Tuesday, May 14, 2013

SuperMOOC Week 6 - wrapping it up with Gender Through Comics

Fortunately for me, my class extended it's timeline by a few days without adding any additional content, and so I was able to finish last night despite the fact that I'd basically missed a week thanks to work and other factors.

This is what I think about when I consider returning to grad school, by the way.  I travel for work.  Really, an online program would be ideal for me to get a masters at long last, as I can't match the attendance that comes with being a 23 year old with nothing else going on but growing facial hair and caring about what sort of beer I'm drinking.  I'm seriously considering the need for an MA, but, man, the idea of walking into a classroom again at age 38 or 39 sounds like a nightmare.

Yes, I agree that the education system and how we deal with college degrees in the US is broken, but the trend to want to turn colleges into trade schools also isn't really an option (they have something for that.  It's called Trade School).  MOOCs are seen as a possible way to share courses across universities, and it sounds good on paper.  But I was sitting through a presentation at my conference last week and one of the presenters pointed out that most parents paying for someone's degree really don't want to hear that their kid was in a class with 40,000 other students, only 10% of which completed the course.  It's really opening the door for private schools and any university to stroke parents on college tours to promise a generation of helicopter parents that their kids will get special attention by sitting in a class with just 50-100 kids.

But I digress.

I finished the requirements of the class, passed the easy evaluations, but did not create a comic that, as the class asked, discussed a time I felt "gendered".  I had no real intention of creating a comic, even a one-pager, and I am pretty sure my ability to say much on the issue of gender as a privileged white guy wasn't going to make for an enthralling five or six panels, anyhow.  At best, I'd wind up sounding like one of the countless folks in the discussion board for the class parroting back the course objectives.

Of the stages in Bloom's Taxonomy, the cartoon was supposed to be the "Synthesis" portion, but it was assigned early on in a fairly short course.  Part of the problem is that I'm not sure the course ever really engaged the student enough to get beyond "Comprehension" and may have hovered, basically, at "Knowledge".  The students knew what the teacher just said, did the readings with some hint of application of why we were reading the materials, but no follow through from the instructor on what we were to glean, nor any assessment of what we'd learned from the course materials and readings.  The Discussion areas were intended to provide some of that growth, but as a largely unmoderated cacophony, there was no management of the discussion.

There's probably some way to blame the instructor for not tying together the course materials in a way that made a more cohesive argument - I have strong memories of courses from my film studies of instructors who found out it was routine to schedule screenings of movies in RTF classes and did so, but forgot to directly tie the screenings back to the other materials and exercises - and once we were onto that, the students stopped attending the screenings mid-way through the semester.

There's a struggle in MOOCs in that they don't want to "require" readings that will cost the student anything, but that is going to severely hamper the discussion.  This course asked us to read a lot of comics which cost about $70 total, which ain't that bad, really, for a course text.  The rest of the materials were either Open Access or available through other public means.

However, I also think the instructional designers who were around to assist Blanch with the course needed to work with her to better put the package together.  There was a lot of focus on slick production values, and less on how students actually learn.  At the end of the course I was given a survey and was asked of I was given ample opportunity to interact with the course, and then was listed multiple tools for interaction, and, no...  I wasn't offered lots of quizzes, but I had a huge number of chances to use the discussion boards.  Which I didn't do.  So not even the survey felt like it was well thought out.

I've joined a MOOC Special Interest Group through my office, and we've been talking a lot about the models available.  I'm also not as Pollyanna-ish about all this as some of my colleagues and haven't really embraced much formality in my "lifelong learning".  Some people really get excited about the classroom experience, but I'd like to see a course that doesn't make learning feel like work.  Because, since I graduated from college, I've learned a lot, and very, very little of it has felt like work.  Even what I've learned AT work.

I'd also like to see the discussions where there's no line between "distance education", "eLearning" and "MOOCs" clarified.  The stats that demonstrate that distance education can be successful are talking about a very different audience than what MOOCs court.

What you're always going to get, that is going to make pulling back out of MOOCs difficult, will be the stories of how you reached some person in some remote location with your course, and how much it meant to them.  And from that perspective, it's a greater good.  If this course taught someone is Lower Slabovia to consider constructs of gender in society and in media with greater acuity, then: great!  Perhaps there is a model for this that will fit within the missions and business models of modern universities.

We'll see.

Again, my primary interest in the course was less about Gender through Comics, and more to try out a MOOC and experience the format.  It was professional curiosity.  In my last week I'm choosing not to dwell on the arguments I didn't think one could make with various ideas presented in the course, or some of the places where I felt unnecessary or unfair stereotyping was at play in order for the instructor to make a point.  But I did want to look a bit more into the model of what the course set out to accomplish.

In a way, I did myself a disservice as I was taking a course that was both an intro to gender discussion through media, and I did that two decades ago in college, and I like to think I lightly brush up against the topic all the time in various forms here and elsewhere.  And, I know comics as well or better than the instructor, and that kept me from being as engaged as I could have been.

I do plan to try another course system and try out another course, hopefully over the summer.

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