Last week I attended an amazing conference – the MOOC Research Initiative in Arlington Texas. Unlike the AACE eLearn MOOC symposium, I felt a little out of place at this conference. At the AACE symposium, most of the attendees were new to MOOCs. The focus was very much on the Americanization of MOOCs (the xMOOC). It was very different – but I also felt a little bit like a MOOC expert in that audience – I had not only attended MOOCs, I had co-authored several papers on MOOCs. But more than that, my experience as a MOOC participant was transformative. I had not had that type of learning experience since I did my Masters at Royal Roads University (their new tag line "life changing" is appropriate). Even in my younger years in computer science, I was fascinated by online community – I remember having a "unix talk" pen pal during my undergrad, shortly after discovering the Internet (this was before the web). We would spend hours sharing information and playing games (I challenged him to name all Canadian provinces – he could only name Manitoba, Ontario, and BC – because he lived in Minnesota and I lived in BC – I did a little better on name the US states but not enough to win a geography contest against an elementary student). My point is, I love online community, talking to people from different cultures who are a world away, and MOOCs gave me a great way to experience it (our MobiMOOC research team consisted of 6 researchers living in 4 continents).
Now, after my initial foray into MOOC research, I was re-directed to the project I am currently working on – an Educational Design Research study that involves teaching Family Medicine Preceptors (physicians who teach in a clinical setting), how they might use iPads to improve teaching. The project is interesting – especially the current phase I am in collecting stories from innovative educators – but it isn't where I see my future. My future is in online teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning with technology.
So, now that I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel that is my PhD, I have forayed back into the land of the MOOC. My research agenda after I complete my doctoral study will have something do to with distance education and likely MOOCs.
This is what brought me first to the AACE eLearn MOOC symposium, the WideWorldEd Open Educators cMOOC, and finally the MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) conference in Arlington Texas.
I entered the conference in Arlington with mixed feelings. I was excited to be at a conference that was led by the founders of the MOOCs, which promised not to begin the MOOC history lesson with the Stanford AI MOOC. But I felt very much like an outsider – an impostor. This feeling was compounded when I read tweets about the pre-conference activities – which had several of us on twitter checking our calendars to validate what day the conference actually started. Even now, when I read the various blog posts about the conference, I wonder, did I miss that session, or was that session part of the private party that happened before the formal MOOC conference?
I didn't learn a lot of new stuff at the MRI conference, as I have been following both the academic literature and blogs rather closely. I did add a few new blogs to my regular reading list, and got some great ideas for a course I hope to be teaching in January. I was super impressed by all the keynote speakers, and only wish that I had chosen to go to more of the panel sessions rather than the concurrent sessions (I seem to choose too many sessions that were post-positivist number crunches which provided me with little new insight into MOOC design, but also re-inforced my sense of impostor syndrome that often occurs when I am in a rooms with academics that don't necessarily understand or appreciate pragmatic research paradigms).
I met some great people at the conference – I already knew that the MOOC research community was full of great people – But I did not leave the conference feeling that I was part of the community. I was just a student in a MOOC (several MOOCs actually). My MOOC research has been limited to some work co-authoring papers based upon the 2011 MobiMOOC – which in many ways is old news now and really, I'm pretty far down on the author list. My current research is just personal pondering as a student observing and sometimes participating in various types of MOOCs, just to see what is happening in MOOC pedagogy. I haven't taught a MOOC either – or even facilitated a single week in a cMOOC. This is not yet my research community. I am an MRI impostor, but I love the MOOC research community, and I really hope they invite me back for MRI14!
PS: If you do have an MRI14, please please pretty please have an open poster session – I need to present in order to access conference funding!