No Longer the Disrupted?

Computer monitors

I’m in the process of writing a brief report for class on two articles addressing this question: What should the role of technology be in the composition classroom? Neither article explicitly addresses this question, but both take a position on the question of whether and how technology ought to be used in the composition classroom. On one side is a professor who is concerned that computers impede the self-reflexive, self-defining creative process that occurs in the composition classroom. On the other side is a professor who favors considered implementation of online aspects in hybrid composition classes as a method of taking advantage of the benefits of both online and face-to-face instruction.

It was timely, then, that I came across this blog post by Karen Head on Wired Campus: “Lessons Learned from a Freshman-Composition MOOC.” In the post Head identifies successful and unsuccessful aspects of her team’s experiment with offering freshman composition in MOOC format, made possible by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Head offers several options in determining whether the experience succeeded. In terms of raw numbers (only 1% of enrolled students received a completion certificate), “the course was not a success.” However, in terms of learning lessons about how to design and implement a MOOC, the project succeeded: “From a pedagogical perspective, nobody on our team will ever approach course design the same way.” In terms of developing the course as truly and completely “open” (in terms of access and privacy), Head determines the course was unsuccessful. But in terms of outreach, Head enthusiastically reports success: “Students thanked us for doing what we set out to do—help them become more confident communicators.”

Head’s penultimate paragraph is what drew my attention most directly.

Throughout my blog postings I have tried to report on the process as objectively as possible, and have avoided engaging in the more political and philosophical debates surrounding MOOCs. I’d like to close with this challenge: Please continue to think about the process and practice of teaching MOOCs as objectively as possible, using constructive academic discourse. We frequently hear this topic talked about in terms of “disruption,” a word I really disdain. I wonder how such a term—meaning disorder, turmoil, destruction —became the preferred way to talk about improving education. Why haven’t we gravitated instead to words like augment, extend, progress, or strengthen?

As a student of English studies, I most appreciate this call toward “constructive academic discourse.” Shifting from destructive discourse, in which classrooms are flipped (as if they were “done” on one side and needed to be cooked on another) and pedagogy is disrupted (as Head puts it, “meaning disorder, turmoil, destruction”) toward constructive discourse is surely a good idea. We can and must be critical, but we can and must be constructive, too. We can’t afford to tear down much more of our discipline. Instead, we should find methods and language that build ourselves up—even if we do start building from a brand new foundation.

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user readerwalker.]

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