What If the “M” in MOOC Meant Minimal?

Going Small

Those of us who have been part of the Making Learning Connected MOOC for the past three summers (and beyond) have been fortunate indeed. The National Writing Project not only conceived and launched the CLMOOC with help of a grant program through the MacArthur Foundation; NWP also funded the work behind the scenes, from stipends for facilitators (I was one) to the technological infrastructure. We all knew the NWP funding would not last, and so it has come to be, it seems. It’s OK, too. NWP and Educator Innovator have a whole lot of cool projects underway for the summer of 2016, including Letters to the President.

But the CLMOOC is not one of them.

While the support of NWP and all of the folks there over the three years has been critical — with extra huge props to Christina Cantrill and Paul Oh and other key current and former NWP players for making it happen — what if we, the denizens of the CLMOOC, took over CLMOOC and made it happen ourselves? NWP has done its part – seeding an idea. Now it’s our turn to nurture the seed.

dandelion seeds - What begins as a seed blooms into flowers

The coming summer, and the status of CLMOOC, was the center of an informal hangout discussion I was having with Joe Dillon and Terry Elliott the other morning as we bounced around how we might get the CLMOOC up and running for Year Four on our own, with little or no NWP support.

Well, not “our” own, meaning the three of us. I mean “OUR” own — meaning you, too. All of us. Together.

Groot Dude - We are (still) CLMOOC

Isn’t that the real dream of the connectivist MOOC ideal? That the people in the learning will run the show and not just participate in what the Oz the Great and Powerful behind the screen says should happen. Granted, turning the keys over to all of us (or in this case, sneaking in through the window at midnight to host a party in the CLMOOC house) potentially makes things messy, and a bit complicated. But it’s our house, after all. We all built it.

And you know what? It doesn’t have to be Massive, as in Massive Open Online Collaboration. Maybe the M in MOOC can also mean “Minimal,” as Linus Torvald’s quote above (shared by Terry in a blog post) notes. What happens when connections get stronger because they are tighter and smaller as opposed to disparate because they are larger? What if we invite the inversion of scale?

Don’t get me wrong. Being part of activities with lots of people has its appeal. You get a sense of the nodes of the world. You feel less isolated in your interests. You feel part of a movement, or something. It’s all part of the Connected Learning theory that the CLMOOC is built upon.

small fact froggy - Small is the new Large And it's a beautiful thing

However, you can also get lost in the shuffle when the scale is large and massive. Your voice gets lost at times. But if “Small is the New Large” (that might be a cool meme activity, right?), we might all benefit from tighter connections. We might be more apt to ask more questions of each other or to dig into inquiry together. We might come to know each other a bit better. Our learning would be more than a summer project. It would be part of our professional life.

The somewhat dehumanizing effect of a massive network might be balanced out by the stronger connections among us. We might be “people in a community” as opposed to “nodes in the network.”

So, we’re going to try to plant some seeds this spring for an “unofficial” CLMOOC summer, and we hope you might come along with us. We have no idea how it will go. You can help make it happen, if you want.

BDO Nodes - Smaller Maps Stronger Connections

Peace (and beyond),

PS — Thank you, NWP, for setting this all in motion to begin with!


Book Review: Gratitude

It’s a sliver of a book, but somehow, I saw the spine on the shelf at the public library. It was surrounded by many other, much larger, books, almost crowded out. I was just wandering. Not looking for anything specific. It was the word “Gratitude” that caught my attention. I pulled the thin tome out to investigate and I saw the writer was Oliver Sacks, which of course got me even more interested. I added the book to my pile.

Gratitude is a collection of just four essays that Sacks, the eminent poet-scientist whose stories of patients reminded us of the wide breadth of the world itself, wrote in the last year of his life as he was dying of cancer at age 80. The essays, each of which which first appeared in the New York Times, are reflective pieces on what a long life lived might mean for someone with the ability to ponder back, brought to the surface by Sack’s powerful and emotional writing. The essay connecting Sack’s life to the Periodic Table, and how he tracked his years with elements from the scientific organization chart, was perfectly written, I think.

I read the essays while waiting in a doctor’s office, it turns out. The room was quiet and comfortable. I was completely immersed in Sack’s voice as a writer and as a curious traveler of the world of medicine and humanity and stories.

I am grateful to have found Gratitude, and I appreciate this final gift that Sacks left us.

Peace (in the reflect),

Blackout Poems: Name Recognition

(I am using the New York Times interactive Blackout Poetry site for a few days to create Blackout poems. They give you some articles to choose from. You create poems of no more than 15 words. The interactive does the blacking out around your chosen words. It’s pretty cool. You can also read other poems built around the same articles. Give it a try.)

Blackout Poetry1

Process Note: This poem is created from an article about model Kate Upton and her attempt to move into acting. It’s also about what beauty is in the age of viral images. In this poem, I tried to keep my attention on the recognition of name in pop culture, and the transient nature of likes and thumbs-ups and more. That “no more than a cameo” is a good line. I also liked the floating off the page concept.

Peace (in what’s unsaid),

Kid, This is NOT a Timewaster


We were nearing the end of a two-hour hike in the woods. Three 11 year old boys. The dog. Me. The sun was shining, keeping the bite of Spring at bay. No bugs were bothering us. The boys had crossed a small river twice, scaling their way over fallen trees, calling out encouragement to each other. One even took off his shoes and walked through the cold water, balancing on mossy rocks. They had played Manhunt, hiding among the rocks and trees.

It was a Grand Adventure.

Then …

“Well, this has a been a Timewaster,” one of the kids told me. I don’t think he was jonesing to get back to his video games or anything. He was the one who took off his shoes to dip toes into the water. But I don’t think he is used to such lengthy unstructured “wanderings,” either.

I stopped dead in my tracks.

“Spending two hours out here” —  and I pointed around me at the beauty of the woods — “is never a Timewaster,” I told him. The dog looked up at my voice and then the trees, as if noticing the woods for the first time, too.

“Nope,” I added. “Time in these woods is never, ever wasted time.”

The boy (not my own, by the way) looked at me in an interested way, sort of nodded, and kept on walking. I followed. The dog was happy to keep moving, too. We all were.

Timewasting, indeed.

Peace (outside the inside),

EduJoy: Scenes from a Pop-Up Concert

I am the advisor to our Student Council, and the group just hosted the first Pop-Up Concert — a sort of unofficial concert of sixth grade musicians (including teachers) for an audience of sixth graders and anyone else who wandered into the cafeteria after lunch. We didn’t really announce it or anything.

I wrote a song for the event, and I was joined on the stage by my school technology friend and guitar player, Steve. The song is called One True Friend.

There was a sixth grade A Capella group who did a fantastic job (but not sure of permissions to share photos and videos) and then a few individual student performers, including these two gifted students who work with Steve on music on a regular basis.

Sara (on the ukulele, singing Riptide)

Gabby (singing a song she wrote)

It was a cool way to end the week before April vacation, and to showcase student talent in a concert that wasn’t all that stressful (although the students were still nervous).

Peace (in the share),

Slice of Life: Poetry and Image Collecting

I’ve been using primary source images from the Library of Congress to write poetry for the past few days and it’s been pretty interesting to get inspired by history. I gathered them all up here in a Storify as a way to curate the poems and images and reflection points.

Peace (in poems),