Sunday, January 26, 2014

What a MOOC, a Motivational Workshop and a Car Accident Taught Me

This morning there was a very bad traffic accident right outside my front door. Two large SUVs collided, from the look of things more than once. I heard a lengthy squealing of brakes followed by at least two explosive impacts. When I went to look, both of the SUVs were totaled, and one of them could only be entered through the back hatch. The only fortunate thing I could think of was that a fire station was located across the intersection and so help was on the scene within seconds.

I planned to write today about having signed up for a MOOC, and I still will, but what I want to discuss about it today has changed as a result of standing there watching people being carefully removed from a giant piece of  crumpled metal.

Sometimes things just seem to align and when "How to Change the World" came filtering through my Twitter Feed last week, I thought: "Perfect!" I have been writing about issues surrounding online education and MOOCs recently, not just in this blog, but in other venues including my column in ACM Inroads Magazine. There are such heated opinions in the computing community, yet how many of us have experienced a MOOC first hand? Not only that, this topic was perfect for me. Considering it is being taught by someone who is not only a faculty, but the President of Wesleyan University (Michael Roth), I figured this class was likely to be taken seriously.

As if that wasn't enough unexpected opportunity for the week, I was offered complimentary admission to one of those motivational workshops about figuring out how to ...well I wasn't sure exactly. That's why I said "one of those..." because I am fairly cynical about anyone  suggesting they have "the answer" to - whatever. But, I confess that I was just a bit curious, and it was in my backyard, so what the heck. Two days out of my life to investigate first hand what one of these things was all about. I believe deeply in holding onto a spirit of curiosity and inquisitiveness. Here was an opportunity to walk the talk.

Perhaps because I didn't read the syllabus carefully or perhaps I was tired by the time I got to it each night, or perhaps because the website wasn't as intuitive as it could have been, I went straight for the "How to Change the World" readings before listening to the lectures. As a result, it was a bit of a slog but after I moved on to the video lectures I realized that the readings were pretty darned good - provocative even. The video lectures were not lightweight either, sometimes sucking me in and sometimes glazing my eyes over. Once in a while I found myself wondering what could have been done differently?

I am going to suspend judgement on that until I have gone through a lot more of the course because I want to see what happens after we get past the historical/philosophical context setting that Week 1 was all about. Michael Roth is pretty darned interesting to listen to (imo) and he is clearly excited about this topic. It isn't something he usually teaches. I had a good time watching his enthusiastic facial expressions.

I signed this small-print page-long media release form for the motivational workshop, which means that my face and voice could very well be sprayed all over the internet in ways I have no control over, but the alternative was to sit in the back in the "media free" zone and never engage in conversation (everything, I mean everything, was recorded). So I signed the thing and sat in the second row. After all, what was the point of checking it out if I hid the whole time? So I'll just cross my fingers and hope that I don't someday find myself taken out of context online for someone else's marketing purposes. We often tell our students how important it is to stretch outside their comfort zones and I want to walk my talk.

For the sake of the privacy and confidentiality of everyone else in that workshop who agreed to go outside their comfort zone, I am not going to get too specific about what we said and did for two days as we explored this concept of finding out what we were meant to do in life (yeah, I know, it sounds over the top, but bear with me). However, one of the walk away messages I got from two exhausting days of intellectual and emotional mind stretching was that it is really important for anyone who wants to make a difference in the world to get off their butt and do something about it. And to not get pulled down by all the challenges.

One of the ways I got this message was in a side conversation I had with another workshop participant. It was near the end of the second day and I was tired. Darned tired. A woman came up to me and said she had two girls who had taken part in activities and wanted to know what to do next. I found myself starting to explain all the challenges that face getting more students, especially girls, into the computing pipeline. After a few minutes she looked at me in dismay and said that I made it sound so hard that she was discouraged and just wanted to give up on the whole thing.

I could have kicked myself around the room 3 times. I was so annoyed at myself. This was exactly what I didn't want to put out there as the message to people who had been bitten by the coding bug. I realized that it was partly being exhausted and partly because sometimes we get so wrapped up in talking with our peers about the problems that we can momentarily lose site of the big picture. Which is exciting.

I finished the Week 1 lectures from "How to Change the World" last night. I'm pondering the first assignment which is due tomorrow along with the 100 zillion other things I have on my plate today. Sheesh - and it is Sunday no less.

This morning there was a terrible car accident outside my front door. I got the message: there is no time to waste. You never know when you might die. You can't always assume you have time to get to the truly important things later - or to figure out for yourself what those truly important things are. You need to get out there, learn what you need to learn, talk to all kinds of people and take part in activities outside your comfort zone. You want to make the world a better place? Get out there and start now.

No comments:

Post a Comment