Designing, Organizing, Facilitating and Commemorating Our First MOOC

Recently my husband and I finished up the live portion of our first MOOC on the WizIQ  social media teaching and learning platform. We are both research psychologists with doctorates from the University of Edinburgh, and for over thirty years, we have been interested in a marginal field, scientific parapsychology. While we have both done other types of research (him mostly historical, me experimental), our work together has focused on questionnaire-based studies of reports of seemingly psychic experiences, relating them to various states/traits such as dissociation, depersonalization, absorption, and satisfaction with life. We have also examined the relationship of reporting psychic experiences with reporting other experiences such as lucid dreams, disturbing dreams, vivid dreams, and mystical experiences. We have published a number of papers together and separately (he many times more than me), one example being a five-study examination of the psychological characteristics and reported experiences of individuals who believe they see auras. The paper was published in the Australian Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.

Our interest does not derive from any religious beliefs or spiritual tradition. Rather, because these experiences are embodied in ancient myths and legends, can be found in the canonical texts of many civilizations and religions, and are still reported today, we believe they deserve research. Some folks say all of these reports can be explained by errors in sensory and perceptual processing, cognitive, intellectual or educational deficits, or the heavy weight of social pressure (some surely may be explained this way). Others of us think that the persistence of these reports in general and the hard-to-explain veridical elements of some of them in particular cry out for more detailed understanding. The research methodology, knowledge base, and theoretical stances of a variety of academic and scientific disciplines, not the least of which is psychology, have been and continue to be profitably brought to bear on the questions these experiences raise.

Created by the artist Radiant Skies and purchased from as the logo for the WizIQ course, "Parapsychology and Anomalistic Psychology: Research and Education," offered on the social medial teaching and learning platform from January 5th through February 14th, 2015

Created by the artist Radiant Skies and purchased from as the logo for the free, open, online course, “Parapsychology and Anomalistic Psychology: Research and Education,” offered on the social medial teaching and learning platform from January 5th through February 14th, 2015

But people who are seriously interested in scientific parapsychology, psychical research, anomalistic psychology, or the physics-based examinations of such phenomena (think retrocausality), are not many. On the other hand, the folks who believe nobody in their right mind should be concerned with (the weak position) or even allowed to pursue this type of research (the strong position) are legion.

The animosity towards a serious scientific and academic enterprise that centers on seemingly psychic experience has made it impossible for many people to do anything other than steer clear of the topic given the career costs. Perhaps more importantly for newcomers who are willing to risk it, the complex social context in which we all live has also made it near impossible to find opportunities to learn from the scientists and academics who are actually studying the phenomena.

Carlos and I have, for a long time, very much wanted to set up an situation in which a large group of people would have this opportunity. And we wanted to do this not just to open up a world of research possibilities to young scientists, but to allow those who are just plain interested to have a serious forum for their questions and insights.

We wanted to take advantage of the MOOC movement (massively open online courses) for this endeavor, and ended up designing, organizing, facilitating and otherwise enjoying a six-week course with 23 guest speakers and 858 registrants (as of this morning, includes us, the speakers and the learners). There were even a few spin-offs, that is, a few new online courses set up by some of the members of our course on the WizIQ platform. These are devoted to study group activities and/or sharing experiences. And in our core course, there are still two or three new registrants signing on everyday because it is possible to go back and work through the lecture recordings, materials and discussions as a self-paced course from now until at least this time next year.

I have written a number of blog posts about the experience, was interviewed for a blog written by a colleague, and gave a presentation on the course in an online conference. My reflections have been put together for the folks who teach and learn on WizIQ (the recording of the presentation is available here and the blog for which I interviewed is available here), and for the followers of the blog that supports the parapsychology part of our teaching business. My husband’s blog on research, history and news from the field of scientific parapsychology featured his thoughts on the process.

A photo of our final session of the MOOC on a desktop and a device in a house in another hemisphere.

A photo of the final session of our MOOC being screened on the monitor of a desktop computer, and on a tablet, all on a desk a world away from our neck of the woods.

We learned a lot from the experience.

First, we discovered we loved having an international class. We were delighted when we hit the 20 registrant mark and then watched the class grow until it hit 850 on the day we broadcast the last live class of the MOOC. What was the most exciting was that 31% of the countries on the planet contributed at least one learner to our group, that while our country (USA) counted for about 370 registrants, India contributed over 100, Finland nearly a 100, and every continent was represented in the list. Getting our first registrant from Egypt, Zambia, Cypress, Malaysia, Indonesia, New Caledonia, Japan, China, Vietnam, Croatia and so on: all amazingly exciting.

Second, we were humbled by the number of people who were managing the class with English as a second language. My Spanish is pitiful at best; Carlos speaks and writes incredible English, but I know what it took him to get to that point. I remember editing his academic papers when we first met more than thirty years ago, and now I have so little to do when he hands over his papers for a last read through. It was constant effort and commitment on his part though, and a life immersed in English speaking countries as well. Our guest speakers were told to do their presentations as if they were lecturing to colleagues, so the talks were frequently high level and complex. As was the English. And occasional glitches in the audio quality complicated even the ability of English-speakers to follow the presentation. Then we had a number of folks who were themselves speakers of English as a second language and presented their talks with a French or Spanish accent. On top of that we had quite a lot of regional English and American accents as well. So the determination of the most active non-native English-speaking members of the class was awe-inspiring to say the least.

Third, we learned that there are many scientists and academics who are very interested in mentoring the next generation of researchers, and who are willing and able to provide their services for free. Our speakers did an enormously valuable and time-consuming job putting together their PowerPoints, making articles and links available, attending the presentations of other colleagues, contributing to the discussion forums provided by the WizIQ Coursefeed page, and participating in our WizIQ-based live discussion forums. That I did not manage to entice any of our guest speakers into the virtual world, Second Life, where we also had discussion forums, was a minor hiccup in their otherwise heroic effort. The take away for Carlos and I was never to underestimate the willingness of our colleagues to give of themselves by sharing their expertise. And boy, are we grateful.

The Second Life Discussion Group having a break in the Nature Park after a two hour session discussing the live presentations of the previous week

The Second Life Discussion Group having a break in the Greater Chilbo Nature Garden after a two hour session discussing the live presentations of the previous week. To visit the Nature Garden, create a free Second Life account, download the viewer and click on the following Second Life URL:

Finally, I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we didn’t see the workload coming. We knew we were setting up something huge and that it would require a lot of forethought and a lot of organization. We learned a number of lessons about what to do and what not to do next year when we host another MOOC on the field. Because neither of us have full-time jobs any more and are combining part-time teaching, writing and the development of our teaching and consulting business even now, we were both taking a leap of hope to even start the course. And we were worried about how we would continue to satisfy the consulting clients we did have while we were managing the MOOC.  (That’s something we need to improve next year.) Part of our fear of the workload was solved by the generosity of our main client, Lisette Coly, the President of the Parapsychology Foundation, who let us pile up unworked hours while working on the MOOC, never missing a payment for work that will be added to our regular hours in March and April rather than being done in January or February. In addition to that, she missed very few of the live classes, and took on the task of issuing Certificates of Completion for the most energetic of the course members. Without that financial support, it would have been a very difficult but still rewarding time for us — it is often the case that some things are just worth doing whether you are paid or not — but with her patience with us, and her support of the process, we were able to devote the extra hours the MOOC required.

We feel we accomplished our goals for the course. We had experiencers in the group and we learned a lot from them. We had gifted individuals who are taking part in research on the phenomena they are blessed (or cursed) with, and we learned a lot from them. We had speakers on the same topic who disagreed with each other; who critiqued and extended or reinterpreted the work of their colleagues who were also on the schedule, and the conversations that they engendered directly and indirectly provided added value to the learners. We discovered groups of people with similar interests we had never known before, and so did the other registrants. Seasoned researchers in the field were surprised at the quality of the questions and the number of people interested in the serious stuff. Younger researchers brought their new perspectives to the conversations and, we hope, will carry on these conversations as they go forward in their careers. It was an excellent experience for Carlos and I, and we hope for all the learners who took the journey with us as well.

Do I think any teacher faced with the opportunity of organizing a MOOC for their area of expertise should think seriously about tackling the task? Absolutely! Frequently people will say that if something is free nobody values it. In my experience that is just not true. People recognize the effort that goes into the opportunities with which they are presented, and many are grateful to take part. They repay the opportunity by watching, reading, talking to each other, forming new learning networks, and finding ways to pay it forward. Maybe we are not talking about every single registrant in a massively, open online course, but there are enough who engage and move forward, that it is all worth it.

And as for commemorating the experience, yes, we went there, because we wanted a couple of mugs for us and well, because, um, edupreneur …

We set up a store on CafePress to commemorate our experience and help support next year's MOOC.

We set up a store on CafePress to commemorate our experience and help support next year’s MOOC.

The link to the store is here and the link to cup is here.

Looking forward to next year!

Posted in My Online Courses | Leave a comment

The leaves are changing and I’m reflecting

Sometimes I find it really hard to think about blogging. My husband is a heck of a blogger who feels like the universe is totally out of order if more than four days go by without posting a blog. He knocks them out, very useful links to books, articles, interviews with authors, lots of quick info for the field of study in which we have worked most of our adult lives. I envy that energy, and while I vlog more than I blog, there’s always something distracting me as I finalize plans to do either. I almost always let many more than four days go by.

I think that’s why I like teaching. When you’re teaching, whether you’re teaching one student at a time, or a whole Moodle or WizIQ classroom full, or a one-day face-to-face seminar in a beautiful old library, there’s a schedule to it that has to be met. Distractions have to be ignored, other projects postponed. The mind focuses and the fingers fly over the keyboard, or the little grey cells light up all over your brain, and off you go, trying to ladder up from the basics to the top of the pile, from the simpler foundations to the more complex thoughts that occur as the fundamentals fill in and pile up.

When you’re blogging, if you really have a plan, then you can impose that internal time-table and keep to it. If you can toss out that blog on schedule, you’re golden. And being able to just “say it” — in a couple of words, a quick sentence. That’s a huge plus.

Sigh … that kind of thing is not so possible for me. I think and re-think. I read and re-read. I agonize over what I’ve included and what I’ve left out. I obsess over the placement of the commas. I delete whole paragraphs and then “undo” them back. I remember I was going to bake biscuits, or make peach and pecan bread, or watch the latest Vlogbrothers, go see that WizIQ lecture about retention in online courses, or head out to see what my friends and relatives on Pinterest are uploading. Scattershot. All over the place. But if it’s ADD I don’t want to be medicated out of it. I like to pretend it’s multitasking because sometimes it is, and sometimes I get stuff done.

Where I’ve been blogging mostly (although not as regularly as some) has been on the WizIQ Teach Blog. I love WizIQ, I have to confess. It has been my favorite webinar system since I started. A clean white interface, easily branded, tools that encourage interaction and communication, totally affordable (free accounts for students and teachers), and a customer service staff that blows every other customer service staff on the planet right out of the water.

WizIQ Blogs

It occurred to me this morning that to re-boot this blog and my commitment to it, I could make a list of what I’ve written for WizIQ. By listing the accomplishments that got past my anxiety, my comma-fixing, my grammatical reworking, my running off in thirty other directions while working on a blog, I might be able to get back to not only blogging for them, but also to blogging for me. It’s a plan anyhow.

So here goes:

May 7, 2013, Filling Up the Course Feed

May 22, 2013, 10 Ways in which Online Students are Being Engaged Right Now

June 7th, 2013, WizIQ Teachers Love Technology!

June 25th, 2013, 10 Virtual Classroom Tools that Connect You To Online Education

July 2nd, 2013, 5 Useful Tips for Good Time Management for Online Teachers

July 30th, 2013, Do Universities Think Online Education is the Future?

August 23rd, 2013, 12 Things You Should Never Do When You Teach Online

September 6th, 2013, 5 Ways to Market Your Online Courses

October 21st, 2013, What Do Online Teachers and Online Students Really Want?

November 14th, 2013. Learning from Veteran Teachers: Some Things Never Change

January 2nd, 2014, How to Search Better: Tips for Dealing with the Oceans of Information on the Internet

April 21st, 2014, The Ultimate Moodle and WizIQ Mash-up

April 23rd, 2014, 5 Must-Use Features of Moodle Every Online Teacher Should Know

June 21st, 2014, “To Be a Mentor You Must Care”: Maya Angelou, The Legacy of a Teacher

So, I’ve published 14 blogs on the WizIQ blog site, and I’m hoping to do some more, but that’s where I’ve been, that and on YouTube (I’ll do a blog about that here in the future).  While I filmed a few tutorials for the WizIQ blogs I wrote, and contributed a couple of pictures of teaching friends of mine, the amazing illustrations in my blogs on that site were chosen by Navleen Kaur, who has written some really wonderful blogs of her own for the WizIQ blog site as well.

So, see, I can get stuff done. And that means, I can get more stuff done, right?

So as the leaves change, and the 2014/2015 academic year in the US gains speed, I’m thinking about how to contribute a bit more to the conversation about what it means to teach in general, and what it means to teach online in particular. I’m still listening, still learning. And, of course, hoping to figure out how I can live up to that other blogger in the house. Wish me luck!

Posted in General statements | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

On Teaching from Your Past

It’s been a long time since I’ve written on this blog, so here I am.

This morning I was in the Cousera course run by Prof. Cathy Davidson from Duke University, History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education. I’m not taking the course to completion but rather lurking in the Coursera classroom and participating in a study group based on the course in Second Life. Today’s topic—the first video of Week 3—had to do with teaching as if we were still in 1992. I haven’t finished watching yet, but wanted to write a quick note about the thoughts that came to me as I was listening to the beginning of the video.

Cathy was making the point that education seems to be stuck in 1992. Why 1992? That was the year before the internet became public, back when some of us who were online were getting chastised by the fledgling (and now defunct) for engaging in “overuse” (as in “you’re talking to too many people”), filling up our phone bill with $3.00 an hour charges to connect to Bulletin Board Services and download clip art we didn’t actually need (which also filled up our maybe 40 meg hard drives), not to mention waiting endlessly for even the smallest download to finish up.

As I was listening I was thinking that as teachers we are, in some sense, immigrants to the land of the newest generation. We bring a layered and mostly unconscious historical culture to our teaching. We walk into the classroom with a multitude of images and feelings about education in both the near and distant past. Within us we are a mosaic made up of shards of our own experience and the stories about education we have heard from our teachers, parents, grandparents and others. Interspersed among those images are even more from art, books, television, movies, and the internet depicting teachers and learners from a multitude of centuries, cultures and countries.

I carry images of Mrs. Desmond from her active 2nd grade small town classroom of 1958,  Mr. Bisaha from his big city Intro Psych classroom of 1971, and Professor Morris in 1995 from the post-graduate consultations he held in his book-lined office at the University of Edinburgh, among many, many others. Buried deep beneath my surface memories are the powdered-wig-wearing, well-heeled tutor from a novel of the 17th century, Socrates in his long flowing robes with his hand in the air and his followers arrayed at his feet from a great work of art, the young and beautiful but oh-so-proper School Marm of many movies about the 19th-century American west, and that stern lady in a cotton dress and sturdy shoes who taught the Our Gang kids back in the 1930s. No matter what era of education is our own, we all carry bits and pieces of the history of education in our heads.

The classroom is a meeting of generations, in effect, and as students we shouldn’t be surprised that our teachers bring their own generation with them. That’s not a bad thing: We live in a multi-cultural, multi-generational world. It’s good for us to get experience with folks who are different than us, whose values were forged in a different context. Immersing ourselves in difference is how we find and appreciate our commonalities.

On the other hand, I suspect what I’m going to be learning today from Cathy Davidson is that we are all living within this technology-enriched modern milieu with the folks we teach and we need to adapt. As older people—whether we are fresh out of undergrad or grad school, or tottering on the edge of retirement or anywhere in between—we are immigrants in the present. Just like moving to a new town or a new country, we need to learn the ropes, understand the talk, and immerse ourselves in our new lives. The challenge is—for both teachers and learners—our new lives start fresh almost every day, with new technologies, new challenges, new needs.

Today’s culture requires a sea change from us: The emphasis in many quarters is on meaningful, immediate, self-constructed, creative, effective, connected learning. Teaching and learning is morphing into a life-long, ever alternating set of practices. That’s a tad scary for those of us from the everyone-in-a-row past; but it’s also energizing. I can listen to Cathy Davidson while I’m eating breakfast. I can sit in a virtual valley around a virtual campfire on the Tufts University campus in Second Life and chat away with fellow travelers in her MOOC from all over the world. I can learn art, history, literature and science from gaming, not to mention hand-eye coordination, scripting, coding, and virtual-world building skills. I can watch and re-watch a higher education lecture on science from a faculty member at the Autonomous National University in Mexico on Coursera until the experience embeds itself fully both in my understanding of science practice and my quest for fluency in Spanish.

Education today is the ancient Athenaeum, the one room school house in the rural backwaters of all our countries, and colleges and universities big and small, all with the walls blown off. We’re still together as a group of learners and yet now we can look around us and see not only into the distance but also into the future. Scary as hell. And liberating, enlightening, breath-taking.

Here’s me headed back to class.

Posted in Appreciating Technology in Education, The Future of Education, What makes a Good Teacher? | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Rafe Esquith and WizIQ Conversations with Incredible Teachers

I’ve been blogging for WizIQ on and off for a few months now. It’s a privilege. I don’t think I’ve ever in my life been around a group of people with more passion for education, with more expertise, and with more enthusiasm and heart. That’s saying a lot, because I have been blessed to have worked with a number of groups of people who are great people, giving of themselves, understanding, and full of fun. But this group — well, just amazing.

One of the bloggers on WizIQ who is also an evangelist for the system, and a Moodle trainer and master teacher of English as a Second Language (and just a master teacher of teaching), Dr. Nellie Deutsch, conducts occasional live webinars in which she interviews incredible teachers on their approach to their profession. In the past, she has interviewed Dr. Michael Wesch, an innovative anthropology professor who has focused on the impact of the internet on students’ lives, among many other things, and Dr. Sugata Mitra, whose “Hole in the Wall” experiment proved that children, left to their own devices, will build on their innate curiosity to teach themselves. I won’t be surprised if one day I hear that she’s got Sir Ken Robinson, an articulate and insightful advocate of creativity in education, to come round to WizIQ and talk.

This time, at 7pm Eastern on Thursday, September 5th, Dr. Nellie will be interviewing Rafe Esquith, an award-winning, highly successful elementary school teacher from Los Angeles. Her blog on Rafe, available now on the WizIQ blog site, highlights this incredible teacher in advance of Thursday night’s conversation. She includes a YouTube video of Esquith’s interview on Tavis Smiley’s very smart PBS cable show that gives you a character of Esquith’s approach to learning and the classroom. So many great teachers share his approach: creative and happy chaos that includes belief in the kids in the classroom, belief that they can all reach beyond themselves to learn more, and to develop life long skills to keep learning in the foreground of those activities that make them happy and successful.

Signing up for the conversation on WizIQ will mean that if you can’t make it to watch it in real time, you’ll be able to loop back to WizIQ and watch it later. Enjoy!

Posted in What makes a Good Teacher? | Leave a comment

The Joy of Learning from Other Teachers: Sylvia Guinan’s Blog on Online Teaching

I haven’t been around this blog much since the end of May. Partly this is because I have been blogging for my favorite online teaching site,, where I started out as a student of online teaching/presentation skills in 2009 and ended up a premium teacher. I fell in love with the site not only because of the Virtual Classroom and its onboard teaching tools — there’s also a social media toolbox that includes a Courseware page for an interactive syllabus, a Coursefeed page with threaded discussions, and easy student contact tools; not to mention the best customer service group I’ve ever run across — but also because of the welcoming community of teachers from all over the world who populate its pages with free open access courses, affordable courses, friendly MOOCs on great topics, and more recently a series of truly terrific blogs.

A full-featured webinar teaching and learning platform that connects teachers and learners from all over the world.

A full-featured webinar teaching and learning platform that connects teachers and learners from all over the world.

My online teaching mentor on WizIQ, Dr. Nellie Deutsch — now a friend and colleague — recommended me for a part-time job blogging with WizIQ not too long ago. I couldn’t be more grateful. Among the blogs I’ve written for WizIQ, my two favorite ones are the one on time management and the one on the Babson Survey Research Group/Pearson/Sloan Consortium report, Changing Course, which covers the last ten years of online education adoption by universities and colleges.

Nellie Deutsch

Dr. Nellie Deutsch

My all-time favorite WizIQ blog is one I didn’t write, though. Written by Sylvia Guinan, an ESL teacher from Ireland living with her husband and children in Greece, the blog is called “Ten Things You Should Unlearn Before Starting to Teach Online.”

Sylvia Guinan

Sylvia Guinan

Saying this is my favorite blog on WizIQ is saying a lot because all of the blogs are really good, whether written by WizIQ staff, or by the dozen or so online teachers who round out our group of bloggers. Everybody is articulate, passionate about teaching, learning and online education. The staff at WizIQ who edit and help illustrate the blogs are also creative and a joy to work with. But Sylvia’s blog is my absolute favorite because it shows us what we have to shake off in order to become truly effective, productive online teachers.

The overall message of “Ten Things” is that to be an effective online teacher with sufficient skills to set up the kind of learning community that will most benefit our students, we need to embrace the creative chaos that personalized online learning requires. We can’t be afraid of mobile devices, a wild and wooly chat box, or letting the learners under our care take the lead, Guinan says. That tendency we all have to be wary of leaving our comfort zone needs to be unlearned, as well as our dependency on textbooks and other static forms of the printed word, not to mention our dependence on the bureacracy that can surround us in bricks-and-mortar schools. As online teachers, we need to let go of the beliefs and preconceptions that hold us back. We need to be willing to take that leap of faith that allows us to revel in the joys of “individual and collaborative success.”

Sylvia Guinan's Blog on WizIQ

Sylvia Guinan’s Blog on WizIQ

There’s more in the blog, and with great click-throughs to other blogs and lists of tools and techniques for teaching online. I recommend it highly: Sylvia’s blog is full of insightful enthusiasm for a type of teaching that has so many benefits for all of us! Enjoy!

Posted in General statements | Leave a comment

What makes a Great Online Course?

Recently I’ve been reading Karen Head‘s guest blogs for Wired.Campus, part of The Chronicle of Higher Education. She’s a faculty member at Georgia Institute of Technology. I like her blogs. She’s a good writer and she provides an interesting picture of the struggles Georgia Tech has gone through as they set up courses for their partnership with Coursera. But she brings up — and many of her commentators bring up — the pressure teachers of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) feel to have TV quality lectures superimposed on absolutely gorgeous illustrations or amplified PowerPoint slides that look like they were put together for NBC Nightly News. I resonate to the word “pressure.” Some of the best online courses I’ve ever taken didn’t have TV quality production values. Instead, they’ve been decidedly homemade.

So Coursera is a couple of steps above the kind of courses I usually take and at first I was intimidated. Then I decided to lurk in four Coursera courses as a way to see what constituted online teaching best practice for Coursera. The courses were: Duke Professor Dan Ariely’s “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior,” University of Maryland Professor Hank Lucas’s “Surviving Disruptive Technologies,” University of Michigan Professor Chuck Severance’s “Internet History, Technology and Security,” and Georgia Institute of Technology Professor Anderson Smith’s “Introduction to Psychology as a Science.” I liked them all, but I had the most trouble sticking with the last one. In fact it’s still going on and I’m seriously behind.

I never meant to “take” the courses actually. My plan was to sample some things on Cousera that seemed interesting and watch how each of the universities/professors handled the online teaching environment. If you think Coursera imposes a cookie cutter sameness on its university partners, this is a great way to find out that no, that isn’t happening. There are a lot of different ways to handle content, and each of the four schools I sampled did “the online thing” quite differently.

For example: Georgia Tech and Duke were committed to high production values in the recorded lectures and other materials that were presented on screen. In fact Dan Ariely’s wonderful course was so high quality, my aging Gateway laptop faltered under the strain. I had to give up before the course finished although now that I’m writing this, I’m thinking I might borrow my husband’s computer in the morning before he wakes up and take a stab at the last couple of weeks’ worth of videos.

What’s interesting about these two courses is that while both Duke and Georgia Tech went for the “standing in front of the camera” video lecture model, the outcome was very different. Dan Ariely has a fantastic personality and his course design exuded whimsy and enthusiasm not just because of the various visual elements chosen to  present what would otherwise have been PowerPoint-esque — I’m betting the deft hand of Duke University’s Center for Instructional Technology was behind a lot of that — but also because of the active presence of his Teaching Assistants and students in the visual materials. On the other hand, Anderson Smith does a great job of presenting his material clearly and seems like the kind of guy you would most definitely want supervising your doctoral dissertation. It’s just that he doesn’t come across as if he’s enjoying the process.

Dan Ariely’s boundless energy was clearly captured in his lectures. But it wasn’t just the force of his personality that made the difference. There was also something infinitely less stilted about the way he was filmed. In contrast, the oh-so-formal “stand still and deliver” Georgia Tech filming style seemed to squash Anderson Smith’s personality and diminish the force of his knowledge as well. I’m determined to finish his lectures, but I just know it’s going to be more of a chore than a joy. There’s warmth and knowledge in Anderson Smith’s teaching style that’s buried by the filming. That’s unfortunate.

Then there’s the other two courses I signed up for: I really loved the courses by Drs. Lucas and Severance.  I confess I had a personal reason to lurk in Hank Lucas’s course — my family’s business succumbed in the 1990s to the impact of the digital imaging revolution on X-ray technology like a small business shadow cast by the dark-dark-darker experience of our once X-ray film supplier Kodak. I found Chuck Severance’s romp through the history of the internet endlessly fascinating because I’m old enough to remember a working life before that revolution changed everything. But I’m a research psychologist so I loved the content of the two high production value courses as well. It just surprised me how eager I was to check in with Dr. Chuck and Professor Hank as soon as I saw the video lectures were up. The content of both courses was great, of course, but there was something else that was drawing me back to class.

Finally I put my finger on it: I didn’t expect to be so appreciative of the relatively low-tech non-TV quality aspect of their lecturing. Both of these Professors chose the “sit-at-the-computer-talk-into-the-webcam” variety of course delivery. And whatever software Coursera uses, it had the happy feature of allowing both Lucas and Severance to scribble endless enthusiastic doodles all over their slides.

Course extras, readings, projects, vibrant and well-tended discussions, Google hangouts, virtual office hours and course wikis enhanced all four of these courses. But it was the intimacy of the Lucas and Severance broadcasts that kept me coming back for more. And I realized there was a parallel to smaller online courses I’d taken in the past. There’s nothing like getting a glimpse of the Profs’ working environments, with clocks, calendars, pictures on the walls, coffee cups, and even pets. (In Lucas’ case, it was his dog Frankie who was clearly taking the course with us.) This glimpse of home and office combined with the close face in the camera and the doodling on the slides made the courses more sticky, more inviting, more likely to be the first ones I hit in the morning.

I was surprised to realize it was the community building teaching style so typical of the courses I’ve taken over the years on and elsewhere that made the difference in how I felt about the Coursera offerings. The feeling of person-to-person interaction could in fact be maintained even when 100,000 other people were taking the course with you. I’ve seen that person-to-person connection in the much smaller Moodle training courses I’ve taken that are taught by Dr. Nellie Deutsch and her volunteer facilitators on IT4ALL. And I didn’t expect to find it in a Coursera MOOC.

So now I know that best practices in a fancy MOOC are the same as best practices in small online courses: What makes a course worth taking is the feeling of real connection to the Prof and through him or her to the course material, even if you don’t have the time to interact with the other students in a big way. Whether a course is offered by grass root organizers or by big concerns like Coursera or by major universities like Duke, Michigan, Maryland or Georgia Tech, connection is the key. Nellie Deutsch says it better in her introductory playlist for the new Moodle MOOC that starts on WizIQ on June 1st. Click through and then roll up to the third offering on the playlist and you’ll see what I mean.

So okay I’m as hooked on Coursera as I am on grass roots MOOCs like the ones on WizIQ. The Coursera experience has reinforced my conviction that whether massive, or just big, or mid-sized, or really small, the most important production values in an online classroom are those that provide the best space for the people-to-people connection.

Posted in What Makes a Good Online Course | 5 Comments

Why Teachers Love Technology

A while back I got an email from a new friend who had built a really gorgeous graphic for a blog on It’s just an amazing visual commentary on the growth of technology use among teachers, including the growth of social media use.

I must say I resonate to everything. I have a laptop and yesterday I was telling another new friend that I never thought I would want an iPad, and then my husband won an iPad in a raffle and handed it over to me and it’s been welded to my hip ever since. Like the teachers in the graphic, I’m surfing educational websites through my iPad, watching lectures from the Virtual Classroom on WizIQ, reading past issues of the Chronicle of Higher Education and even downloading apps that help me practice Spanish.

Well, let me not spare you the experience of enjoying this wonderful graphic. Thanks Allison Morris for creating such a great graphic and sharing it with me! And even though you enjoy it here, go check out, read the blog, and share the graphic for yourself.

Retrieved from What do we Know Infographic

Posted in Appreciating Technology in Education | 1 Comment

Join the Introduction to Parapsychology course at the Rhine Education Center!

Just wanted to let folks know that I’m teaching an “Introduction to Parapsychology” course for the Rhine Research Center’s Education program. The course is eight weeks and starts next Monday evening with the first live class. The deadline for applying for the course, which will be taught at the level of professional education for individuals who are interested in psi research (research into seemingly psychic phenomena), is Friday, April 26th. I’ve recorded a video tour of the syllabus and application form, and what the classroom will look like. If you’re at all interested, there are some seats left in the classroom and we’d love to have you join us! The course is totally online, so there’s no need to be here in Durham, and if the live classes aren’t quite at the right time for you, no need to worry, because the recordings of the live classes will be available soon after.

Here’s the video introduction:

I’m delighted to have this opportunity to teach a topic I love. Come join us! The link to the Rhine Education Center home page can be found here.

Posted in My Online Courses | Leave a comment

No really I’m loving Coursera …

I’ve spent a lot of time taking courses over the last 4 years in small online environments (less than a few hundred folk), nurtured by facilitators and colleagues taking a journey through the same type of materials as me (Moodle training, how to teach online, connectivism). I’ve heard all the worries of the folks who built these courses and taught them. I felt all the worries too. As in: Commercial massively open online courses aren’t going to be as personal as the smaller courses that have been around forever. They’ll be isolating, unhappy, loveless, without a sense of community, or worse yet they’ll just be traditional sage-on-the-stage teaching writ large.

Here’s the New York Times perspective on Massively Open Online Courses or MOOCs.

Before I decided to take the plunge with Coursera, I experienced a couple of MOOCs. The one that Dave Cormier was involved with — he wrote and narrated the video below — was aimed at understanding the current state and future of higher education. The video presentations were fantastic, but I found the materials hard to find, or, once found, hard to find again. I wrote endless notes to folk on discussion boards and nobody ever wrote me back. I finally dropped out, not caring as much about the future of higher ed as when I started the course. Dave’s view of what MOOCs can be is certainly much better than what I experienced. But maybe it was me, and not the MOOC.

More recently I ran across Dave’s video on how to succeed in a MOOC. He advocates a five-point method to be really successful in a MOOC.

It’s good advice and you can tell he’s really focused on developing learning networks and working towards a goal. So I started to think about what my goal might be, and there it was: what I really wanted was to watch other teachers teaching online, compare their strategies and think about how I want to teach.

I started to think about Coursera. I had attended one of the great webinars that the special interest groups of the International Society for Technology in Education put on. In that webinar I heard Lynne O’Brien of Duke University’s Center for Instructional Technology talk about Duke’s journey towards MOOCs. It sounded wonderful, like a whirlwind, passionate effort to put together some of Duke’s best classes for a global audience. A few weeks later, I attended another great webinar put on by Steven Gilbert’s TLT Group in which Amy Woodgate of the University of Edinburgh (my alma mater) talked about the “E-Learning and Digital Cultures” Coursera class.  University of Edinburgh had hit the ground running too. That was fascinating: what was it about MOOCs that made big universities find a way to turn on a dime? Universities usually move at a glacial pace.

Some my friends who are teachers of smaller online courses are not at all happy about huge potentially commercial MOOC providers like Coursera. They worry about the type of teaching that might be done. They worry about how authentic the experience might be. I used to feel that way too. I had, after all, when I was influential at a small online graduate school, set a policy for very small and slightly more selective online courses on the academic side of the house. How could a methodology that would seem to be more in keeping with a dumbed-down avocational adult ed kind of model really deliver high end university goods to any and all comers?

I think what finally made me take the plunge was Daphne Koller. I think I found the link to her Ted talk through a blogger I follow. She didn’t have to talk very long to convince me that she belongs most authentically to that group of passionate, globally and yet individually focused educators who want everybody to have access to learning, people I admire, people like Nellie Deutsch whose “Integrating Technology for Active Lifelong Learning” I’ve talked about before, and like Dave Cormier.

See what I mean?

Not ten minutes after her talk was finished I had signed up at Coursera and was trolling for a course. The next day I signed up for another, and the next day another, and the next day another. Okay so I’m lurking: I’m watching the videos and taking the quizzes but I’m not engaging in the courses completely. Later on, when Amy Woodgate’s course comes up again, I plan on following Dave Cormier’s advice and plunging in, goals at the ready, committing and declaring in all directions.

For now, I’m happy to watch the way my four Coursera courses are playing out. They’re all different, in scope, in tone, in subject matter, in production values, in earthiness, in connectedness, in extra goodies to peruse. The whole experience is fascinating. I recommend the exercise highly! In a future blog I’ll write more about the courses themselves and what I’m learning about teaching online.

Posted in The Future of Education | 1 Comment

Owning Your Own Learning

This morning I had the pleasure of attending quite a wonderful conversation on the teaching/learning/social site WizIQ. Nellie Deutsch, a nimble Ed.D. from the University of Phoenix, now a faculty member at Atlantic University, started a series of conversations with game-changers in education some time back. This morning’s iteration of the conversation series focused on the work of an extraordinary 17-year-old Nikhil Goyal who spoke about his passion: fomenting a revolution in education. This young man has written a blog, a book, One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School, and a series of articles that are insightful, articulate and profound in so many ways. One of the things he talked about was “curating his own learning.”

Conversation with Nikhil Goyal

Conversation with Nikhil Goyal

I love that metaphor. It brings up an image of a beautiful old ivy-covered building with imposing architecture, wide open doors, full of endless rooms, shelves, display cases, open galleries, long dark hallways, bright atria with fountains and, better still, laboratories, unlimited storage in the attic and the basement — basically any possible architectural expression of the acquiring and sharing of the fruits of discovery.

If you think about it, whenever we’re passionate about what we want to learn or use, that’s when we all start curating our own learning, looking around for mentors, for websites with info, for YouTube videos, for articles and blogs, for groups in the real world who can teach us, who share our passions, who are a little farther down the road than we are. The process we use to discover knowledge we need, gather our information, learn our skills, is the same whether we are learning to cook, knit, weave, conduct experiments, write books, build a better garden, or become an online teacher. There’s a breathless joy when you look up and find yourself immersed in that process. It’s as if we were building our own interactive museum, filling up our galleries and display cases, getting hands on, trying things out, and then opening the doors to let others in to learn what we’ve learned. Sigh …

So here’s a link to the conversation on WizIQ: Conversation with Nikhil Goyal. I’m going to watch it again.

Posted in The Future of Education | Tagged | Leave a comment