Ghosts of MoocMooc: Past, Present, Future

A MOOC is a Mirror

The Ghost of MOOC Past:

“I suppose I have to catch up,” I thought, surveying the two day’s worth of MOOCMOOC that I’d missed due to late enrollment. I’d done a bit of MOOCing before at Udacity, which let you work at your own pace through pre-existent material, so I figured “catching up” would be simple enough. I dutifully read the suggested materials, introduced myself in the discussion forum, and then discovered that I’d missed a collaborative Google Doc writing session.

As a student who was always of the “read everything, do everything, complete all the extra credit” mentality, I couldn’t help but feel a little left behind when I learned that there was already a part of the course that I’d missed and couldn’t “make up.” Wasn’t the point of online education supposed to be that you could do things on your own time?

I looked over some of the completed Google docs, surveying the history of conversations now past. Well, I would just have to do my best to “catch up…”

Of course, I never did catch up—because there is no “catching up” with a monstrous MOOC whose tendrils wrap themselves around the farthest corners of the internet and whose Twitter hashtag (#moocmooc) produced conversations at a pace that even speed-texting preteens bound for carpal tunnel syndrome could never have followed.

The Dr. Frankensteins of the Mooc chose to visualize their creation as a relentless behemoth (“Nothing will stop the incessant march”):

ImageYou could even follow him on Twitter! (Also available in MOOC Gosling and MOOC Hulk varieties.)

But I prefer to think of the MOOC monster more like Cthulhu, the famed Lovecraft character who’s described as a hybrid of a “an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature” with “a pulpy, tentacled head” and “a grotesque body with rudimentary wings.” A patchwork, undefinable thing with plenty of tentacles for snaking about the interwebs:


The inability to “catch up” with the MOOC—to do everything or read everything—was a blessing in disguise for someone like myself, who’s always out to “master” something and doesn’t deal terribly well with situations where you don’t control nearly every variable. There was no other option but to surrender myself to the chaos and see what happened . . .

The Ghost of MOOC Present

What happened was something magical, a type of community-building far more intense than anything that I’d ever experienced online. I’d never been a big Twitter user, but now I found myself engaged in intense, enlivening discussions about pedagogy that would stretch over the course of the entire day (and well into the night):

Though as wonderful as the Twitter conversations were, the best moment was an impromptu group Google Doc editing session at two in the morning that another participant has already described better than I ever could. Appropriately enough, one of the major topics of our chat was about whether you should integrate your academic and your personal life in your online presence. After the casual but incredibly insightful discussion I had that night, I decided that any downsides of bringing the personal and the academic together in your cyber-self were far outweighed by the amazing benefits.

Yet, these spontaneous and enlivening online interactions only worked—or worked best—if folks could all be at their computers at the same time. This became clear to me when family commitments kept me away from the internet for the better part of Friday and Saturday. Reading tweets and blog posts at the close of each day kept me connected to the flow of the MOOC, but it was clear that the more explicitly affective sense of community I’d experienced was largely due to us working in real-time.

This was, perhaps, the biggest difference I experienced between MoocMooc and Udacity. Udacity felt like a piece of software that just happened to sit online instead of on your hard drive: launch it, do some work, come back later. MoocMooc, on the other hand, was intimately tied to Web 2.0. It was unmasterable and inevitably involved missed crossings. The interactions you stumbled across or sought out were wonderful, but there was also going to be that great party you missed:

Like all good things, MoocMooc was an unstable mixture of accidents and plans, goals and detours, losing and finding.

The Ghost of MOOC Future

Strangely, the uncollected fragments of MOOC that are now scattered around my TweetDeck dashboard put me in much the same situation I was in at the beginning of the course. I must pick my way back through what I missed and sift through the outpouring of blogs, proposals, and quips that flew past me in the past 48 hours. This time, though, I’ve no illusions about “catching up.” And, more importantly, I have a band of fellow travelers to join me in a (re)reading of the course that fully embraces its unmasterable, monstrous, hybrid, Cthulhian nature.

#Postmoocmooc has begun, and I invite any and all participants in the MoocMooc to contribute to the PostMoocMooc Wiki archive of the course. To be added as an editor on the Wiki, you can DM me your email address via Twitter (@myunnaturalself) or send it to me through the contact form at the end of this post. (For spam filtering purposes, please mention the PostMoocMooc Wiki in your message.)

Now, sing it with me: “This is the MOOC that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friend . . . ”

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