A lot has happened in a week! Or rather, a lot has mobilized. Last week the MOOC “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education,” opened. I woke up early to watch the videos that had been sent ahead of time to the Community TAs and then headed over to Duke’s Smith Warehouse to monitor the activity on the site when the MOOC officially opened at 10am. From 10am-1pm, I fielded some questions and posted some of my own. As a historian of Latin America, I was particularly interested in the international participation of the group, which I wrote about last week in a blog for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Yet, beyond the pins going up on the digital MOOC map, the side conversations that people were having with each other on topics ranging from their favorite teacher to education in Romania captured my attention. Considering our face-to-face class’s assigned reading for the week, I began to wonder about MOOCs, the #FutureEd movement, and the face-to-face companion class, as institutions and mobilizing networks.
For class last week we read the fifth chapter of Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg’s The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in the Digital Age (2010). In this chapter the authors argue that institutions are mobilizing networks because they provide spaces where people and collectives can activate change—even changes to institutions themselves. Traditionally, we have thought of institutions as static organizations housed in even more static buildings. But, institutions are also a place where people network, form groups and sub-groups, and discuss and enact change. In many ways, the conversations that I saw taking place in the digital space of the MOOC are the same conversations that take place (perhaps on a more diffuse scale) on college campus quads, and in the cafeteria, classrooms, and dorms.
The activity on the MOOC along with the reading also got me thinking about our face-to-face class. In another blog for the Chronicle of Higher Ed, my classmate Billy Osborn wrote about the diversity of our class. We are all from different disciplines. Billy has military background. Another student has experience as an adjunct professor and is now studying public policy at Duke. We have two undergraduates, four MFA students, and at least three graduate students from other universities. In other words, this is a class that would not fit neatly into my institutional department (History) or any other traditional discipline’s core requirements for its graduate students. Yet, the class exists. Does it exist because institutions are mobilizing networks? Or, does it exist because Dr. Davidson and other professors and administrators at Duke want to help students like us mobilize? Perhaps a bit of both.
I suppose that I didn’t quite realize what “mobilizing” meant to me personally until this Monday night when three of my classmates and I met on Google Hangout to discuss our final assignment. Due to the nasty winter weather in North Carolina last week (a whole two inches of snow!), Duke University closed and our face-to-face class was canceled. Dr. Davidson held a Google Hangout for our group that was later posted to the MOOC, but she also asked that we try to meet in our small groups to advance our work on designing a university from scratch. It was during this small group conversation that I realized our classwork could potentially instigate change. Or, at the very least, the conversation inspired me to think more actively about what it would take to create a different type of university space.
My group includes an MFA student, an undergrad, and a student in Classics. For about an hour we talked about our goals and dreams for higher Ed. We drew some preliminary conclusions. Education in the 21st Century should help students locate their skills and interests and identify ways to pursue them in real world cases. It should also provide spaces for collaboration with people in communities outside of the university space. These spaces may be through online networks, but may also be in the form of some larger project(s) that all students are required to participate in before “graduation.” We questioned the notion of “graduation” as a right of passage and problematized the segregated spaces inherent in university hierarchy. For the first time since joining the #FutureEd movement, I really felt like I was mobilizing—like there was potential for me to do something more than just talking. We left the meeting with some tentative plans for how to proceed during our next meeting in class, which meets TODAY!
During class today, our group will have to present our university name and motto. We’ve been working out some ideas on a Google doc and hopefully these ideas will coalesce over time. I don’t think we’re quite ready to show our plans to the world, but I figure that mobilizing online networks even at this premature stage couldn’t hurt. So, one idea for a motto that we have is pasted below. What do you all think?
Motto: “To empower people and communities to recognize and actualize their full potential as individuals and collectives to positively contribute to our changing global world.“