Education, Learning, Reflection

Adventures in MOOCing

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.