At x28′s new blog a recent post about Massiveness and Diversity stirred some thought processes in me. I wouldn’t quite call this a response to Matthias’ post, as he seems to be tackling the subject of Massiveness and Diversity with respect to how MOOCs have run up until now. My thoughts here are about what Massiveness and Diversity mean when applying MOOCish principles to other or existing settings, with a focus on language learning.
And, in trying to adapt such Ecological/Connectivism approaches to non-MOOC, non-Educational-Technology-as-Topic settings, the term Massive becomes a tricky word. Obviously, the word big and all of its linguistic neighbors have relative meanings: a large kiwi fruit and a large department store are not the same size of large from our human perspective. What this shows is that the concept of massive is tied to situation, not merely to number of participants alone. And, if massiveness is linked to diversity (as suggested in the x28 post), then they are both conditions of the educational situation. For example, I once taught a series of courses to 300 beginner language students. I consider this an extremely massive course, because of the content: language learners need to practice language in high feedback settings; and because of the level: beginner students require more guidance, explicit feedback, basic skill acquisition, and especially limits on information/language overload. Both of these factors would generally decrease as student numbers increase, with such an effect starting in single digit student presence. For such massively open courses like the Stanford classes or the Change11, 300 participants is not massive enough…unless activity can somehow be maximized.
In fact, I might guess that it is better to link massiveness and diversity individually to the situation, rather than to each other. Course design, including resource diversity, certainly doesn’t need to be curated or controlled completely, but complete authenticity isn’t the only other option. Connectivism course design isn’t an all or nothing game. New teacher roles are emerging in this approach, so that educators may need to introduce materials and media based on the situations of the learners. This would require educators to actively take a individualistic, observant analysis of the situations (connections) that maintain the Network for that particular educational system. Additionally, it should be good practice to include explicit description of the limits and bias of the connections in place.
There is also the point that subject matter has its own minimal depths and breadths; educators need to be able to fill in any essential gaps of knowledge without the dogmatic guilt of promoting singular points of view. Topics of study are distinct for reasons, and these processes of knowledge have placed certain values on information in the past that are essential for learners to learn…not as a description of what comprises that body of knowledge (ie: not of what is true or right in that field) but of where that field has been, why it is positioned where it is, and to be able to ask relevant questions that build themselves as learners and their field of study. Matthais mentions the term Field Trip in opposition to things that are inauthentic or too controlled, however, there is still a certain degree of control in any field trip. Schools choose where to go, when to go, and quite often have a planned tour of their destination site. A field trip is not simply a day to wander around aimlessly anywhere. Quite often, I imagine, educators plan in-class work based on such field trips, supplementing their coursework with the experience into the authentic world outside the brick and mortar walls.
An even more interesting, and useful term is the Authentic Wilderness that his post introduces. Wilderness is very much tied to a situational environment. Different climates produce different types of wilderness, and within any given wilderness the scale can be adjusted to look at more local or more universal area. We can think of the wilderness of forests or deserts; The wilderness of America, the wilderness of Texas; The wilderness of a bamboo forest, the parasitic community on a bamboo tree, or on a leaf; the natural by-products that emerge in cities, neighborhoods, or in households; In a University setting, or in a class of fifteen language learning students. Within that group of fifteen, middle-class University students is a wilderness, a something natural, that the educator must discover, observe and uncover for those students to better access and respectfully exploit in that intentional learning setting. At times, it can be a matter preparing inexperienced campers to house in this wilderness, suggesting the types of shelter, clothes, food and devices that they would need to enjoy the beauty of nature’s wonder. And with each different type of wilderness, comes a different type of inexperience.
In physics, relative mass changes with velocity. Learning at the fringe of a process of knowledge is quick and fast paced; learning at the core is of a slower, more contemplative pace. The former requiring more mass, the latter less…both in terms of participants and facilitators. Come to think of it, the current Change11 could use about 10-20 more facilitators at any given time, spread out much more than the existing ones are now.