And so the MOOC about the History and future of Higher Education has come to an end. I have actually completed all the assignments, watched all the video lectures and read at least the core text - Now You See It - which was provided free of charge.
This has been a really stimulating course which, more than other MOOC I have dipped into, fully held my attention and taught me useful things that have impacted my thinking about my teaching practice.
Each week the topics of the videos - and the reading alongside - have caused me to stop and think about what I do and why I do it and further, have made me want to change what I do. Actually, to be more specific the MOOC has given me the confidence to put into practice changes I have wanted to make but didn't feel I could. In particular - thinking about ways in which I could support students to build their own curriculum. This is what I think it means to make alliances with other change makers. If you are the only person who dreams of something different you may feel you don't have the strength to do it.
I have also been struck by the notion of proximity - and this has made me stop and look a little more closely at some of the great things that are going on in my own team - so I have come to see that we are most of us really trying to do something a little different, but perhaps not feeling fully confident to do it on a big scale just in case it doesn't work.
If you put these two ideas together - you get small communities of practice at the local level who have a dream to change things and can support one another to do just that.
Unfortunately there is always another side to the story. In sharing and in trying to do something different we leave ourselves exposed to criticism of the most unconstructive kind. I was really sad to note, in the closing forums of the MOOC,some really harsh comments about the leader, Cathy Davidson, as well as of Coursera and the very idea of a MOOC. Whilst I can understand and even sympathise with criticisms about the assessment process and the relevance of some of the activities, wanton "trolling" of someone who seems genuinely enthusiastic about sharing her expertise and experience for free seems rather churlish. Similarly, I know I come in for a lot of criticism for trying to do things differently in my teaching - although less through open trolling (no conveniently shielding internet forum), more through the unsolicited offer of "feedback" that colleagues have "heard" from unhappy students and feel I ought to be "made aware of". The irony is that I would genuinely like feedback from colleagues interested enough to come and actually observe my classes - or even who want to talk to me about my objectives in doing what I do.
But despite these disappointments, I have been inspired to share my practice more widely and to try to learn from those further afield. During this MOOC I have submitted two small presentation ideas for international conferences.
My aim is to go and meet people from different kinds of educational institutions in different countries both to talk about what I do and also to listen to them talk about what they do. One of the conferences was actually inviting presentations outlining a classroom project that maybe hadn't gone exactly as planned but which was providing some learning and new ideas for the future. How nice to be able to go and talk openly about "unlearning" - and learning from mistakes - rather than having to present the usual facade of expertise, knowing and perfect practice.
I will be making changes in my own classes as a result of this MOOC and as a result of just listening better to my students - and my colleagues. There is also a part of me now wanting to be part of making changes on a much wider scale, but of course as Lao Tzu said - a journey of a thousand miles begins right where you stand.