Call for Ideas: Envisioning Postcolonial MOOCs #pocomooc

By Maha Bali and Shyam Sharma, edcontexts co-founders and facilitators

Can we safely say that xMOOCs, for the most part, reproduce privilege? The privileged elite universities that can afford to create them, the privileged star professors who have the resources to build them, the privileged mostly Western point of view they perpetuate, and the privileged learners who can access them?

But can we also say we see a glimmer of hope in initiatives such as connectivist MOOCs that decenter authority (e.g. #rhihzo14, #rhizo15), MOOCs from non-Western origins (e.g. the Arab Edraak) and people who are able to challenge the xMOOC paradigm even while offering their MOOCs on places like Coursera (the Universiry of Edinburgh people who do #edcmooc and Jesse Stommel et al who did #moocspeare and Cathy Davidson who did #FutureEd)?

We (Maha and Shyam) are writing a book chapter with the title “Envisioning the Postcolonial MOOC” and we would like to solicit ideas from people everywhere on what that might entail. We do so because while we have our own ideas, part of our vision involves diversity and inclusivity. We also didn’t do a formal research study because we hope you are willing to make your responses open and attributable to you.

How do YOU envision a postcolonial* MOOC?
[* we understand postcolonial here broadly to mean anything that challenges the legacy of colonialism/imperialism, or even neocolonialism)

Let us know in the comments here, or tweet to #pocoMOOC or write a brief blogpost and link it in the comments here or on Twitter using #PocoMOOC. We will curate on and hopefully find a way to use these ideas in our book chapter, attributing you appropriately.

Unfortunately we are only giving you one week (because we don’t have much more time) – even a one-line contribution can be valuable. So what do you think? You have until August 18. Go 🙂

Thanks for taking the time!

Image “Magical Town of Tepotzlan Mexico-16″
by Christopher William Atach, retrieved from Flickr under CC-BY-SA license

24 thoughts on “Call for Ideas: Envisioning Postcolonial MOOCs #pocomooc

  1. The Arab Edraak, I think, needs some attention in your chapter. The about page says “Edraak is a massive open online course (MOOC) platform that is an initiative of the Queen Rania Foundation (QRF).” And it delivers courses from the “best Arab professors.” So I don’t think the narrative here is that much different than in EdX or similar initiatives and we can argue that it is the production of the privileged in the Arab world. What do you think?

    1. Hi Suzan, i wrote a critique of Edraak just before it was launched and in it I wondered aloud if they would just again be privileging the most elite profs from the most elite universities… That was 1.5 years ago… So your point is well-taken and will be included in the chapter. Thank you. In practice, Edraak has been going on for some time now (nearing a year) and they have one thing i love – not all their MOOCs are affiliated to universities. Some things are just people successful in a field and Edraak helps them make a MOOC and some are career prep MOOCs that are much-needed in the region (things like writing CV, etc). But yes, there are lots of risks of reproducing privilege within the Arab world and also reproducing the bad pedagogy in many xMOOCs (though, again, some profs insist on using social media and keeping their courses open, for example).

  2. What a great effort. In many ways though the xMOOCs recreate privledge as well. The #rhizo15 experience was new to me but it had an almost cultish loyalty to Cormier. New privledge emerged.

    The same happened in #ccourses. It was so well attended because Ito, Rheingold et al. had star power.

    When I put together a course three people show up but here would be my ideas for post colonial:
    -multiple pathways
    -considering tyranny of time zones
    -users being able to shape modules.

    1. Interesting point you make about cultish loyalty in MOOCs that are supposed to have distributed expertise and rhizomatic relationships. I remember comparing Dave Cormier to the Wizard of Oz because he commanded such power from a largely invisible platform. He didn’t ask for this cult to form around him; he didn’t cultivate it. Is that privilege or something entirely different? Isn’t privilege normally orchestrated from the top down? And yet here people are creating it by honouring the cultish image. Is a crowdsourced position of power an indication that we must have a leader to worship? There was even a conferring of privileged position to members of the group who stood out in generosity, expertise and caring for others in the group, especially newbies. I’m not sure if post-colonial MOOCs can be completely without a centre or centres but still, the alternative to traditional hierarchical groups is significant.

      For me the discovery of connected MOOCs has been the find of my life, and I’ve revelled in the company and antics of cMOOCers, supported by those with more experience, and fascinated by the grouping, regrouping and group clusters. Without a designated leader or strict adherance to rules or procedures, creativity, playfulness and innovation flourished.

      1. Thanks for this nuanced view Tania And I agree. It is difficult to think about this kind of crowdsourced cultishness. I have a piece i want to write and don’t know where to start but the thrust of it is that ppl whose personalities attract others in this way? I think it takes work and care and being someone willing to take time for others and i don’t think they are getting undeserved love, i think they do work to deserve this, somehow

        1. Having just returned from a conference where presenters on MOOCs understood massive, online and course, but not open, and where the motivation to produce and distribute the courses was part of an overall branding effort to promote elite institutions, your call for ideas is timely and thought-provoking. Certainly, more to follow!

          1. Thank you Andy! Looking forward to hear from you again. And it’s sad that now in the post-hype phase of MOOCs there are still discourses in entire conferences that are as you described.

        2. I agree, Maha, and in this way it’s not a stardom but a fandom which results from being respected/loved for being generous/creative. From the outside it might be seen as a privilege but it’s not the fault of the person being revered. If anything, the people who command the most respect in the MOOCs I’ve been involved with are humble and make sure everyone else is okay and supported.

  3. As I tweeted, isn’t the internet a means of colonisation? Enabling diverse groups and individuals ‘a voice’ ‘online’ is that not bait? Is a mooc not imperialism?

  4. Something to consider — at a certain scale, privilege and stardom is going to dominate. I think the future, if we want it, is in soft-forking groups of 8-12 people who can still pull material, insight, etc from the hive.

    Shirky’s early writing on groups is brilliant, and the thing he says time and time again is as groups grow you have to find a way to protect them from scale. I think the weird element of xMOOCs is they often don’t try to do that.

    Shirky points to the old LiveJournal groups as an alternative to scale. Your group is on average 8 people or so, but each person is in multiple groups, so the nodes are still tightly connected. I’m interested in re-exploring that model, which is why we added rosters in fedwiki. Small groups, massively connected, seems to me a more exciting way to go.

    1. Thanks Mike, and this fits into both the current convo w Kate and Martin re personality/stardom aaand the old good practice of small numbers in online learning – with your interesting angle on how to scale/connect while protecting the small group. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  5. Many of the reasons why I do not support MOOCS would be addressed in a #pocoMOOC, but some would linger. Focusing my comments on the humanities, I would avoid the “talking-at” phenomenon of the video lecture, and instead consider a modified version of the GCAS model, gathering around in synchronous clusters for seminar style discussions across the globe. The model is not inherently postcolonial (nothing fits in the post anymore), since telecommunications itself is tied to neocolonial interests, at least until further notice. But hey. Also, what you teach should inform how you teachit, i.e. the design of the #pocomooc. I personally don’t think you can be anti-colonial and promote universal forms of teaching under the current dispensation.

    Hope my .02 are helpful. Wish you guys all the best & look forward to your work!

    1. Thanks Alex! And i agree with most of what u said – i still think we can imagine opportunities that are not universal at all – and we aren’t looking for ONE model (hence this call – otherwise it would just be what Shyam and I thought and that’s just another small colonialism)

  6. Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to a worthy conversation. My direct experience with MOOCs in any form is still nil, so I will be cautious in my thinking. One topic that I think could feature as part of any such course is a discussion dedicated to the life of the data created within the course. Chat logs, presentations, blog posts, etc. – whatever means students and instructors use present enormous amounts of data. To whom does this data belong at various stages of the course? Who has access to the data who is not a member of the course? how might this data be used/mined/analyzed by course members or even 3rd parties and to what ends?
    My reasoning is that participant awareness can be cultivated to apply a critical lens not only to the thematic content but also the process and products of the course. This can have a democratizing and empowering effect when participants recognize and discuss the value of their data for others, for sponsoring institutions and ultimately for corporations who likely profit in the short and long term. Those are my thoughts. Hopefully clear enough to be of some use. Good luck with your project!

  7. Hi Maha,
    In my quirky irritating fashion, I want to say why MOOCs? x- or c-
    So if you were thinking about (and I don’t know if you are) how people from different hemispheres wanted to work together in an educational context, then it’s very difficult to find examples that don’t have some sort of colonial connotations. In my pragmatic approach, it seems to me that projects that exploit differences in ‘knowledge’ whilst respecting context and culture are likely to be preferable to ones that based on financial gain. In that spirit I offer one that I came across through a personal connection from a project 10 years ago, namely Dick Heller who is a lovely, lovely man . The project is and I can’t speak for its current arrangements but this approach seems more permeable, flexible and less costly than the MOOC provider approach. Some cMOOC approaches might be interesting but only as an add-on I feel.

    1. Why MoocS is really coz we were invited t write a book chapter on MOOCs with a future vision. We may conclude that the postcolonial critique of MOOCs means whatever we recommend will no longer look like a MOOC at all but take advantage of affordances of openness to take ab anticolonial stance. It might end up being a whole new thing

    2. Thanks for the link. And yes lots of cross-cultural things end up having colonial/power issues and i have written about and critiqued my experience w them even tho i love them. Looking forward to following that link

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