My other hero was Olympic mountain bike racer Andreas Hestler, who had dominated the provincial and national mountain bike circuit in the mid 1990’s and who had represented Canada at the Atlanta Olympic Games. I had been a huge fan of Hestler’s aggresive riding style and unrelenting work ethic. Pictures of both Trevor and Andreas sat above my University dorm desk, to remind me to always dig deep and work hard. Through mountain bike racing and common friends I had the pleasure of meeting Andreas, and four years ago as a Helly Hansen sponsored athlete I had the opportunity to spend a week riding with him in the Andes, pioneering new mountain bike routes and trails. Again the person exceeded the expectations.
Signing up for the Online Learning and Teaching Diploma program at VIU last year, I have plunged myself headfirst into the deep end of the pool that is online learning. Through our coursework the name Stephen Downes was quickly appreciated as an expert in the field. Respecting and citing his writings aside, my first strong impression of Stephen came during an assignment in OLTD 501 where we were asked to pose questions on his website. Unbelievably, we received elaborate and insightful responses to our questions a few days later. I think even our instructor was surprised. If I can remember correctly, I asked a question about how school districts and neighbourhood schools would blend with the emerging proliferation of online learning. Although Downes full answer was elaborate and detailed, he started with, “Not well.” I was so impressed, not just by the fact that he took the time to respond, but also by his honest no punches style. Registering with his daily email OLDAILY, I have followed Stephen’s work since September. I am impressed and I suppose Downes is my academic hero. This was further entrenched by having the amazing opportunity to take part in the v-class that he guest hosted this past Saturday.
Downes began the class by involving us in building definitions for the term “Open Resources” and deconstructing the definition of a MOOC, by examining the terms massive, open, online and course independently. Building from our contributions to the whiteboard, he would share his insight and add other sources of information. I was especially impressed with the UNESCO definition for open resources that he shared with us: - “Open Education Resources are teaching, learning, or research materials that are in the public domain or released with an intellectual property license that allows for free use, adaptation, and distribution.” UNESCO. As an intellectual with a rich background in research, I was pleasantly surprised by his natural teaching style. Starting with such a seemingly simplistic exercise of deconstructing key terms, we were able to engage in more specific and complex aspects of online learning. The discussion on equality of access being an example of this. From my notes I was able to put the following synopsis of a MOOC together:
- Defined by design, not numbers enrolled,
- The minimum is 150 people. Dunbar’s number http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number
- A course that’s built like a network, not a theater.
- An environment where people interact with each other on a one to one basis.
- Isn’t just about access, it’s about communicating within a community.
- A big part of openness relates to openness of objective - adapting the course to your own learning needs.
- a phenomenon called wrapped MOOCS - classroom activities wrapped around the online activities.
- Multiple acess points
- Allows you to form associations that you otherwise wouldn’t
- A community with boundaries
- A course is over and above just the activities found within it.
The session ended with a look to the future. As I often try to relate my learning to my present situation I was left pondering the question, HOW CAN WE GET HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS TO ENGAGE IN EXTRACURRICULAR LEARNING? Downes suggested that if younger learners are to be engaged with MOOCs that the subject be chosen carefully. In my own experiences with introducing students to online learning in language I tend to agree, as initial impressions and experiences are so strong, the potential to turn students off of online learning should certainly be a concern. Our hour and half with Stephen passed as if it were five minutes and I was left inspired and recharged.
So I’m three for three. Having been blessed to meet, ride and learn from three of my heroes, and in all cases, having them live up to and surpass all expectations.
Thanks for reading.