it is critical to remember that as we adapt and develop MOOCs, we will make plenty of mistakes. But this is good a good thing. To paraphrase a comment made by Simon Schocken, “We are obsessed with grades because we are obsessed with data, and yet grading takes away all the fun from failing, and a huge part of education is about failing”.
Links to previous Museums and the Web conference programs- http://www.archimuse.com/conferences/mw.html

Posted in Arts & Sciences, collaboration, education, Educational Policy, Leadership, Learning & Education, Massive Open Online Course, MOOC, Museums, Technology & Education | 1 Comment

MOOCs at Museums on the Web, and the joy of mistakes (?)

On Wednesday, I will be traveling to Portland, Or. to attend Museums and the Web 2013. I’m pretty excited. MOW has always been a favorite conference of mine. It is always fun and there are always interesting people who do really interesting and creative work in some cool places. It’s been a couple of years since I went, to it will be even more fun.

Although I am excited, I’ve also been a bit nervous about it. I was invited to expand my original proposal, which is also the area of my research. I have had a bit of writer’s block but finally started to write a lot.

I looked at my writing and felt that something was missing. I finally realized that I was becoming too clinical about something that I am really excited about. I hear more and more talk about MOOCs, what they are, how they work, how they can be used. I think that MOOCs are a glacial revolution and have the potential that if not change the way we educate, it will at least create some very dynamic alternatives.

Their are a lot of things that I like about MOOCs and I need to be careful not to sound like a one of those guys on infomercials. Although MOOCs are informed by some very well respected and relevant learning theories and theorists. I feel that I could wear one of those direct-sales company pins that say, “Ask me about…”

While wondering about what I’m writing and what I will be speaking about (I will be on a panel with Deborah Howes, Robert Rutherford, and Slavko Milekic), I opened up a TED talk that I’ve been meaning to listen to and heard the words that I’ve been trying to say. Simon Schocken, the son of a family of learners, describes the joy of self-guided learning, and self-guided course organizations. Although his field (and passion) is computer engineering, I can see the same model applied to other disciplines, such as the arts and humanities.

His talk is brilliant and I felt that one idea that he mentioned really described how I felt about my MOOC blogs. They were not my best examples of writing, but they were an integral part of my process.

Schocken describes that one of the most fun parts of learning is failing, and writes: “And with that in mind, I’d like to say a few words about traditional college grading. I’m sick of it. We are obsessed with grades because we are obsessed with data, and yet grading takes away all the fun from failing, and a huge part of education is about failing. Courage, according to Churchill, is the ability to go from one defeat to another without losing enthusiasm. (Laughter) And [Joyce] said that mistakes are the portals of discovery. And yet we don’t tolerate mistakes, and we worship grades. So we collect your B pluses and your A minuses and we aggregate them into a number like 3.4, which is stamped on your forehead and sums up who you are. Well, in my opinion, we went too far with this nonsense, and grading became degrading.”

Schocken’s TED talk is here: www.ted.com/talks/shimon_schocken_the_self_organizing_computer_course.html

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On building a better MOOC

When building a MOOC, one of the most important questions that professionals ask is: What do I use to build this MOOC? This is no small question and the there is no one small answer. There are a plethora of opportunities and possible solutions, the selection of which really depends on the general sensibility and educational goals of the institution and of the course to be offered.  A course that is based on a formal approach to learning, one that is directed by the instruction, has a set schedule, prescribed assignments and tests requires a platform that supports this methodology and goals. This is appropriate if the institution is affiliated with a college or university that has a LMS such as Sakai (http://www.sakaiproject.org/), Moodle (https://moodle.org/), or Blackboard (http://www.blackboard.com/), Although some of these platforms are low to no cost, like ant LMS, considerable resources are still necessary to customize, deploy, and support a MOOC. The same can be said proprietary systems that such as Coursera (https://www.coursera.org/), or EdX (https://www.edx.org/).

Limited resources should not hold back a smaller institution for developing and deploying MOOCs in their education programs. The development of Web 2.0 AND 3.0 has made introduced a wide range of tools and platforms that can be modified and adapted for MOOCs. My personal favorites are the Google suite of tools because of the breadth of functions, tools and process available. For example, Google+ can be used to set up mega-groups (for the complete class) as well as sub-groups that facilitate smaller communities of practice. Once the class and groups have been created, there is a plethora of tools, and processes that can be used to create, support and facilitate learning activities- chats, image and video sharing, blogs, web sites, calendars for scheduling and more. A complete list of the tools and apps available on Google can be found at http://www.google.com/intl/en/about/products/. DISCLAIMER: I am not an employee of Google, and do not receive any remuneration from them. But even with the multitude of legal and ethical issues that surround Google (and many other technology providers), Google does provide a powerful set of tools that can be used by institutions with limited resources).

It is also possible to mix and match apps, using the strengths of each when deploying MOOCs. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, ning, and similar applications can be used to create   low cost or even no cost platforms for MOOCs.

As a professional team works to identify the learning approach, and community to be served by the MOOC, as well as choosing appropriate technology and platforms, it is critical to consider security, privacy, intellectual property and copyright policies and guidelines that will protect the institution and individual participants.

NEXT: Give me liberty or give me security, privacy, intellectual property and copyright policies

 

Posted in Arts & Sciences, Educational Policy, Future Society, Leadership, Learning & Education, Learning Innovation, Massive Open Online Course, MOOC, Museums, Online education, Resources, Society & Community, Technology & Education | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Community, community, wherefore art thou?

Community, community, wherefore art thou?
In this sense “wherefore?” is more accurately defined as meaning “for what purpose?”

One of the most interesting challenges for museum professionals is audience definition. Multiple departments in multiple museums struggle to define a typical audience- who they are, their ages, genders, levels of education, interests, nationalities, and on and on. The easiest answer is that museum audience is everyone. Of course, special collections tend to attract those interested in that collection (for example, a museum dedicated to stamps will primarily attract stamp collectors) but for the most part, museums attract wide and varied audiences. One challenge for museum professionals then is how to design exhibitions, catalogs, descriptions, etc for such a broad audience.  An additional and related challenge is how to design this experience for an even broader audience- the virtual one.

With years of experience and knowledge, museum professionals have developed successful strategies to display information and educate the public about their respective collections. But the information is a top-down model, where information is selected by the museum professional before disseminated to the visitor. The value of this process cannot be underestimated- it is produced by experts, educators, curators and other specialists who understand the artifacts, context and methods. But, it does not take into consideration the knowledge, insights, and experiences of the visitor. There are very practical reasons for this, for example the dynamic nature of museum visits, the varied audiences, or allotted time for a visit. The result of this is that it becomes difficult to develop and sustain a community of learners, or a community of practice. It is crucial to remember that authentic learning does not happen in a vacuum or as a solo practice, but rather as part of a community process. In many ways, this community is based on the traditional model of medieval guilds. A person starts as laborer, then with time and experience, transitions to apprentice, then journeyman and finally a master. This model can also be used to describe other type of learning. In The Children’s Machine, Seymour Papert uses this process to describe Brazilian samba schools, in which children start their samba education by cleaning up the school, then assisting with special tasks, then focusing on one aspect of the school (for example as a dancer, musician, costumer, or builder), before becoming the master. The learning takes place in a communal atmosphere where those with experience guide and teach new members.

Lave and Wenger describe communities of practice (COP) in a similar manner: “a group of people who share a craft and/or a profession. The group can evolve naturally because of the members’ common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field.” Within a community of practice, learning happens by the sharing of information between members of the community.

Two other related learning process are constructivism and connectivisim.  In constructivism, learners construct knowledge by “Discovery learning, hands-on, experiential, collaborate, project-based, tasked-based are a number of applications that base teaching and learning on constructivism”.

Connectivism, as defined in Wikipedia, “sees learning as the process of creating connections and elaborating a network”

This network of people and ideas develops into a community of practice that that makes learning environments to create meaning and understanding. There are real challenges in creating communities of practice for museum visitors that are imposed by the limitations of physical museums. But, these challenges are not insurmountable. The web in general and specifically MOOCs can provide the platform for creating communities of practice for museum audiences. MOOCs can be used as a platform to provide pre-and post-vist content, but also as an environment for experts and novices to exchange information and experiences about collections and topics of interests.

References:
Comunities of practice- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communities_of_practice
Connectivism- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connectivism
Constructivism- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism_(learning_theory)
Shakespear definition taken from http://www.omg-facts.com/Sex/O-Romeo-Romeo-Wherefore-Art-Thou-Romeo/16067#iEAgrzeKOeqfeOAS.99

Posted in Art, Future Society, Learning & Education, Massive Open Online Course, MOOC, Museums, Online education, Resources, Society & Community, Technology & Education, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment