I’ve been reading the news, just like everyone else. Some of us are really scared that we’re not going to have jobs, soon, owing to MOOCs and the “privatization of education.” Well, as far as I’ve observed, the “private” has always been a big part of education, especially the part that seems to benefit its constituents most. Out of my roughly 21 years of formal education, only four years have come from private education. One of those schools was far more superior than the other. I paid dearly for one; the other paid me. In both instances, I walked away with a degree. The more we do that for our students, the better. Instead of sitting around worrying about Phoenix University taking our students, I say now’s the time to up the ante on our classroom pedagogy—make today count; it’s the only way to MOOC-proof your classroom.
Engage your students. One of the big differences between online education and a traditional classroom is the people in the room. Where else can you get a police cadet sitting next to a nurse and a fashion designer? Only in a community college classroom, that’s where. It’s time for us to capitalize on that dynamic. Student voices need to be heard—regularly. bell hooks talks about teaching to transgress. When we examine this concept, we can see that it’s possible to commit transgressions against ourselves, against the artificial barriers we’ve erected within ourselves, such as the internalized beliefs we carry about who is capable of learning what material, and in what ways. We need to punch through those boundaries into uncharted territories until we are all thinking critically about what we’re doing in our classrooms every single day and how we could do it better. Our students need to get woken up from their morning stupor not by coffee but by the stimulating atmosphere in the room, and they need to love walking into your morning, afternoon or evening classes because of what’s happening in that physical space. Anything less and you’re plumb MOOCed.
It’s vital to get derailed regularly. This could be an ingenious way to employ the concept of “connectivism” (acquiring information from a network) that MOOCs capitalize on so well. We all understand how important it is to have a lesson plan. I usually know what needs to happen each week and each day. When I first started teaching, I’d count every minute of each lesson and cram it in. That meant that even one student question could interrupt my lesson plan. To a certain extent, that still happens. What has changed is that I’m now willing to let my students take charge when there is momentum. I allow an interesting discussion to derail my plan or students want to understand how to punctuate a quote instead of selecting one: Give in periodically! Switch gears; let students explain to each other while you observe. Those sparks of excitement and student-driven learning are what they will remember most. Even though you will sometimes need to say, “Let’s not today,” your students will know that if they really want it, they will win. Suddenly, you’ve entered into a collaborative partnership with your students in which they are agents of their learning, and they feel emboldened to ask, assert and interrupt. No MOOC can do that.
Teach your passion. Doing what I love gives me juice in the classroom. I literally catch fire when I’m talking about books, ideas and writing. Even a grammar lesson gets me to my loud-Latina place. If I didn’t sleep the night before or am having a hard day, I can forget about my own stuff when we start discussing quote interpretation or when to cite. We all know fire is catching. If you love what you do, so will they. So even if they don’t end up head over heels for coordinators and appositives, they’ll at least remember that crazy glint in your eye when you talked about punctuating sentences. Take your heart into the classroom with you; it won’t let you down.
It’s critical to self-evaluate often. Self-evaluation means you need feedback. When my all of my students’ eyes glaze over, I know it’s time to change my strategy. If only one is nodding out, I know I need to talk to her after class. We also need to be willing to listen to student criticism. This doesn’t mean we need to internalize everything we hear or even try to modify our practices every time we get some feedback, but we should be able to listen to how we can be more effective educators, better partners in the learning process. If three students give me the same feedback, I know it’s time to adapt and adjust, not because I’m forced into it, but because I want to be a collaborator in the education process. I may hold a Master’s degree in English, but I’m not perfect.
If all else fails, start designing your online class, now. What do you have to lose? If MOOCs are the future of education, shouldn’t we at least try not to get left behind? I believe the good practices we employ in our classrooms today, will cross over into the online frontier.