Chapter 1. An invitation and a departure
The journey begins
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17 January 2013
If the invitation had arrived in the regular mail, it would have been embossed on heavy, high quality, cream paper in an envelope, addressed in a perfect, copperplate hand, making a satisfying, ‘thwup’ as it landed on the doormat. It might even have contained a stamped, addressed envelope and reply card to minimise my trouble and to encourage me to respond. There was, however, no satisfying, ‘thwup’, no envelope, no high quality paper and no embossed card. The invitation arrived without ceremony, electronically, sans even a ‘ping’ to announce its appearance. I was reading it when a colleague bounced past: ‘What ho, old thing’ he hooted, ‘what’s that? An invitation to visit one of those MOOC thingies? Rum coves, those. I once had dealings with one; just got away by the skin of my teeth. If you’re going to accept, you’d better break out the explorer’s kit.’
Now, I like a challenge as much as the next e-learning professional, so I dragged the trunk down from the top of the wardrobe and filled it with necessities such as a pith helmet, khaki shirt and jodhpurs, stout leather walking boots, a butterfly net, a machete and a year’s supply of, ‘The Lady’. As I did so, a white rabbit ran past, clutching a pocket watch and gasping, ‘Oh my ears and whiskers, I’m late!’ And so was I. Heaving the trunk onto my shoulders, I galumphed after the rabbit, caught my toe on the edge of a sleeping jabberwock and found myself falling towards my laptop…
After a long descent, I landed with a bone-jangling, ‘SPLAT’. Looking around, I found myself in a mangrove swamp full of salty water (could this swamp be made of tears?) at the edge of a shimmering landscape over which hung a flashing, neon sign, ‘Welcome to OLDS-MOOC’.
The rabbit raced past me again. ‘I’m late, I’m late. I’ve missed the introduction. I won’t ever catch up’.
My trunk floated by. I grabbed it, donned the pith helmet, jodphurs, shirt and boots and took firm hold of the machete. The butterfly net could wait and it didn’t look as though I’d have time to settle down to read, ‘The Lady’ but at least I’d had the forethought to grab my tablet as I fell towards the laptop. Perhaps it would be useful.
Striding through the mangroves towards the desert at their edge (a strange landscape, this), the shimmering horizon started to become clearer. Or at least it shimmered less. The isle wasn’t so much full of noises as of words floating through the ether. Written words, spoken words, words in real time, words in deferred time, wordles, wall wishers, words, words, words. Now I understood why the mangroves were growing in a swamp of tears. I collapsed under the flashing sign. What had I done by accepting the invitation?
I gazed at the spinning vortex of words, reached out and grabbed a copy of the invitation I’d received, smoothing it out so I could examine its content more fully. What a boon to find that something as apparently ephemeral as an electronic missive remained uncrumpled and unstained, despite my inelegant arrival in OLDS-MOOC. The content was as easy to read, and as difficult to understand, as the day it was keyed in.
‘Now, pull yourself together woman,’ I encouraged myself. ‘Why did you come here? What did you want to get out of the experience?’
‘Four things immediately,’ I answered, ‘I’d like to find my way around OLDS-MOOC landscape, find out what I can do in any MOOC that’s different from what I can already do, identify a useful project to work on and, with luck, find some other MOOCizens, preferably each with their own pith helmet at least, to form an intrepid band of explorers’.
Already I could tell that my first goal was going to be difficult. The spinning, dancing, jumping, falling, feinting, leaping, galloping and, frankly, dizzying array of words had parted slightly, only to reveal an equally spinning, dancing, jumping, falling, feinting, leaping, galloping and, frankly, dizzying array of different paths ahead. Which should I follow? I tossed my pith helmet into the air, ‘Heads I try to identify a well-defined route that I want to explore further, tails I plough on regardless to see what happens if I don’t have any definite ideas in my head.’
The pith helmet rose into the whirling vortex. This may have been a mistake. Would it simply be sucked up into the maw of the MOOC? Would I ever see it again? It stopped rising. It hovered. The rabbit rushed through the periphery of my vision, hotly pursued by several baying videoconferencing demons. Time stopped. The pith helmet began to fall. Heads.
It had been a long day. I needed to rest before considering which to follow of the definite routes I could see emerging from the darkening landscape…
Screwing up my eyes against the dazzling light emerging from a warren of alleys that had appeared overnight, I saw the flashing sign now read, ‘Dreambazaar’. After giving myself a stern talking to in order to stiffen my sinews and motivate myself to pursue my goals, I picked up my machete, attached it to my belt, placed the pith helmet on my head and set off towards the noise and bustle of the alleys. A few minutes later, I staggered out into the desert again. So many things to see, so many artefacts to examine. Could I absorb all that information or would my mind simply snap? Would I be carried off to recover by the para-emedics who were loitering by each entrance to the bazaar, taking bets on which visitor would make it through the maze to the other side? How I wished I’d brought my copies of, ‘The Lady’ with me. There’s nothing so good at putting things in focus as reading an article about how to make the perfect cup of tea, what? Indeed, just thinking about such an article refreshed me and, after a few false starts, I evaded the para-emedics and made it through the maze, leaving my own artefact behind me.
Having visited the bazaar, it was clear that there were other inhabitants of and visitors to OLDS-MOOC. I’d seen the evidence. Now all I needed to do was to find my intrepid band so that we could explore together and maybe even add something to the landscape as we moved towards the mountains of OLDS.
But how to find those dear companions? An electronic missive floated towards me. It was a summary of my journey so far and included details of where to go next. I’d noticed some of these missives earlier, but there were so many of them that I’d had to dodge them as they fell – the butterfly net would have been useful, after all. Reading on, I realised that I could return to the bazaar and leave a note expressing my interest in certain artefacts, waiting for the merchant to contact me. I could also make use of my tablet to create a request for chums, place the request in an electronic bottle called a ‘Google group thread’ and throw that into the ether to see whether anything came back. Neither option was tremendously attractive; after all, it was unlikely I’d know any of the respondents and I had always heeded my parents’ advice not to talk to strangers.
Feeling a sharp pain in my chest, I put my hand into my shirt pocket, wondering about the lump that had suddenly appeared there. Withdrawing my hand, I found I was holding a computer key marked, ‘Panic button’. Instructions floated in the air around it; ‘If at any point you feel uncomfortable or threatened, if you find a message that you deem unsuitable, press this button to report it.’ The button wheezed, shuddered and turned itself into an electronic approximation of a safety net which I folded up and put it inside my pith helmet for safe keeping before I ventured back into the bazaar to leave some expressions of interest for different merchants. I re-examined my own sales booth and found some notes there from other adventurers. I left the bazaar, sat down on the edge of the OLDS-MOOC foothills, got out my tablet and wrote a short message asking if anyone would like to join a team leaving for my final destination. I put the message in the electronic bottle and threw it into the briny ether. Then I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more, ignoring the incessant tweeting from the e-birds hovering in the fog beginning to surround the bazaar.
Those jolly hockeysticks days at school slipped into my mind. Cold autumn days, gym skirts, waiting to be picked for a team. The shame of not being chosen. The bullying. The scorn. Could it all be about to happen again?
Perhaps I should set up a camp for those who might want to join. Yes, that would be my next move. A cosy camp with good food and good company; a resting place before we ventured deeper into the jungle at the base of the mountains. But would anyone travel with me?
Only slightly reassured, I prepared to set up that cosy camp realising that I'd missed a 'convergence' of MOOCizens while battling the lag beasts surrounding OLDS-MOOC.That must have been why the videoconferencing demons were pursuing the white rabbit; missing the event was no excuse. I'd simply have to find time on the journey to access the recordings and hope that they were engaging enough to distract me from that article in 'The Lady' about.how to persuade Cook to shop more frugally.
There would doubtless be more hidden obstacles to overcome and more fearsome monsters to slay before finally arriving at the mountains of OLDS where the treasure was supposed to be located according to the map that floated to the ground in front of me. Or was it? The map’s outline shifted as I reached out for it, then the map folded in on itself and disappeared in a spark of electronic implosion. An electronic howl sounded in the gathering dusk.
The adventure continues…