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Dorms and Dining Halls For DIY Education – Q&A With MOOC Campus

Transcript of my interview with MOOC Campus, a new project from Black Mountain SOLE, a residential campus in North Carolina that supports a variety of independent learners and group projects.

Welcome everybody. This is Robert McGuire from MOOC News and Reviews. I’m talking with Katie Cleary who is the Community Director of Black Mountain SOLE. That’s S-O-L-E — a self-organized learning environment. SOLE is a concept conceived by Educational Researcher Doctor Dr. Sugata Mitra.

courtesy of Black Mountain SOLE

courtesy Black Mountain SOLE

Black Mountain SOLE is a on a gorgeous mountain top near Asheville, North Carolina. You can see it there behind her. And it looks a lot like a retreat center that your workplace or your board of directors might take you to. In fact, I think of Black Mountain SOLE – and this is a nonprofit organization – I think of it as retreats for self-directed learners. You can go for a month or a summer or a whole school year. They have many different programs, and while you’re there you would typically be working on some kind of self-directed educational project or plan.

Their newest initiative is called MOOC Campus, which they describe as the world’s first residential campus for do-it-yourself education.

[Enjoy the interview either by watching the video or reading the rest of the transcript below. Please be patient with the poor audio of my intro; Katie Cleary’s audio is fine. -Robert]

 

McGuire

Welcome, Katie. Before I get started, did I get anything wrong in that intro?

Cleary

No, I think I can go home now.

McGuire

Well, we want to hear a lot more about MOOC Campus. That’s why I’d asked you on for this interview. Thank you very much for being with us.

Cleary

Great. Thank you for inviting me.

McGuire

I was talking last week with Kio Stark, who is the author of a new book called Don’t Go Back to School, and we discussed how there needs to be opportunities for independent learners to merge online resources with the physical resources that are hard to find outside of the college campus. So when I heard about MOOC Campus, I definitely wanted to hear more about it. So will you please start us off by explaining the vision for MOOC Campus and how it works?

Cleary

Absolutely. As you already talked about, MOOC Campus is a campus for DIY learners. So MOOC Campus is supposed to be a place where you can come in for a week, for a month, for a whole nine months, and treat it like a normal academic year. And when you come in, we help you develop what your vision is for your time there and pair you up with a coach that you can work with at any point in time.

But really the value we’re adding outside of the MOOCs is the community. So you’re there with other self-directed learners where you can talk about what you’re doing and talk about what struggles you’re having and where people can help each other in their learning process.

McGuire

Where are we in the timeline of developing the project?

Cleary

We will be launching in September. That’s when our residential halls will be open. That’s when our co-working center and classrooms will be open.

McGuire

How big will the class be? I mean the student body.

Cleary

The student body will be anywhere from 30 up to 75.

McGuire

Okay. And you’re in the process of admitting them now?

Cleary

Yep.

McGuire

Now, when I looked over the admissions, it sounded like it was intended for young people who are traditionally college age. Is that right, or is it for anybody?

Cleary

It’s for anybody. Ideally, we would have a mix of participants, because in addition to MOOC Campus we have the Radical Sabbatical, which is for professionals who want to take some time off and maybe pursue something that was their passion when they were younger and they just never looked into. So maybe they want to do some MOOC courses and take a sabbatical. And then we have the co-working center, which is going to have local professionals from the Asheville area in Black Mountain who are all extremely creative and entrepreneurial. And then we’ll have MOOC Campus, as well as the gap-year program, which is a more structured program for personal development. So, ideally, we do have a mix of ages, a mix of passions, a mix of skill sets, so that everyone can cross-pollinate and bring their value into the group and then grow from the value of the group.

McGuire

Where are you in the admissions process? What kind of student body have you put together so far?

Cleary

Right now, we do have a range of ages. We have a couple of young applicants in the pipeline, and we have a few young professionals that are more developed in their career more, like in their thirties, that we have in the pipeline right now.

McGuire

Talk a little bit more about the cost. I read it, and I understand it, but tell our viewers more about what people are paying for what they’re not paying for . . . .

Cleary

Sure. We have several different cost plans available. We have a day rate that you could use if you were in the Asheville area, which you would just look at our co-working pricing for that. So then you wouldn’t be paying for residential. But if you were moving into Asheville you would have your housing covered, which includes a bedroom, your own bathroom and a closet as well as common spaces in our residential hall. You would have access to the co-working center, which is going to have commercial grade printers, flat screens, presentation areas. And you’ll also have the full meal plan, and we are working with the local community as we speak trying to develop that and bring as much local food and healthy food options as possible. And you get that all for less than $2,000 a month, which I think is insane.

McGuire

And most significantly, they’re not paying tuition.

Cleary

Exactly. Yeah, they’re just paying their cost of living, and everything else is tuition free.

McGuire

What gave you guys this idea?

Cleary

We all came from different backgrounds. And, for myself personally, I come from a semi-alternative university in Fairfield, Iowa, where I was mentored by someone who’s very big in the un-schooling movement and organizational development. So I developed a passion and discovered through my time there that community is what helps you learn – that all the information is online. I pushed for our communications department to bring in Lynda tutorials so that students could spend more time working with each other on projects and less time listening to a lecture and having to learn at different speeds or learning at different speeds but not having a class that would move at different speeds.

Black Mountain SOLE MOOC Campus, former Black Mountain College campus

Courtesy of Black Mountain SOLE

So I developed a passion for that, and the team at Black Mountain SOLE found me and was like, “Hey, you want to come join us and help with the community building aspect?” We have two Ph.D.s who discovered towards the end of their Ph.D.s – one is completing it, and she’s taken a year off to come work on this project – that even being in some of the most elite academic programs, the most valuable skill sets that they were getting were outside of the classroom and came from their self-directed experiences.

[pullquote position=”right”]So we all came to our own conclusions that, with the internet, with access to these top resources, you don’t need a teacher at the front of the classroom anymore.[/pullquote] It’s not like there’s one book that they need to disseminate information from. We can all have that information. So, really, it’s the coaching, mentoring and facilitating that adds value for a student.

McGuire

Right. So you had these other programs, the gap-year and the sabbatical, for people to self-direct their learning, and then when MOOCs come along, I guess you just have a natural fit.

Cleary

Yeah. Absolutely, because up until MOOCs were in the picture, you could self-direct your learning to an extent through the internet. You would have to take a lot of time making sure resources were credible, designing your own learning experience. So MOOC fills in that gap for you. A professor at Harvard is not going to put un-credible resources as part of their MOOC course, and they have the traditional framework to digest a lot of information in a small amount of time that, before MOOCs, you would have to self-design yourself, which could take months. I really respect the people who put together these courses.

McGuire

Tell me more about these coaches, what they’re doing, what their role will be.

Cleary

The coach’s role in our MOOC program is going to be a more . . . . It will be led by the MOOC participant in a way. So when a MOOC participant comes in, somebody may come in and have a very solid plan and very solid vision, and they just want to have the residential space and the woods to go walking in and will never use their coach. Some people may come in and they have a fairly clear vision, and the coach will be there to be a second pair of eyes – to see where the gap is in the learning plan that they put together for themselves and to help walk them through and say, “Okay, what’s important to you? Where do you see yourself going? At the end of your experience, whether it’s a week or a month, what do you want to walk away with?” And help walk them through that.

The coaches are going to be trained on a lot of more lifestyle coaching skills. So time management, goal setting, vision creation and helping them get connected with mentors who can help them in their specific area of study.

McGuire

One thing that I’ve been thinking about is how, as people start to more and more take advantage of online learning opportunities, all of that stuff you mentioned is important. Also designing the curriculum, saying, “Here’s the sequence.” So if you’re not going to get a complete B.A. or duplicate the Bachelor of Arts experience, or you’re trying to work your way into a career, figuring out what’s the sequence of courses from the traditional B.A. general-ed experience – what kind of specialized field do I need to do in order to get to that career – that kind of service, I think, is going to be an important service in the future.

Cleary

Absolutely.

McGuire

Tell me more about the facilities. Do you have lab spaces and studio spaces?

Cleary

Yeah. We have an auditorium that’s available for large scale classes. Or if one of our participants even wanted to put on their own class and have community members come in and learn, we have that available with all the tech equipment. And then in the upstairs of our learning center, we have a co-working center, which will be fully outfitted like any of the co-working centers that you would find with the printers, projectors, areas for brainstorming and all of that. And then we have classrooms that will be used as flex space. So we’ll have flex furniture in it to allow classes to be designed around the needs of the particular group at any particular time. So they’ll be breakout spaces, essentially.

McGuire

So you don’t anticipate that significant numbers of the student body will be taking the same MOOCs, necessarily.

Cleary

No.

McGuire

But maybe.

Cleary

But maybe, or maybe they would complement each other. [pullquote position=”right”]It’s certainly not a requirement of what we do, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if we did happen to get a lot of people interested in the same subject matter, and that would be awesome.[/pullquote]

McGuire

Right. So tell me about the Poison Ivy Scholarship.

Cleary

The Poison Ivy Scholarship is something that we’re offering to anyone . . . . If you get accepted to a top tier school and you decide that you want to come to our program instead, you’re welcome to apply for our Poison Ivy Scholarship, which would cover your cost for being here. We need a letter of acceptance for that, and of course going through the regular application process, and then beyond that, we ask for a vision of what you’re going to do with your time here or what contribution you’d like to make to the community. And everything will be judged on social impact, creativity and clarity of purpose or vision.

McGuire

So if someone got into an Ivy League school, if they got into any school, why would someone choose not to go to college and instead to educate themselves through these unaccredited not-for-credit online learning opportunities?

Cleary

I think it really works for somebody who has a vision of a project that they want to put together, whether it’s a business concept or a nonprofit or an invention of some sort. You don’t get the freedom in the traditional college structure to be able to actually execute on your vision, and people that came here would have that space and would have those resources to actually execute on their vision. [pullquote position=”right”]You can ask anyone that’s hiring, if you can find someone that’s actually proven that they can do something, it’s so much more valuable than someone who can prove that they can get an A. [/pullquote]I want to know you can execute on your ideas.

McGuire

Let me ask a tough devil’s advocate question. I don’t know if you guys have any job openings right now, but when you post a job description does it list on there, “Must have a B.A. or must an M.B.A.?” What is the filter when you guys are hiring?

Cleary

Well, right now we are not hiring. The filter is a passion for what we’re doing and having proven results in your life. The reason I was approached to take on this position is because I have a history of building mentor programs, of facilitating change initiatives at my university, of creating an individualized degree program in a fairly traditional university. It’s not because I had a B.A. in business. It’s because I proved that these are things that I’m intimately familiar with and can add value to the team.

McGuire

A year from now when you look at your first class of students, after their first nine months, what do you think we’ll see?

Cleary

You will see students who feel passionate about what they’re doing, exhilarated by the community that they’ve been a part of and better able to create success in their own life – to self-direct the creation of their life.

McGuire

If people want more information, what should they do?

Cleary

They should go to www.mooccampus.org .

McGuire

Okay, excellent. Thank you. Well those are my main questions. Is there anything else you wanted to add and make sure that people understand about this?

Cleary

Like us on Facebook, for sure.

McGuire

Oh, like you on Facebook, yes. More Facebook likes. Us too.

Cleary

Yes.

McGuire

Well, thank you very much for your time, and good luck on the project. I’ll be checking back.

Cleary

Great. Thank you.

 

Robert McGuire (52 Posts)

My content marketing services firm provides all-in-one external staff solutions for companies looking to grow their business through thought leadership. I started MOOC News & Reviews in 2013 out of a fascination with the economic, demographic and technological forces impacting edtech, online education and higher education, and I wanted to provide a forum for serious discussion of this new phenomenon. I love building communities of writers engaging in lively critical dialogue about emerging issues.


One Comment

  1. This is very exciting, but the thought occurs: What about hands’on activities that might support and coincide with the MOOC students with or without the student’s Mentor?