Blog Post

Is it Possible to Go from MOOC to Community? Some Guidelines in the Making

At 10 am EST on Monday January 27, some 14,000 participants will become part of our "meta MOOC" on "The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education."  One of their first participatory assignments will be to edit the DRAFT document below.   The students in ISIS 640 started with the peer-generated document designed for classroom engagement in a peer-to-peer physical setting that is in Twenty-First-Century Literacies   and, collectively, using a Google Doc, edited it to this stage for a massive virtual community.  


We invite you to add your own comments to this experiment.  What comes next, when 14,000 community members have a chance to see and edit it, is anyone's guess.    But we're all excited to find out! 





Community Rules and Principles for Collaborative Online Learning

“The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education”  

Coursera MOOC   January 2014

Below is a first draft of “Community Rules and Principles for Collaborative Online Learning” written by the Teaching Assistants and Community TAs to reflect some guiding principles, goals, methods, strategies, and rules for a massive online learning.  We invite members of the Coursera MOOC on “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” to comment, edit, and add to the document in order to help make this not just a one-direction online course but rather a multi-direction conversation in an active, respectful community of learners.  

Because we are a community of several thousand participants from many countries, with different backgrounds, cultures, and languages, we must be considerate of  one another to promote the diversity of ideas this experience will generate.  Each person in the community should conduct themselves in a dignified manner and all disagreements should be handled with a sense of camaraderie and mutual understanding without resorting to personal attacks or demeaning language.  

To this end, this document establishes expectations for engagement in our online FutureEd community.  Please feel free to edit, amend, or add to this draft until Monday, February 3 at 9:59 am EST -0500, when this draft will be posted on rapgenius for further annotation.

#FutureEd: Massively Collaborative Online Learning

FutureEd is an experiment in collaborative learning committed to identifying, evaluating, creating, and rethinking solutions to higher educational challenges that our changing society faces in the 21st century.  We believe that the Internet and technology are changing how individuals and communities understand themselves and the world around them, and that this connected age offers a tremendous opportunity to make teaching, learning, and knowledge more accessible, more valuable, and more meaningful for everyone, but this requires a rethinking of institutions of higher education.  FutureEd’s purpose is to understand and overcome the limits imposed by the history of higher education so that we might explore the possibilities that exist for its future.


We have committed ourselves to:

● Experimental approaches to teaching and sharing for the benefit of student learning.

● Building a culture of openness, access, and respect in the pursuit of knowledge creation.

● Implementing a community-based approach to create:

● Spaces for knowledge production

● Pedagogy that reflects new ways of understanding learning and thinking  in the Digital Age

● New modes and methods for knowledge creation that engage with digital media

● Defining and working to provide opportunities to advance equality and access  for all learners and educators without regard to their socioeconomic status or location on the globe.

● Collaborative and cooperative learning that broadens the classroom’s

physical boundaries by expanding it through its virtual ones

● Spaces where diverse voices have a better chance of being heard and incorporated into knowledge creation and production

● Practice-based learning that is useful in individuals’ lives

● A dynamic setting that allows both theory and practice to continually

evolve and improve


We believe that:

● Knowledge is a public resource that should be open and accessible to all people.

● The purpose of education is to enrich lives and to help people achieve their individual and collective goals.

● Designing and increasing access to meaningful education is fundamental, not optional.

● Individuals must be empowered to shape their own educational experiences; different perspectives can enrich learning experiences.

● Free and open source modes of learning promote the availability of knowledge as a public resource.

● Transparent, community-based processes promote participation, accountability, and trust.

● Educators must develop methods of assessment that fit learning in the digital age by allowing space for lifelong learning.

● A model classroom environment draws on every participant’s unique expertise for the greater good of collective goals.

● There’s a difference between high standards and standardization, and it’s our goal to discover the digital possibilities to support the former and to transform the latter.

● No decision within a collective needs to be unanimous, but every final decision regarding overarching goals and final products should be supported by good reasons and a majority of rational perspectives.

Community Expectations

We expect that:

  • Someone who promotes discord in our community by intentionally upsetting others through inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic expression will be considered a troll.

  • There will be no tolerance for trolls in the FutureEd community.

  • Community members will not promote discrimination of any kind.

  • Participation will be informed by preparation.

  • We will collaborate in a constructive manner as we assign, guide, and assess the work of peers.

This document may be used as a template for other documents.  It is released with a Creative Commons License designed for non-profit sharing.  

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.



How will trolls be dealt with? Who is authorized to take action? 


Great question!   My first video lecture ends with "No Sympathy for the Trolls" and the 15 community managers are authorized to get rid of any trolls.  Period.   Community cannot work if trolls are tolerated.  They will be given a chance to be part of the community, to respect difference by expressing disagreement in a respectful way, but, if they decline, they will not be allowed to comment publicly in the future.   That said, the community document is mostly about aspiration, not prescription.  It is  loftier about this motive . . . It talks (as do I in the first video) about the positive values of community.   That said, the method in an anonymous setting,  is not lofty.  No sympathy for the trolls!


Any community that is based on "troll enforcement" has the wrong foundation in more than one way. It makes excellent sense to cast a critique in a positive, and hopefully useful, fashion, but it is ultimately destructive to rely on "enforcement" by anything but good sense. "No sympathy for trolls," sounds more like a dictator, or a housemaster, or the Abbot of a monastery than a leader of innovation, even if it's ironic.

The way a real community deals with trolls is to isolate them, treat them with the respect they deny others, and gradually neutralize their rage through recasting their ideas as workable solutions. That may conflict dramatically with the expression, of those ideas, which is what causes that isolation, but it does not conflict with the community's readiness to absorb alternative models. Virtually any other treatment directly conflicts with the compassion and curiosity on which real community relies.

I had great hopes for your MOOC expression, but this issue makes me doubt your capacity to understand different opinions, even when those opinions sound or reflect very, very different resonance. Discord is an opportunity, not a result, and when the focus is on discordant dialog the challenge is to find the insight in the notes that sound wrong. The problem is as much a problem of the ear of those who listen and feel pain as it is a problem of the wrong horn at the wrong time, and the way - really the only humane and long term solution to any discord - is to work it out, explore the motive, and cure the cause. Sometimes that cause may be intrapersonal - may be an internal pain expressed by a discordant community member. Then the cure is even more critical to the larger community than to the pained and painful member: less extreme pains are probably - almost inevitably - real but not expressed elsewhere. Unless that pain, that discord, and that "alternate opinion" gets expressed, worked out and re-integrated, it will come again. Just as there are Nazi's again in Austria and intolerance in Uganda and deaths in Syria: more violence and expulsions only exacerbate and obscure long term dissonance.

The challenge is to solve the problem, not to throw out the symptom. Too bad my hope was for something better here.


Joe, I appreciate your candor but not your tendency (we've had this back-and-forth discussion about tone and respect and inference a number of times before!) to lead with the negative and the hyperbolic. It's a matter of tone and audience and desired result:  does one want to encourage discussion or score a point?  We try hard at HASTAC to work towards discussion, not the too-frequent tendency, especially of senior academics, toward point scoring, particularly since we have a very young and diverse community.   As I've said on some of your previous posts,  our community members are superb at disagreeing in a more respectful tone.  I do not disagree with several of your ideas here in a general sense.  However, you could make a constructive comment without the comparisons to Nazis, Uganda, and Syria.  Come on!   That does not contribute to dialogue and escalates without clarifying disagreement, especially when the subject at issue is a document prepared as a DRAFT with an invitation to community members to edit the draft.  


  We have not gone into this discussion of community participation in online, anonymous multinationa, multi-religious, and multiracial communities thoughtlessly. We have studied the research.  And our document is both welcoming and has some guidelines.  And, again, it is an editable draft, so we see the experience of interacting with it and making comments and edits as, itself, a learning experience for the community and its members.  If this is not a tolerable situation to you, I understand and of course since all is voluntary, it is fine for you to leave.  


There are several considerations here. 


First, I have studied the research on the troll problem with MOOCs extensively, especially as pertains disproportionately to female teachers of MOOCs and even more persons of color, especially women of color. 

If we want to have a sane discussioin with 14,000 participants and turn a MOOC into a research and learning community, we cannot tolerate trollish behavoir.  One rude, racest, sexist, homophobic, zenophobic, or just inconsiderate voice can drown out thousands.  We have the data and the examples.

Second, the whole point of our quite lofty and positive DRAFT Community document is to invite MOOC participants to go through it carefully and make changes, additions, deletions that others can either leave or delete.  We have no idea what this will yield when edited on a wiki of 13,000.  We do know that a major problem now with Wikipedia is that its editors have grown so persnickety that lots of good content never gets in.  We also know about gender bias.  But we conversely know that, without some community self-regulation, Wikipedia would not know exist.  


The larger point is that there are standards of decency in civil society.   Communities decide on their tolerance levels.  What the research shows us on anonymous, online communities, is that there is a greater degree of trollish behavior.   Since we want our MOOC to try to be a community, we have no sympathy for trolls.


The community managers and my teaching assistants--my students--will be learning from learning, and they will keep office hours and work to ensure interactivity and, if someone is behaving rudely, they will be asked to behave more decently and if they do not, they will be taken out of the conversations.  The TAs will leave a message describing why as part of the world of community building.

This will be welcomed by thousands who want a civil conversation and resented by others.  It is free, it is voluntary, so anyone is free to protest.  What they are not free to do is abuse others and ruin the chances of anonymous, online, massive conversation on a topic of huge interest to many.  

If this is not to your liking, I understand completely.  It is not Nazi-ism, however, to, in a situation of 2 community managers and 14,000 anonymous participants, to be able to spend a lot of time negotiating rudeness and turn it from aggression to productive behavior, while highly admirable, is not realistic.   That is the compromise of massive online learning and one reason this is a "meta MOOC."  

Here's the "draft" language about Trolls again, for those reading comments who may have forgotten the document itself.   We invite all to provide edits by copying into the comment section and changing in a way you think would work for a 14,0000 person anonymous MOOC community.  I hasten to add that about 15 or more of us worked on this document and we went to press in the end with what we had, where we were, because that's what you do with iteration---but there was not consensus.  I think some members of our group would be much more sympathetic to trolls than I am, some disliked parts of this document intensely, some liked it all.  I hope they will jump in here and make comments.  The point is that these are imperfect "rules" and "aspirations" . . . and that's what iteration is for!

We are grateful and appreciative of all productive, respectful insights.   This in itself is the point of an editable comment---it is a first draft, not a final conclusion.   

Community Expectations

We expect that:

  • Someone who promotes discord in our community by intentionally upsetting others through inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic expression will be considered a troll.

  • There will be no tolerance for trolls in the FutureEd community.

  • Community members will not promote discrimination of any kind.

  • Participation will be informed by preparation.

  • We will collaborate in a constructive manner as we assign, guide, and assess the work of peers.




“I had great hopes for your MOOC expression, but this issue makes me doubt your capacity to understand different opinions, even when those opinions sound or reflect very, very different resonance”

Having the capacity to understand different opinions does not require tolerating incivility.  To say that abusive behavior will not be tolerated is not the same as saying that ideas will not be tolerated.  (See the list of behaviors cited by Howard Reingold in his comment for examples.)

One semester I had two students take very vocal stances against the approach I was taking in a class I was teaching.  I reported one student to appropriate campus authorities; the other one I did not.  The difference was that the one student’s discord escalated into abuse e-mails and implied threats that could not be overlooked.  It was the abuse and threats—not the discord—that rightly should not be tolerated.

There is a significant difference between expressing discord and trolling.


This is brilliant (thanks, Suey Park, for sending this):  What's Wrong with 'Don't Feed the Trolls'        Watch it to the end.  This is why we are having a discussion, to learn together about these kinds of ideas.


Steph Guthrie advocates not ignoring trolls but actively outing them in public and breaking through the three internet problems of social distance, performance, and no consequences, but breaking anonymity (erasing social distance, calling out by name), countering with some other public "outing" of bad behavior, and tying it to real local communities (consequences).   And, mostly, forget "trolls":  when it is actual misogyny or racism, call it that and do not tolerate it.  Period.   Here's the url again:



And here is the Inside Higher Ed column of Jan 23, 2014, to which I was alluding about the kind of terrible abuse that has been happening in some of the MOOCs.  This was what happened in a 10-week course, “Constitutional Struggles in the Muslim World":  


I'm sympathetic to Guthrie's points about engaging "trolls" whose anonymity can be "broken" (and, in some cases, aren't anonymous in the first place). If the goal of a so-called troll is in fact to "shut women [or feminists, or people of color, etc.] up," then responding seems like a potentially important way to prevent "trolls" from "winning" the argument.

In cases where anonymity is harder to break, however, and when the troll's goal might be to provoke response/anger/etc.--sometimes precisely *not* to shut interlocutors up but to provoke psychologically & emotionally painful engagement--then other responses seem more appropriate. Reposting to the sort of aggregrator sites that Guthrie discusses, or taking up the troll's comments in an alternative venue where the troll ain't trolling seems more viable and often less psychologically damaging than falling into a rabbit hole of direct engagement w/ misogyny, racism, etc.

As motivations, "provoking" and "shutting people up" aren't mutually exclusive, but thinking about where specific instances of trolling fall on that spectrum seems like an important consideration in whether you respond directly via Twitter, author a zero-tolerance policy for a MOOC, etc. As the variety of responses on this thread already indicate, assuming a non-malleable one-size-fits-all approach is pretty limiting.

My thoughts on this are significantly indebted to conversations w/ scholars who've researched and people who've experienced trolling firsthand. Some of these conversations are gathered in an episode of a rhetoric & technology podcast I worked on last year--the episode's focused specifically on trolling, and features more informed voices than mine:


I like this set of community expectations and I appreciate that this is being addressed up front.  A nasty troll could really throw this project off and it is too big and takes place over too short of a time period for that. Trolls do not argue to make a point they argue to cause unrest. Six weeks are going to go by really quickly and we are dealing with a lot of different environments, cultures, and personalities here, we don't have time to argue for the sake of argument if one is not actually arguing for the sake of learning.  It is the difference of cultures and personalities that we will be interacting with that I am so excited about and this is why I think that we can do better by the word "discord" which just means lack of agreement - we will have that.  I find that I learn so much through good respectful argument and debate and I would want to encourage that.  With the way that the first point is written it is pretty clear that we will not tolerate discord for the sake of discord and so I just think that it could be made stronger with an adjective.  Perhaps:

  • Someone who promotes uncivil discord in our community by intentionally upsetting others through inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic expression will be considered a troll.

And perhaps a bullet emphasizing positive respectful argument and debate - maybe something like

  • We seek to create an environment that promotes respectful debate where differences in ideas are appreciated through careful examination of their underlying key points.

It needs some work but something like that....


These are great suggestions!  I hope you'll make them when the movement goes live this Monday!

Maybe we should just take the part about discord out altogether and say that:

  • Someone who intentionally upsets others through inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic expression will be considered a troll.

It also might be good to provide some examples of trolling like Howard does.  This discussion has piqued my interest in the concept of "troll" itself.  It would be an interesting project to provide a comprehensive analytic of trolling (I'm sure someone already has).  Then we could dig out conditions for the possibility of trolling.

I had originally put a bullet in stating that arguments should be governed by the principles of logic, but it was taken out, probably because I contrasted logical argument with emotional whim (there are unfortunate social and historical connotations there that I now recognize).

I really like your second bullet, which might get at our desire for a discourse that is rational.  Maybe we could throw the word rational in there like this:

  • We seek to create an environment that promotes respectful and rational discourse where differences in ideas are appreciated through careful examination of their underlying justifications. 

Thanks again for these comments and for joining us in the discussion of #FutureEd!


First, I want to respectfully acknowledge the compassion that Joe's post exhibits. I used to feel that way, a long, long time ago. But I've dealt with behavior and speech rights issues in online communities for decades. Electric Minds, for example, had 70,000 registered users in 1996 and we had actual nazis -- I mean they self-identified that way -- and we tried to talk around them. Respectful, even strong disagreement, is not trolling. Ranting on the same off-topic subject in multiple discussions, spewing racist invective, making veiled and direct threats, personally attacking and belittling other users, arguing about speech rights (what part of "Congress shall make no law" means that every forum has to put up with everything?), spamming and flogging your pet product or group, has no place in a learning community. There are plenty of other places online. And the number of people who don't comment because they are afraid to show themselves to the potential attackers, together with those who give up on the forum altogether, is much, much, larger than those who are offended because a troll is warned, then booted. Aside from the other problems, there is the danger of going meta -- instead of talking about the future of education, we end up talking about the morality and politics of the rules -- which is also proven to drive people away. 

Having stated the rules, discussed the rules, and if necessary amending or revising the rules, I suggest that we move on to discuss the future of education far more than we discuss how to discuss the future of education.


One thing to remember:  ny members of my actual class have never used social media---I mean some under twenty who said in class they do not use social media.     So a community constitution is something I do in all my classes because, per our earlier phone conversation, that is the only way to agree upon the standards by which, later, peer grading and contract grading work in a trusted and trustworthy space.   It's about building from scratch and quickly the terms of something scary, taking judgment and credentialing into one's own hands.


Now, in a virtual community, there are different rules and responsibilities---but I still have responsibility to my f2f students too.  It's complicated.


And I consider it part and part of the future of higher education, not a side issue at all but a determining factor.  Over on Twitter you can see what hapened when I called upon a number of outspoken, brilliant young women of color who address these issues on social media all the time.  I'll port over the conversation here later on.  Wonderful.  But not trivial at all and a very different perspective when you are not a senior member of a community of judgment!


But, yes, so many other issues to come.  But equality, equity, access are deeply part of community and of education, together.   Can't wait to begin.  Oh, wait!  We already have.  Thanks much for getting this all going, Howard. 


I would like to encourage Joe to keep hope alive!  I think he makes some great points that we all should take very seriously.  

It might help if we offer a closer reading of the definition of troll we've provided in our document.  A troll is someone who "promotes discord in our community by intentionally upsetting others through inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic expression."

As we were crafting the document, I wanted to make sure that there was a clear and complete definition of what a troll actually is.  I was concerned about this because of the unfamiliar emphasis that was placed on our lack of sympathy for "trolls."  I am very inexperienced with online forums, and I honestly had only a very basic idea what "troll" meant in this context.  Hopefully this definition will evolve through the collaboration with thousands that begins on Monday, but I at least thought it was a good start.

Notice that our document does not simply and hastily define a troll as someone who promotes discord.  I agree with Joe that there should be a space (a productive function) for discord in communities.  A troll is someone who promotes discord through a specified set of means:  by intentionally upsetting others through... and here's the key... inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic expression.  

For this reason, I wouldn't consider Joe's comment here to be trollish.  While he may be promoting discord, he's not doing so through inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic expression.  My only criticism of Joe's thoughts here is that they may not reflect a careful consideration of our document.

In any event, try to keep hope alive Joe!  A lot of us are very excited about this project, and we would love for you to be excited as well.  There will be plenty of space for civil discord (I hope).  And we can continue to define our terms together as we move forward in our discussion of #FutureEd.


My observation based on a couple of trolls I have engaged is it's the very exchange - positive or negative - that gets the adrenalin going and is thus the payoff.   In the past I've had conversations with fundamentalist right wing people. The language got pretty nasty sometimes. Yet they had their honest beliefs.   The issue under discussion was Obama's first campaign. One of my proudest moments was when a "troll" said I disagree with everything you say, but thank you for the honest conversation.

Perhaps an approach is to have explicit rules of the game. Similar to signing a license agreement when joining a community on the web.  The process could be a private email from one of the student moderators. "You have been identified by the community as a troll becuase you posted "x" "y" 'Z"..... Then please re read the rules of engagment in this community. Would you like to continue?  




In a longer message - that got long enough to disappear on this dialog - I built a case that I was being trolled in this discussion and that I don't like it. This is my bottom line, however, and, if you don't like it I can read and write elsewhere:

It's a much simpler case than most are making. Look at James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State: his point is that "rules" are better built up by the community in the process of building that community than coming from "on high." I cited Scott for two reasons: I don't trust rules or rulers from North Carolina, and think they'd best come from the dialog I seemed (along with Cathy's first flame of "no tolerance") to provoke. And because it was a student of mine who discovered Scott, and who is creating a school to do just what Scott suggests. That school, although just a high school, reflects innovations I've been working through for over 50 years. (And, yes, I've reviewed rules just like Cathy and agree that trolling isn't nice. Rather than police it, however, as a survivor of the Columbia '68 battles, think the rules should come from the community rather than a founder or somebody "on top.")

Respect is earned and not awarded, and a community of scholars can't be imposed on by a cadre of smarter ones, or it loses its integrity.



First "a survivor of the Columbia '68 battles" what a small world. We should compare notes sometime :-)  I see what you mean by rules emerging, but the reality in this case is a short course with a specific purpose in the context of a particular  institution. In that context, I think Rules of Engagement are completely appropriate.  Any more or less formal meeting has implicit and sometimes explicit rules.

I remember some of the "meetings" in '68. They could have greatly benefited from explicit rules of engagement. 

How about if " a cadre of smarter ones" is reframed as more experienced and wiser. A bit more like a guru. 





During week six of the course, we'll be discussing institutional change.  I had already planned to bring up May '68 in the discussion.  I'm more familiar with what went on in France than I am with what happened at Columbia.  So I hope you and Joe will share your experiences and the knowledge you've gained from those experiences when we reach that part of the course!


Please get in touch. Although I am registered for the course, I'm concerned that I might miss the appropriate time as I am "auditing." If you use G+  I would be glad to continue a conversation over there.


First "a survivor of the Columbia '68 battles" what a small world. We should compare notes sometime :-)  I see what you mean by rules emerging, but the reality in this case is a short course with a specific purpose in the context of a particular  institution. In that context, I think Rules of Engagement are completely appropriate.  Any more or less formal meeting has implicit and sometimes explicit rules.

I remember some of the "meetings" in '68. They could have greatly benefited from explicit rules of engagement. 

How about if " a cadre of smarter ones" is reframed as more experienced and wiser. A bit more like a guru. 





One of the greatest charms of age is to enjoy transformations rather than fight them or control them. As I celebrate being 70, surrounded by "change agents" in their 20's, the perspectives of those "meetings" in '68 resonate: sure they would have benefitted with explicit rules - and the ones in the '70's did - but they'd also lose that fever (or fervor) which drove discussions to create rules. And it is precisely that creativity which is the point of going to school in the first place (whether kindergrarten or post-doc).

Ironically, I graduated from Columbia in '65, went on to a pleasant and insulated doctoral program at Brown, and readjusted when I found my department largely occupied by didacts who cared little for discovery. I recycled in '68, and, while Columbia - and Paris - burned, spent a few years with and in historically black colleges and universities testing even more dramatic, highly participatory, and thoroughly academic innovations. And that led to another doctoral program - at UMass-Amherst - until I taught with Saul Alinsky's widow at Emerson.

That was a very long time ago, but it gave grounds to question phrases like "will not tolerate" and see their effect on politics, education, and intellectual growth, even if they are as well intended as I'm sure Cathy's was/is. And my reaction is not anomalous to the kind of creativity this course intends, at least as far as I understand it. I'm immensely impressed at some of these dialogs, and curious about how they will/may effect change in higher education as we know it - not unlike the changes Columbia (and Paris) effected for a decade or two until high ed "recovered" it's hierarchical management systems.

I'm currently most curious about how the inflationary costs of higher education can educate us - and our students - to create dramatically faster, cleaner, technically sound and academically rich lifestyles for less money with more impact. That - more than the hardware, more than the software and its apps, and more than the two to six years colleges extract from "real life" - that kind of creativity is what justifies schools and colleges in the first and now last place. I've seen some examples of short cuts that earn huge time and skill bonuses, which I'll be happy to share. But all the best ones echo those cries of the '60's against racism, war, and repression. Let us set higher sites than policing trolls as minimal targets.


I have a feeling we have lots to share, but I don't think directly germane to this thread.  In the context of reinventing higher ed, the Liberation Schools set up during the strike mght be an interesting model to explore. We share similar concerns about the cost of highered. I see this work directly relevant.

Are you on G+, you can search for me, add me to your circles, I will add you to mine. It would be great fun and also might get some insights that we can bring back here.


I just wanted to point out that these rules are coming from the community (one much larger than the boundaries of North Carolina).  As mentioned above and in the document itself, this is a draft.  On Monday, thousands of people will have the opportunity to engage in the process of its crafting.  Once again, I think a more careful consideration of the document and the intentions behind it would help inform Joe's post here.



I should mention that EVERY class I teach where we change the basic institutional rules begins with the students in the class creating a class constitution.  Why?  Because otherwise the institutional status quo become the de facto rules. 


In this case, I did not create the original constitution that we "modded":   it was the Mozilla Manifesto.  The students began with that document as a basis for thinking about what one might or might not want in a group where:  students set the syllabus, students set the requirements for quality, students did peer and contract grading, and students decided to collectively write a book together as a guide to others on how to work together.  And they did this in one semester.   You can read the original and the modding in Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies,   


In this class, we began with the modded class constitution from Field Notes, one of our central textbooks for this class, and put it into a Google Doc and students again modded it--and discussed their disagreements and agreements energetically in class and in comments ont he document.   The purpose this time was to come up with a draft that we would put on line to be read by 14,000 participants in the MOOC. 


Not perfect--but very interesting.  As has been this conversation!   I agree with Michael that a very interesting part of outspoken behavior (which is not the same as anonymous behavior intended to do emotional injury and to be disruption:  which I see as one definition of a "troll") is that it generates a great discussion, which this has been. 


I do not believe you can really remake institutions unless you look at their guts.  I don't believe analyzing and critical thinking get us there.  You have to really put into words or into form and action or code or materiality an alternative after reading and thinking extensively and critically.   The transformation from critical thinking to creative contribution--in this case a DRAFT document for others to engage with--is for me what learning is about.


Referring to Howard's comment, I believe all significant learning is "meta."   That is, content is something that changes rapidly and contextually and historically.   But learning what learning is, having the courage to understand another point of view and absorb it, being able to make something--whether an institution, a judgment about a peer's work, an art object, a house, a video game, whatever it is that you make--requires an ability to go from idea to activism.   Since my interest is in educational change, that is a crucial step




"I don't believe analyzing and critical thinking get us there.  You have to really put into words or into form and action or code or materiality an alternative after reading and thinking extensively and critically." That the opportunity is "putting into word.  "Rules of enagement" or "terms and conditions"  by their very utterance give a context , which in turn give a richer meaning to the words exchanged.

Consider the qualities of our public discourse. Imagine if that discourse had rules of engagement which we shared by every one participating. There are two difficult problems that have to be solved. One is vibrant public discourse has emotion laden positions and emotion laden words that are appropriate. I submit that is a feature, not a bug.  The wicked problem is how to make those rules and implicit part of the culture.

I see we have a laboratory in the C-MOOC created to analyze these issues in a relatively controlled environment. It goes to the future of highered as many of the conversations about academia are either overly polite or debate instead of the dialog that gets to new knowledge.

Just to share a maybe doable experiment. I do not know the technical affordances or limitations of the platform so the following may be too time and energy consuming with 14M+ people in the room.

In any case,

1.Allow participants to report what seems to be trolling. 

 2. once reported an automatic email is sent to the potential troll. Subject line might be "please re read the rules of engagment in this course."

 3. The potential troll is put on some kind of watch list.

4. If what seems like trolling words reappear, an email is sent in the form of "dear x, based on your words eg. "blablablalbal"  it has been decided it would be most productive for the course to block your further comments. If you would like to consider your participationg going forward , email X @Y. We will respond as soon as we can.


Special thanks to Adeline Koh who Storified a Twitter conversation about the many different definitions, attitudes, ways, tactices, and practices for responding or not responding to Trolls.   Very important discussion.  Check it out here:


There are a number of issues that leave me groping for purpose and content:

1) having had the opportunity of wallking across several disciplines from the hard sciences to the humanities, I have attended many professional conference where there are very strong interactions between attendees and also the presenters. There have been legitimate arguments on data and interpretations and while emotional were focused on content and not on the "who".

What most of the discussion here has been on is "rules of engagement". This, as Cathy states, has been the hall mark of her classes at Duke. No discussion has been on content or speaking from an informed and knowledgeable perspective, but rather from an engagement focus. 


2) There is a rather bold agenda on the table, to engage or focus on students and faculty and the future thereof. That is a rather narrow focus given that, globally, there are many other players who have a vested interest in what happens with education, P->gray, including governments, religious and political organization, and citizens. Much of this has been and is being discussed by philosophers to policy wonks to foundations underwriting the formal education system


3) Coursera, EdX, etc are, as stated, X-MOOC's as opposed to C-MOOC's. It would seem that that the first would be more concerned with informed participants engaging with these issues whereas the latter is more concerned with process. That seems to call for different thought leaders and design and a clear idea of what the expected outcomes should or could be. From the exchange here, there seems to be more interest in the process outcomes and the topic or content focus is dropped in as a base for the exchange to begin. Where substance leads to cognitive rather than process outcomes and some possibilities of new directions seems to be submerged and, perhaps, as Cathy states, somewhat determined by the students at Duke who may be inexperienced in social media or scholarly debate.