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Reflecting to Reflect: Jeff Waistell: Sustainability MOOC

An outline theoretical framework to guide reflection

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Jeff Waistell
1 March 2013

Personal Approaches to Education for a Sustainable Future within A MOOC

Jeff Waistell, Oxford Brookes University Business School 

Abundant, free, quality learning resources challenge the author’s pedagogical role as a conveyor of knowledge, while the pace of technology and knowledge development accentuates his role as a designer of experiences that enable effective learning (, 2012). This shift is explored within the context of the Open Learning Design Studio’s (OLDS) current, free and open nine-week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) ‘Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum’. 

The core MOOC components of self-organization, emergence, connectedness, openness, complexity, and resultant chaos, are transforming higher education (deWaard et al., 2011). Their ‘disruptive innovation’ has a paradigm-shifting potential: being free and open-networked, with distributed participants and open admissions, utilising interactive technology and automated assessment, led by world-renowned instructors and drawing from dispersed course materials, they are able to attract truly massive student numbers (DiSalvio, 2012). MOOCs’ online discussions are influenced by new factors resulting from their volatile and voluntary participation structure (Koutropoulos et al., 2012) and learners can now use technologies to manage their own knowledge and learning networks (Fini, 2009). Within MOOCs, actors, learning outcomes and systems co-evolve: emerging technologies influence learning design and transform the roles of both learners and lecturers, who develop networked learning experiences and actively create resources, so that pedagogy is based upon nurturing connections, communities, collaborations, resource exchanges, and harnessing of information flows (Kop, et al., 2011).

The OLDS MOOC on sustainability foregrounds the author’s learning dimensions in a personal critical reflection. Within his own MOOC, the author identifies a learning design challenge – education for a sustainable future – exploring it in order to understand its context and driving forces, generating and implementing solutions, and reflecting on processes and outputs. Drawing on a range of articles, the author translates the notion of global citizenship into online discourse practices, developing an understanding of the emergent process of nurturing his identity as a ‘global citizen’ and articulating his approaches to education for a sustainable future. The MOOC focuses on his use of language (particularly metaphor) (Koutropoulos et al., 2012).

Massive open online courses are also known as connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs), being based upon connectivist principles (“autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity”) in the context of a cycle of activities (“aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward” both learning and its resources) (Rodriguez, 2012, p.13). Connectivism calls for a reflection on learners’ interactions and development within complex, diverse, and distributed environments, producing a tensive relationship between connectivity and individual perspectives (Tschofen and Mackness, 2012). The author develops insight into his individual experience within the context of connective environments and explores the meanings of “autonomy, connectedness, diversity, and openness”, principles that can embrace individual diversities within connective environments (Tschofen and Mackness, 2012, p.124). Connectivism is critiqued as lacking in rigor and so different theories are explored to evaluate the MOOC experience (Bell, 2011).


 Bell, F. 2011, "Connectivism: Its Place in Theory-Informed Research and Innovation in Technology-Enabled Learning", International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 98-118.

deWaard, I., Abajian, S., Gallagher, M.S., Hogue, R., Keskin, N., Koutropoulos, A. & Rodriguez, O.C. 2011, "Using mLearning and MOOCs to Understand Chaos, Emergence, and Complexity in Education", International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 12, no. 7, pp. 94-115.

DiSalvio, P. 2012, Pardon the Disruption ... Innovation Changes How We Think about Higher Education, New England Board of Higher Education. 45 Temple Place, Boston, MA02111.

Fini, A. 2009, "The Technological Dimension of a Massive Open Online Course: The Case of the CCK08 Course Tools", International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 10, no. 5, pp. 26-26. (2012) Open Learning Design Studio (OLDS), Massive Open Online Course ‘Learning Design for a 21st Century Curriculum’, accessed 18.01.13.

Kop, R., Fournier, H. & Mak, J.S.F. 2011, "A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings? Participant Support on Massive Open Online Courses", International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 12, no. 7, pp. 74-93.

Koutropoulos, A., Gallagher, M.S., Abajian, S.C., de Waard, I., Hogue, R.J., Keskin, N.O. & Rodriguez, O.C. 2012, "Emotive Vocabulary in MOOCs: Context & Participant Retention", European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, no. 1, pp. 23-23.

Rodriguez, O.C. 2012, "MOOCs and the AI-Stanford Like Courses: Two Successful and Distinct Course Formats for Massive Open Online Courses", European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, pp. 13-13.

Tschofen, C. & Mackness, J. 2012, "Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience", International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 124-143.

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Yishay Mor
6:03pm 2 March 2013

Hi Jeff,

Very nicely written - but not a narrative. What we're looking for is your own personal journey: how did you come to this idea, where did you come to if from, and what have you done so far to try and realise it?


Diana Laurilllard
7:44pm 7 March 2013

Jeff is your argument that the cMOOC will provide a sustainable future for education? Your narrative makes that argument, I think, but does it work for all forms of education?

Clearly it can work for the kind of professional community that has been active within this MOOC, and I've been impressed by the way people have engaged enthusiastically and critically with the activities. But now translate this style to undergraduate, or masters level education - does it still work? Such communities can be similarly enthusiastic and collaborative, but they are also likely to need much more guidance, orchestration, support and feedback from tutors than the kind of experienced peers that we encounter on this kind of cMOOC.

Here's a strong statement: cMOOCs are great for informal learning and for professional development, but a more complex support model is needed for pre-professional formal education.

What do you think? it's a more nuanced view than 'for education' as a whole.

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