Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lumos: of MOOCs and LMS

I must confess to a largely cursory interest in the future of Higher Education until this week. I know, I know, patient reader; this is the business that keeps me in cat food and samosas: how could I not be more aware, involved, curious? However, there you have it: I have been apologetically, blatantly incurious. I've had plenty of excuses for this, of course, and all of them quite, quite valid, all tinged with only an obligatory tinge of apology.

All that changed this week, when I attended a conference (Cengage & SXSWedu) that shook me awake and forced me to turn my head and look out of the window. The landscape has completely changed, and what is more, is rushing fast, faster than my eye can keep up. It is a veritable stampede!

Before I address the changes, I want to first validate what remains reassuringly unchanged. All reliance on a keyboard is not always the best thing, yet. Everywhere I looked, attendees were plugged in (for lack of a better epithet): they all (with probably less than 1% exceptions) had ipads or tablets which were busily buzzing along, talking to them and their phones, and a variety of other devices. I cannot express the strangeness I felt as I whipped out a pen and notebook to take notes during sessions. But then I realized that no matter how much I type, and how fast I've learned to type, I still write much, much faster, with greater coherence, since my hand doesn't require me to press the shift button, or do anything extra when I want to change languages or use symbols instead of words. A part of me feels reassured to know that I am still the most efficient and fastest note taker for me.

At the same time, however, the material I was taking notes on has widened my eyes, popped my inner ears, and lighted up unexplored corridors in my brain! Ah brave new world! I learned of the very real impact of MOOCs, of Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Multi dimensional interface, and Analytical feedback (like the recommendations one sees when shopping on Amazon, for instance).  It was really like an instructor's dream: we were treated to lunch as publishers and authors of textbooks asked what our perfect texts would look like! I know I am not alone in feeling the isolation behind the desk, and I have often wondered about the value of what I do. I have often dreamed of "if only" and "by now, we should be able to" scenarios; well, those scenarios are already here, it would seem.

One of the sessions used the trope of Peter Pan's shadow to point out the impact that Web 2.0 has on our sense of self. This has resonated to me and at last, at last, I have a clearer understanding of why we all prefer Facebook to PDF's of texts (a pointless thing, if you ask me; if students don't read the hard copy, why would they read the PDF of the same?). However, now, I understand why students (and, I confess, the instructor in me) are so attracted to our LMS (which is neither the best, nor the worst) and I plan to exploit it to its fullest capacity.

I do not, of course, mean to indicate that I shall be completely reliant on my LMS: if it goes away, I will not be lost, since I have found  many compasses. I learned how to use completely free resources if one has no LMS. In fact, one of the fascinating lounges I visited was the Google lounge, which offered a wonderful respite from the crowded sessions, provided time and space to explore how to use free resources to teach and learn, even try out the new technology to be released later on this year.

I have heard a great deal of doom saying when conversations meander towards the future of Higher Education, especially during the last year, with its stampede of MOOCs. The sessions I attended, however, have reassured me: learning is not becoming obsolete and the value of the educator in this maelstrom of changing technologies, is unshakable and central. I have a clearer idea of what I'd like my absolute dream job to be (though this job, of course doesn't exist yet, I don't think).

I have spent the greater part of this weekend trying to catch up on the grading that has loomed large in my absence. But today, I don't resent it like I used to. My attitude towards the endless grading (the lot of every writing instructor) has been similar to the unnamed Maiden's attitude to her endless spinning in Grimms' "Mother Holle." However, like the Maiden, I have glimpsed at the alternate world beneath the well, a world that coexists with mine, where meaningless, repetitive chores have cosmic impact and all work is meaningful, relevant, and rewarded.


  1. Happy to have you seeing more of our beautiful, brave new world...

    Can you understand Yellow Wood a little better?

  2. I am new at all this. I am glad you are forging ahead and owning it!

  3. Wonderful post--I hope you keep writing up your notes for those of us who want to know more, who wish we could have been there. More, more, more!!! And that dream job--let's dream together!


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