Teacher Profile – From “No Time for Facebook” to Social Media MOOC Instructor
Still recovering from facilitating her MOOC on Social Media in which I was a student, Maria Andersen, Director of Learning and Research for Instructure, the company behind the Canvas online education platform, nonetheless readily agreed to talk about her experience in teaching the course.
“As you know, it was intense,” she says. “After we hit the halfway point, I wondered why on earth I had made this a 10-week course. I spent every Sunday glued to my computer tweaking the unit that would go live the next day. I’m sure my husband is glad the course is over.”
Andersen began her Social Media MOOC with a video describing her own “social media journey” in which she talks about how despite feeling that she was too busy as a college teacher to bother with social networks, her sister “dragged her onto Facebook” in 2009. She was surprised to find it a useful tool not only for keeping in touch with people from her past but also for connecting to her growing network of professional relationships.
When she started writing her dissertation the following year, she wanted to find a way to keep herself on track. So she started using Twitter to report her progress, making a rule that she could only tweet about her dissertation — sharing a resource, discovery or frustration — after she had spent an hour on it.
“As the hours ticked by, I started to have followers who were really interested in my research,” she says, “and it no longer felt like I was sitting at home writing this paper by myself.” Those people became valuable assets, suggesting resources, providing tips and even reading chapters.
“I not only finished my dissertation, I also started to learn about a whole lot of other stuff that was just as valuable to me as what I was learning in my professional education. When I suddenly needed to learn how to design digital learning games, I turned to social media and used Twitter as a mentoring network. I followed game designers from industry and education and just started to do what they did. I read what they read, I played the games they played, I went to the conferences they recommended. In short, I immersed myself in their world. And in the end, it worked. I was able to design and build better games because of it.”
What Andersen discovered on her own journey, that her learning could be enhanced by connecting online with people whose interests were closely or tangentially related to hers, became the underlying foundation for her Social Media MOOC. And in a sense that’s what the MOOC experience itself is all about. Understanding the essence of connecting and how to make the most of what is now available to us can deeply enrich our intellectual and even emotional lives.
And, in what is becoming typical cMOOC style, Andersen encouraged students to freely take part in as much or as little of the course as they were able to. Students were asked to make their own social media goals and pursue them during the course.
Same course, different format
Andersen’s blog, Busynessgirl, reflects some of the diverse interests and pathways of learning she is involved with: futuring, data visualization, analytics, elearning and game development for education. Andersen was also a teacher at Muskegon Community College for ten years and built on these interests to teach a social media class on campus using the traditional format, complete with grades and traditional assessment requirements.
When she later taught the subject as a MOOC, Andersen couldn’t help but be struck by the difference in student engagement. Even though her on-campus course was an elective, she found that getting students to actively read, write and discuss social media was “like pulling teeth.” But in her social media MOOC this spring, she had a different experience. Conversations sprang forth with just some guiding questions.
“In the MOOC world,” she observes, “students are there because they want to be there, working for their own learning goals. MOOCs like this allow for creativity both from the teacher and the student, though it still feels like most MOOCs are still just replicating the traditional lecture classroom. When I designed the Social Media course, I tried to abandon the format of the traditional classroom and leverage the tools of the Internet instead. Online discussions, open online articles and videos and, of course, social media, became the central elements of the course, not the sideshow.”
Advice to MOOC students
Andersen’s advice to prospective MOOC students is to, first of all, set aside time for the course so that they aren’t over-committed.
“A lot of people register for these courses weeks in advance and neglect to add it to their calendars,” she says. “As soon as you sign up, remember to figure out how you will schedule it in to your life.”
She also notes that students do better if they have some clear objectives when they sign up for courses: “What do you want to get out of a course? If you think about that ahead of time and enter a course ready to fulfill those goals, it will make it easier to finish.”
The advantages of a MOOC
Andersen has degrees in Environmental Biology, Mathematics, Chemistry, Business Administration and Higher Education Leadership, and she notes that the MOOC format is ideal for people like herself who enjoy learning but have already invested large amounts of time and money in degree work. Students who already have degrees don’t want to spend any more on education.
Also, online education is popular because there are so many rapidly changing fields that learners want to keep up with. Her Social Media MOOC is a perfect example of a class that is in sync with the current needs and interests of working professionals, younger explorers and international students who are not be able to or interested in learning about it in a traditional classroom.
“There were quite a few people from industries looking for ways to enhance their web presence,” she says. “MOOCs are filling a learning need for college-educated adults who don’t want to stop learning but also don’t want to go back to college. Enrichment classes aren’t enough, and college classes are too much, both in terms of time requirements and financial commitment.
“MOOCs are showing us that there is a large population of adults who don’t want to check out of learning after college is over. They want to stay marketable in the job world — they want to keep learning and keep up. Colleges have not done a good job of servicing these needs. I think MOOCs are a great opportunity to engage college alumni in an ongoing relationship with the college for years past graduation.”
Where are MOOCs headed? Whether the motivation is college readiness or professional development, classes are filling to the brim. Says Andersen, “A year from now, we will have a much better idea of what the realistic possibilities are with MOOCs. Right now, we are just seeing what works and what doesn’t — for instructors and students alike.”