A revaluation of one MOOC experience

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.

Front elastic landscape

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.

Back wall second

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.

Two elastics

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.

The Next MOOC Adventure

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.

Creative Design (2)

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.

AWOL – but with a couple of excuses

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:

Choose a portrait
Choose a portrait in black and white
Recreate it using torn paper from newspapers or magazines
Recreate it using torn paper from newspapers or magazines
Close up
Close up

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.

2013-06-15 16.53.35

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.