I am writing more often these days in another place more personally and you can visit it here.
When I last wrote about a Coursera MOOC called Creativity, Innovation and Change, I was quite optimistic about it. So were some 125,000 others who enrolled, probably. But for the second time, I have dropped out of a MOOC.
I’m not exactly a novice in the subject matter this time, unlike jazz improv. I have produced concerts in professional halls right from concept to implementation and an international tour for a choir of 40 young people. I helped an organization or two create themselves, helped organizations go through some rather traumatic change processes and wrote grant proposals for them that worked in realizing hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a former teacher, I also developed courses from scratch, taught them and evaluated them. I’ve had one of my portraits chosen for a juried local art show, and had music that I have written performed. When I enrolled in the Coursera course, I was finishing producing a reunion and working on another major project involving vision and change. So when I found that the course wasn’t really addressing things that were new to me, I did one of the things that you can do with any learning project. I ended it.
Is that failure? I’d feel differently if I were an undergraduate and this were a required course. I did pass Anglo Saxon and at one time could even translate it, along with some Latin and Greek – and I passed an undergraduate elective course on Leibnitz and Spinoza, even though I didn’t get it and wasn’t mature enough to be ready for it. Later life learning offers wider options. The main learning in this time frame was instead about how I learn – and often don’t!
Restless to consolidate what I did know about learning, I re-read three books, by Robert Fritz: The Path of Least Resistance, Creating, and Your Life as Art. I have praised his approach elsewhere on this site. (Simply search on “Robert Fritz” in the search button on the top right if you want to read them). I was not disappointed. Fritz bases and applies his learning processes on his experience as a musician, composer, teacher, visual artist, film maker and management trainer and consultant. His process is simple and straightforward. I took the online version of Your Life as Art some years ago, liked it then and still do. What struck me about my own learning is recognizing what he has to say about oscillation. That’s what I have to relearn and alter some practices related to the structure.
Imagine yourself with an elastic attached to your waist and drawing you toward a wall; The wall with its clothes line-like roller is a metaphor for something you have determined that you want. You desire to see your goal completed in a pre-determined time frame of short to medium duration.
Now imagine yourself with another elastic attached to the wall behind you, pulling you back toward your usual state with its immediate needs, desires and impulses. A simple example is your usual response when you are hungry to the smell of a nearby Big Mac.
Now you are pulled both ways. As you draw nearer to the longer term objective, (the goal) the forward pulling elastic relaxes because you seem to be well on the way to reaching the goal. But when this happens, the backward pulling elastic (the impluses/patterns) tightens – and you find yourself saying – “well just this once”.
And after gaining another 10 pounds, the desire to lose the original 20 comes back. Your’re moving back and forth all right – but not anywhere fast. And you can almost feel the tension of being stuck in this structure when you look at the image.
(Just in case you are wondering, the painting in the local art show was a better example of drawing than these.)
I’m like the third drawing on a lot of my personal projects. Because I have something of what someone recently referred to as the “helpful gene”, I love collaborating, and suddenly the personal projects get cast aside – because I can always do them later. There will always be more time – only there isn’t any more.
Fritz’s solutions are straight forward and simple and well worth a visit to his site, purchase of his books and enrollment in his courses. Even though The Path of Least Resistance was revised in a second edition in 1989, it still reads as freshly as ever in our multitasking, over-worked times. I frankly find the learning options here much more useful than the particular Coursera Course that I dropped.
That doesn’t in any way mean that the course might not be immensely useful to the 125,000 minus one students who have signed up. I’m sure they will start their own learning about creativity, innovation and change in their own stage of the journey – as well as some valuable things about themselves.
This one is a Coursera course called Creativity, Innovation and Change. Compared with Jazz Improvisation, where I was well out of my league and alas never completed the course, though I would like to return to it after some upgrading of my basic knowledge – and Song Writing, where I was much more attuned to the work and really enjoyed composing a song from scratch, this one in part of a territory that is familiar as well. But I am always interested in learning how others view creating.
The first week’s assignment includes the creation of a Life Ring – a visual presentation of roles and responsibilities – with a view to getting them down to a manageable number based on passion and priorities. The centre is to delineate a passion or driving force. I like the graphic image of the course itself – which shows a mixture of organic and man made features so that became the centre. And the obvious way for me to create such a map was with the use of VisiMap.
You can look at a full size version here
The course is just getting underway. So if you need to go to class in September, it looks as though this one would be more than worthwhile.
Yesterday’s daily paper’s op-ed piece read, Students are cool with MOOCs, so why aren’t Professors? It caught my eye because I’m pursuing two MOOC courses at the moment, having completed one, with another one scheduled to start next month. I didn’t have to scramble or wait in line to get in and I didn’t pay a cent. What I am paying is hours of time and insight into how I learn and get in my own way in the process.
The last time I took a university course was in the 1980’s but full time study dates to the late 1950’s. I’m not among the students that worried professors have in mind when they think that MOOCS will draw the best and the brightest away from their classrooms. The more positive ones about MOOCs would never have seen me as a potential Einstein. And I don’t qualify as a disadvantaged student several thousand kilometres or continents away.
What do I like about MOOCs? – the short time frames for a start. Spending six to eight hours of classroom time a week for seven weeks was pleasurable for my first venture. It focused on surrealist art – a combination of art history with an additional studio component. The second of these was more valuable as a form of learning and as engaging as the live studio classes I had taken in the past. Video lectures were informative, though not very exciting; the texts provided were sounder and more thorough. I tended not to join discussion groups along the way, but I did enjoy peer assessment of my own projects and the work of others. The marks I received from my peers were fair and their comments were helpful. In the final assignment we were challenged to visit a local gallery and write a critique of a painting or installation – and for the first time, one of them made sense.
Flush with success – a grade of 131% (because of completing more than the minimum assignments) I signed up for courses out of Berklee School of Music in Boston – one in jazz improvization and the other in song writing. I knew enough about Berklee that this would be a stretch. I hadn’t been prepared for how challenging it really would be. I’m well out of my depth in jazz improv. I could just un-enroll of course with the click of a mouse.
But I haven’t. I’m learning far more from my limited success here. It’s good to feel overwhelmed right down to the gut. It’s good to hear the jazz improv instructor say, “What you learn about in the next five weeks may take you several months and years to execute in a relaxed way”. He’s a dry and solid teacher – I might even say boring, in terms of delivery until he waves those magic wands on his own keyboard and notes that it takes twenty seconds to say what he does in an instant instinctively. The song writing instructor is one of the best classroom entertainers I have ever seen – I’ve spent part of my life teaching English poetry and that’s what he is really doing so well – and my eight year old grandson agrees.
What’s good about this is learning how to learn all over again. It’s not just beginner’s mind – it’s beginner’s humility that’s required. It’s good to feel clueless, not because I’m avoiding something but because I are trying as hard as I can – and still hardly getting it. It’s opening up head and heart and soul and respecting the fact that I don’t have to achieve anything for anyone else– nobody will know or care but me, but it will feel really good if I can even pass Jazz Improv. As my own professor said, many decades ago. “You’ve chosen to teach your subject because you’re already good at it. You don’t know what it feels like not to know it. I do now.
Earlier today I complained about the Apple ad that thinks the point of technology is product (theirs of course) instead of about people. I like the products – but not for their own sake but for their utility. But this short video redeems the Ipad when you see what little people can do with it. I have spent the past two years one half day in a junior/senior kindergarten. No such tools there at this point. But one of these days I hope there are. Have a look to see what kindergarten students can do.
One should not be a blogger and be absent without leave for months at a time. What it means in my case is that personal projects too often get cast aside as other projects take precedence. There were some bright spots and hard work though. I was part of a team writing several grant proposals. Two out of three where I played a role were fully funded. One produced a yellow light and the granting body wanted us to come back to answer questions – which we can. In May I visited Harvard for the first time to celebrate a graduation in the family. Two inspirations came out of that. I posted an article on Medium about the Harvard visit that was picked up by others. And I was so inspired by higher learning that I looked at some Harvard/MIT MOOCs in the fall. In the interim I signed up for a course on Coursera on surrealist art out of the University of Pennsylvania – and as of today I have graduated with distinction.
Online courses are well worth a try. Most who sign up of course never finish them. The only real requirement is self discipline and determination to learn – and you are responsible solely to yourself. My course included readings, videos, quizzes and studio assignments. There were two of the last required to graduate with distinction. I did five. I have done art courses at an excellent school but there are advantages in the online process. In my local art school, one basically had to complete a project (usually a still life or portrait in pastels) in a three hour time frame. In this case I took as much time as I needed – and I was able to stretch the assignments over a week. Here is one example:
The studio assignments included mainly collages based on the historical aspect of the course. Assessment of one’s work was by peers. I was gratified both with the responses to my own work and the opportunity to assess the work of others. It was a chance to learn to be a good and fair critic. Mail art was fun too.
While the course was an introductory one, I now feel that I have a context for modern work that I didn’t have in the past. So now I’ll move on to song writing and jazz improvization. But I’ll try to write about the experience as I go.
And what about the media history – probably online is not the best place to do it – but it is still on the to-do list.
It was 1982. I was working in an office for the first time since university summers when I hand coded all those insurance cards that went into the primitive main- frames or searched for lost policies in filing cabinets. I was now the executive administrator of a service organization for the province’s choirs. I was getting helpful hints every time there was a new phone call from my administrative assistant, who always told me who the person on the phone really was. Three weeks in she had a fall and was hospitalized. I remember sitting on the floor surrounded by manuals and trying to cope with the photocopier and postage machine. I hardly knew how to turn on an electric typewriter let along type with it.
We were a staff of three on her return. The other two were in their 70s and 20s and I was smack in the middle. The older woman was a godsend who patiently taught me administration and the younger one was full of innovative energy. I met with provincial representatives who funded our overhead and with our sister organizations who provided services to orchestral music, drama and the visual arts. What we started hearing about was something called a personal computer.
Our organization had no money for research or feasibility studies, but the orchestra organization had just spent $5,000 on a feasibility study – so I asked to borrow it. The recommendations included the purchase of an Altos computer and customized software. While I have made lots of bad decisions before and since, I did make one good one after concluding that we were in no way unique and should go for a basic machine and proprietary software. So in the spring of 1983 we became the proud owners of one PC with an amazing 10 megabytes of memory, and versions of Wordstar, DBase Three and Lotus123. Their Altos never arrived and the programming consultant disappeared.
We didn’t have proper manuals because the software came pre-installed. I spent a good deal of my own money buying heavy paperbacks produced by Sybase and other publishers. I always looked for ones whose authors were out-of-work English teachers like me. We had to learn a number of keyboard combinations to perform simple tasks. The only one that I have properly retained to this day is Ctrl-Alt-Delete. That summer I took a three week holiday and forgot everything that I had learned. Two of us mastered Wordstar slowly while third could always beat us on the IBM Selectric with her excellent knowledge of both touch-typing and shorthand. I was so taken with the new machine, that I bought a similar desktop for $2500 of my personal hard earned dollars and took it home. We stared at the black screen with its orange letters until our eyes ached. But we were on our way.