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.

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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 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”  ( .  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.

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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-

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:

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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 (, Moodle (, or Blackboard (, 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 (, or EdX (

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 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


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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.

Comunities of practice-
Shakespear definition taken from

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To MOOC or not to MOOC….

“To MOOC or not to MOOC, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrow of outrageous learning, Or to take regular classes against a sea of technology, and by opposing them, return to the classroom….” loosely paraphrased from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Director of educational technology. 

In other words, the decision on whether to use a MOOC (or not) is not a quick fix to any institutions educational technology challenges. Deploying a MOOC requires as much planning and development time as any other class, online or classroom. And one of the first decisions that need to be made is about what type of MOOC should be used, a decision that relates to an institution’s general approach to learning.

The xMOOC is best used in formal settings that use traditional, pre-determined-curriculum, instructor-led classes (sage-on-the stage or guide on the side), and fixed schedules that use lectures, assignments, and tests. Good examples of this type are the MOOCs offered by Stanford University.  Daphne Koller‘s gives an excellent presentation about this at the TED conference. She also describes how Coursera was developed as a platform at Stanford that later became an independent company for other schools.

But an institution that whose pedagogical approach is connectivist and informal (or free-choice) learning would be better served by deploying a cMOOC. This model is based more on a bottom-up style of learning, driven more by the desire of the participants to create their own meaning of content by connecting different types of data from multiple sources. In this example, the instructor provides questions and general guidelines for the class material, but the students find, interpret and aggregate and make sense of the material, in a way that is both meaningful and authentic to them.

The cMOOC is messier than the traditional style of the xMOOC, yet can be just as effective, if not more so than the xMOOC. By relying on the input of the students, there is greater access to more experts in the course content, as well as related fields then is possible then the xMOOC. This is particularly important in the humanities and arts, where content and meaning is driven by interpretation and iteration. I would argue that the cMOOC could also be an efficient and excellent model for museum education, which is more often based on informal, free-choice learning than the stricture of a fixed curriculum. Museums and their programs attract a wide range of visitors, each with their own expertise, experience and knowledge. A cMOOC creates an ongoing, 24/7 learning experience that prepares and extends a visitor’s experience. A cMOOC can be used as a platform for reaching out to those unable to actually visit. Additionally, in today’s economic climate, a cMOOC is a potential platform for creating large, online exhibitions based on content from a wide range of museums and collections that would be finically challenging to do in a practical exhibition.

After the learning approach and type of MOOC are identified, the technology platform and curriculum can be developed.

NEXT: Technology platforms for museum MOOCs


Siemens, George, MOOCs are really a platform-


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More thoughts about MOOCs and museums….

One of the richest experience that comes out of a museum is visiting the museum itself. Whether following an exhibition or gallery tour designed by curators and educators, or wandering around looking at whatever captures a your imagination, thus enabling you to create their your personal exhibition, a museum visit is always a rich, exploratory and educational experience, and is always fun. Being able to see the size, materials and construction of art and artifacts will engage a visitor’s intellect and curiosity in ways that small images viewed on the web cannot. To help expedite a visitor’s experience, museum professionals often design and optimize web sites for pre-visit experiences, so that visitors have a starting point for their visit. But, not everyone can participate in this experience. Distance and money does create limitations to many potential museum visitors.  Ways to reach out, attract and bring museum visitors from distant locations has and continues to be one of the critical issues facing museum professionals today. The ongoing development and integration of digital media, the web and social networks have provided some interesting and innovative solutions to these issues (these ideas will be addressed in future blogs).

Often times museum visits are solitary experiences. Visitors wander around, exploring and creating incredibly meaningful and valuable personal learning opportunities.  Group tours with a docents or educator provide other rich experiences. In many ways, as participants move around, they create a temporary communities of practice or learners, sharing the common thread provided by the leader. Moving around, visitors create a dialogue between educator and visitors is created as they share information, observations and questions.

The question then becomes whether it is possible to tansfer a museum’s visitor’s on-site experience to those unable to attend. Some museums develop web exhibitions that function as pre-visit experiece to prepare a visitor for an actual visit. While this is an important  function of the site, it does not really address the vast quantity of potential visitors unable to attend.  MOOCs may offer a method of creating a bridge between the onnsite and online experiences. For example, instead of limiting the purpose of  a virtual exhihition  to  pre-museum visits, MOOCs can be used as  stand-alone sites that emulate the group-tour experience. Online visitors gain opportunities to explore, share, interpret, and create meaning within a community of people with a shared interest. MOOCs can be a platform for curating exhibitions that can be economically. MOOCs can also be a platform for museums to display art and artifacts that are locked away in storage, providing visitors with a deeper undertanding of an artist, style, or period of work that is hidden away. Another example of how MOOCs can be used is to create exhibitions and leadning experiences based on examples of art and artifacts that are scatterd across the globe in multiple museums and collections.

For example, I am a fan of the artist Stanton Macdonald-Wright, of the founders of the post-cubist synchromist movement. I was first exposed to this artist during a high school visit to LACMA and saw his painting Synchromy in Purple. The problem that I have is that although synchromy is recognized in the art world, I have not found any one large collection of Macdonald-Wright’s paintings. They are displayed in ones and twos, if at all. I admit that this may be a bit esoteric to some, but I am sure that you get the drift of my thinking. All you need to do is swap out Macdonald-Wright or synchromy with a specific interest of your own- art or otherwise. 

MOOCs may provide a partial solution to this quandary of mine. I imagine a virtual exhibition of a large collection of Macdonald-Wright’s paintings, gathered from a collective of museums, collections and galleries and curated by a group of curators, educators, historians, collectors and perhaps painters. Participants are anyone interested in the movement, period, artist or any other of the associated topics. Of course there would need to be a leader/instructor who would provide information and more importantly, questions to stimulate group discussions. Sub-communities may form to discuss specific paintings, or perhaps the artistic, social, political or economic history of the time- issues that helped define the artist and movement. Each group participates and adds their knowledge to the discussion, providing a more robust and complete understanding of the art, artist and period. Perhaps those interested in music could research the music of the place and period, illustrating the way in which music and painting influence each other. The possibilities how a MOOC can be used here is really limited only by imagination of the users- there are digital tools that can provide a multitude of user experiences- textual, visual, audio.  Although a virtual exhibition may not be as fulfilling as the experience of viewing the paintings in real life, a MOOC about synchromy can facilitate the creation of an engaged community of learners that provide a different, yet still fulfilling experience.

NEXT: MOOCs, technology and communities of practice

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