February 28, 2014, by Peter Stockwell
The mini-MOOC writing experience
Over the last few months I have been compiling a 2-week MOOC ‘How to read a mind’. It’s an introduction to the field of cognitive poetics – which is using our best current knowledge of mind and language to explore literary reading. I started out on this mainly in order to learn something for myself: about open access courses, about engaging with large numbers of participants, and about how to present my own thinking in web form. All of the talk about MOOCs around at the moment is mainly focused on the idea of an open online course as a programme of teaching. I’m currently taking both the Nottingham sustainability MOOC and the Lancaster corpus linguistiocs MOOC (both on FutureLearn), and it is certainly true that these 10-week MOOCs are analogous to teaching a university course. However, it seems increasingly apparent to me that a shorter course (a ‘mini-MOOC’) is less like teaching and more like research dissemination.
I have felt that in a very short period, the main thing I can do is to say ‘Here is the most recent thinking in this area – what do you think?’ This latest thinking has not yet become settled or paradigmatic enough to form the basis of a thing to be taught yet, so a mini-MOOC is much more like a conference presentation with a long space for discussion afterwards, or like a symposium in which everyone participates. ‘How to read a mind’ is like this.
Of course, there is not such a hard distinction between teaching and research – and my university rightly promotes one as the catalyst for the other – but reframing a mini-MOOC as the dissemination of research rather than primarily as teaching has all sorts of consequences. It is exciting: I don’t really know what I’m letting myself in for, and I’m eager to hear the thinking of the ‘students’ on the course. It means that my research ideas are instantly reaching thousands of people rather than the sort of slow-burn niche academic audience of my co-specialists who usually read my scholarly books and articles: that is ‘impact’. It also means that I can drop risky and new ideas in and trust all the participants to respond.
Will it work? Let’s see. Not knowing for sure in advance is a great reason for doing it.