Shown above, the figure lay in a case, the top of its head open to reveal the cavity into which the machinery was presumably stuffed at one time. In the final scene of the film, as I remember it, the embryo turned from Earth to regard the viewer with an expression that said something like, “And so, what next?” Or maybe “Quo vadis?” Or perhaps just, “What the hell?”
I thought of this figure today, as I participated in my first Twitter chat, which was more like a Tweet cascade than anything resembling a conversation. On Monday, I commence my first MOOC, a course entitled, “E-learning and Digital Cultures.” The chat had been organized by participants in the course who have already begun creating a series of overlapping digital communities on various platforms including Twitter and Facebook. (To judge by the discussion on those forums, there are a good many more on platforms with which I’m not familiar, but that’s a topic for another entry.)
The more enterprising among us had arranged to moderate, and one of the four questions was something along the lines of “What do you hope to get out of the MOOC?”
Well there’s a question. Struggling to keep my fat fingers on target on my phone, I typed out this deathless answer: “What’s next in education! truism: ed is changing. How do independent schools contribute?”
And there was that moon-faced almost-baby…looking at me through space.
What do I hope to get out of this MOOC? The question begs a good deal more than 140 characters. As a life-long professional educator, I have a stake in digital education that straddles the personal and the professional. I began teaching for the princely sum of $18000 a year at a time when computers played a minimal role in education. Word processing was just coming into its own, but I still received papers that had been handwritten or painstakingly banged out on a typewriter. The Internet was something for enthusiasts, and my communications from people outside of my face-to-face world came in the form of pink while-you-were-out slips.
So much has changed since that time, and I have, for the most part, been pleased to change with it. I have used digital media in my teaching, and I have done a stint in graduate school with a variety of digital tools. I’ve presided over listserv discussions, and I’ve required my students to upload material to Posterous accounts. I have raised two digital natives whom I watched–at times with some frustration–become fully engrossed in their virtual worlds. My son is a musician, and he regularly writes, records, and posts his work on Soundcloud. And now, as a school administrator, I am the beleaguered recipient of more than a thousand emails per month.
But what I haven’t yet seen–and what I’m hoping that this foray into the world of MOOCs will help to bring into focus–is a form of digital instruction that is a thing unto itself. In other words, most of what I’ve done or seen others do is some version of what a teacher and 16 or so students do in a class each day. Discussions? We’ve got discussions. Peer editing? We’ve got that, too. Digital media displays? We’ve got bulletin boards and projectors like we always had.
I sense that it is near, close to my grasp. We talk about changing the way our students think. But what we mostly do is try to figure out how to put material in the place where they’re already looking: their screens. How do we create a whole new form of learning, one that’s better and that could only be accomplished by means of the digital tools, in the gleaming eye of the virtual world?