HumanMOOC: Learners are Free

So, the more I look at the dichotomy behind the dual-layer MOOC, the more puzzling (and offputting) I find it. Here's a quote from a post I found at EduGeek Journal that explains the idea in detail (there is no author byline, so I am not sure who wrote it): Words That Don’t Work: Courses as Neutral ZonesApparently, the idea behind the "stream" is that the stream is totally controlled by the instructor: "When a learner can look at two pathways, one that is controlled by the instructor and one that is controlled by themselves, they have to make a conscious choice between two different power dynamics. They may not be able to understand the nuances of instructivism and connectivism, but they can understand enough to choose between following the instructor’s prescribed pathway and creating their own pathway."

I am no doubt one of those people who doesn't understand the "nuances" of instructivism and connectivism ... but I can see that this design model assumes there are times when learners give up their natural freedom and cede it all to the instructor. And to that, I say: ouch. As I explained in a tweet in a convo about this topic yesterday: The space to make choices exists because LEARNERS ARE FREE, not because you "give" them space to choose.

Stream or garden, whatever metaphor you want and whatever course design you use, learners are free agents. They are going to do what they do because they choose to do so, not because you "tell" them to. And just like in life, all choices have consequences (a.k.a. karma). Some of those choices may play out in the design of the course (i.e. grading, if the course has grades), but the more important consequences of the choices play out in the learners' lives. Are they missing out on something that would be really valuable to them later? Or just choosing not to jump through a hoop for a grade? It's all choices all the time, and to create a model that seems to assume it's good for students to give up that freedom of choice at any time for any reason does not fit with my teaching philosophy. But cuique suum, to each his own. After reading the EduGeek article, I can see why the Canvas course is meant to be impervious to the outside, with a strictly top-down, instructor-driven design.

But setting aside the content side of the course, here's what makes me really sad about the Canvas space: the students' Profile Pages are not a way to see what people are doing and learning inside this "stream" experience. In the year 2015, I would have expected that Instructure had learned something from Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, etc. about creating dynamic content on those Profile Pages, showing all our contributions to the class across the different course areas, but zip zero nada. How can students get to know each other if when they click there is nothing but a few static links on the other person's Profile? How can they follow each other and be learning buddies together in a course? I want to go find people and see their contributions, and then go join in discussions with them, but those Canvas Profile pages don't show what people are doing in the course ... much less letting students design their own Profile pages with a look/feel that reflects the identity they want to create and share online.

So, I have to ask: where is my "student presence" at Canvas? It's definitely not being shared there on the Profile page, which means I cannot effectively connect with other students, not in a really useful way so that I am learning from others right there on the Profile page. As a result, I prefer not to participate in Canvas... but when I choose not to participate in the Canvas class, that choice does have consequences, and they are not good consequences: if the goal of a class is for people to learn and then share what they learn (and that, at least, is always my goal), by walling things off separately, we are losing out on many possible opportunities to be learning from each other. And, as I said: ouch.

Just based on the garden/stream metaphor, I had thought the dual-layer MOOC had more to do with Mike Caulfield's vision of both gardens and streams as highly dynamic spaces — The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral — with the stream being a user-centered series of events: "the Stream replaces topology with serialization. Rather than imagine a timeless world of connection and multiple paths, the Stream presents us with a single, time ordered path with our experience (and only our experience) at the center."

But students are definitely not at the center of Canvas, at least not in the so-called "stream" of the HumanMOOC course (maybe there are other design options; I wouldn't know). Mike rightly raises concerns about the strengths and weaknesses of content that takes shape in the context of a person-centered stream, but Canvas has no learner streams; this is NOT the stream of the technopastoral.

Just take a look at the "course stream" in Canvas (that is the label of the link on the course home page). Is there anything even remotely appealing about this? Anything especially human? Nope. It's not even an adequate serialization in Mike's concept of the dynamic stream:

Just labels, no content of any kind. Now, compare that sad screenshot to what the #HumanMOOC stream looks like at Twitter. I think you can see why I can learn much more there at Twitter ... and I'm here to learn, and share what I learn. When I retweet, I spread the learning through the network... including my own PLN beyond the MOOC. To me, that's where the power lies: multiply the learning, hoping it will go far. In Canvas, alas, there seems to be nowhere for the learning to go.