Mathematics Liberation and MOOCs

#jiscwebinar What Is A MOOC? @dkernohan @mwell...

What Is A MOOC? (credit: giulia.forsythe)

I decided to take a MOOC this week, a week-long massively open online course, this one about MOOCs themselves. I’m interested in the phenomena of MOOCs and its potential for liberation, and I’m also frankly unwilling to commit to a longer course, since this semester will be intense. I will be teaching a course on Liberation Math this semester, and in a format that might seem to be the opposite of a MOOC, being small and intimate with about 12 students. But we will be engaging with all of our work online, right here, as well as in the classroom, and I am planning to use this platform and others to get my students to engage with the big wide world. So could my course someday become a MOOC?

What I love about the idea of MOOCs is the emphasis on participant pedagogy. If the MOOC gives us all the power to be teachers, and allows us to learn from each other, then I see the great potential for people claiming power over their own learning and knowledge through MOOCs. Can people use MOOCs to disrupt education and break the monopoly that teachers and professors have over the distribution of knowledge, particularly in mathematics, which is so heteronomous?

At the moment, my concern about the MOOC format in the context I’m interested in — liberatory mathematics — is that engaging in a course with hundreds or thousands of other people is overwhelming and intimidating. I work with people who feel profound shame around math, whose voice is frozen. How can I help such people to start any class, let alone an overwhelming MOOC? In my in-person classes, I start by focusing on relationships, so that I can connect with students and have them connect with each other, but even that seems overwhelming in a MOOC. How do I help people find the courage to start? Can they find that courage on a large scale? Are MOOCs accessible enough to do what I really want to do — change the way the world interacts with mathematics?

In my first day in a MOOC, I’ve already felt overwhelmed, and wondered if there is really space for me here. I’ve already felt invisible. However, I’ve also had conversations, and considered the work of others, and I’m writing this blog post and getting my thoughts out there. In one of the course readings for yesterday, Bonnie Stewart said “For me personally, the value of MOOCs has been primarily in belonging: in finding ways to connect and learn and share within otherwise too-broad networks.” I love this notion, and I would like to create a space for students to belong, and to find ways to connect and share. It is exciting that some people are able to find that connection and space within a MOOC. I’m waiting to see if a MOOC can provide that space for me.

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