Revolution Lullabye

October 9, 2013

Symposium on Massive Open Online Courses

“Symposium on Massive Open Online Courses.” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 688-703. Print.

This CCC symposium brings together two short essays by Steven D. Krause and Jeff Rice who reflect on their experiences as students enrolled in a massive open online course (MOOC) sponsored by Coursera. This seven-week MOOC offered in July 2012 was entitled “Listening to World Music” and led by University of Pennsylvania professor Carol Muller. The purpose of the symposium is to understand how MOOCs change (or replicate) the traditional face-to-face classroom learning environment and to speculate on how MOOCs or other forms of distance/digital learning could impact the teaching and learning of writing.

“It seemed wise to learn more about MOOCs, and it seemed wise to learn about them from learners – who continue as perhaps the most consistent source of information about writing and learning to write in the field” (689).

Krause, Steven D. “MOOC Response to ‘Listening to World Music.'” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 689-695.

Krause’s response focuses on the MOOC’s writing assignments and the evaluation of those writing assignments. The writing assignments (2-3 paragraph responses to a choice of weekly prompts), coupled with the video-taped lectures and the discussion boards, were part of the course’s basic curricular structure, not really all that different from the structure of lecture-driven courses. At the beginning of the course, the MOOC had registered over 36,000 students; however, only a small percentage (2,731) of that number actually finished the course. To deal with the vast number of writing assignments that needed to be assessed, Muller and her graduate assistants turned over the grading to the students themselves in a kind of “crowdsourced” assessment, with peers evaluating each other’s writing responses based on an (under-explained) 10-point rubric.

Krause notes the problems of this kind of under-directed peer evaluation and response and contrasts it with the research on peer evaluation in the classroom, which does work well given the correct guidelines and constraints. He points out that one of the key issues of this crowdsourced grading is accountability – there is no mechanism to reward or correct good responses or peer evaluations.

In his conclusion, Krause moves beyond discussing and critiquing the MOOC’s writing assignments to comment on the failures of MOOCs and some of their untapped potential. The MOOC he experienced was “content without teaching,” focused only on the delivery of prescribed content, and that delivery itself had a pretty low production value.  However, Krause contends, MOOCs could break out of this static pedagogical delivery model and tap into the collaborative, social, and multimodal possiblities afforded in the digital sphere.

“After all, a MOOC is first and foremost a content delivery platform, one significantly more interactive and dynamic than a traditional printed book. Perhaps future Coursera MOOCs will do better at breaking out of what is essentially a nineteenth-century pedagogy of lectures, tests, and writing prompts that go nowhere. Perhaps it will turn out that writing ‘papers’ for a MOOC makes no sense because it doesn’t take advantage of the possibilities of networked writing” (694).

“So the writing assignments in ‘Listening to World Music’ left me with a feeling I fear some of my own students might share: it didn’t really matter what I wrote because no one (including myself) cared, and I was destined to get the same grade no matter what I did. It was garbage in/garbage out” (694).

“And as we all know as both educators and students, a textbook is not the same as a teacher. If education were merely about content delivery, then Socrates would have been the last teacher and Phaedrus his last student” (694).

The crowdsourcing grading: “It was a strange feeling: even though the class consisted of thousands of students from all over the world, this review process was oddly lonely, even more anonymous than the discussion forums” (693).

Writing assignments in a MOOC: “simulataneously a bold effort at thinking outside the box and a foolish exercise that was doomed for failure at the start, an example of both the grand promise of MOOCs to challenge education orthodoxy and the delusional, wishful thinking of pundits and administrators who think MOOCs will solve various education crises” (690).


Rice, Jeff. “What I Learned in MOOC.” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 695-703.

Rice, who was enrolled in the same MOOC as Krause, questions why he ended up not completing the course. He points to the lack of affect in the MOOC structure: the MOOC relied on “nonsocial” videotaped lectures, multiple choice quizzes, anonymous discussion boards, and short writing assignments that failed to keep him engaged in the course (699). He draws on Richard Lanham’s argument about the attention economy, arguing that the interactive, networked, and inventive environment of the Web cultivates more desire and attention than the packaged content available in MOOCs like “Listening to World Music.” Rice argues that digital writing invites participation through aggregation, and that participation leads to occupation and desire. In their current form, MOOCs treat participants as spectactors, unable to invent and truly engage affectively in the material.

“Our current emerging institution, we might argue, is aggregation. Texts, images, ideas, videos, responses, and critiques are aggregating virtually into shifting identites of information encountered in online spaces” (701).

“This aggregation keeps me occupied with a sense of learning unique to network spaces. Being occupied is a feeling, an affective state central to a learning experience or occasion. Being occupied is a state of desire. Being occupied is an occassion for digital aggregation (i.e. learning and expression). When I am occupied, I encounter (as opposed to just ‘watching’). In other words, I want occupation. Pretaped lectures and a message board don’t provide me with that same feeling…My issue with Coursera was not just that its method of content delivery has nothing to do with how content is aggregated online, but that I cannot be aggregated aswell in this particular setup. I am left as spectator. Message board commenter. Watcher of videos. Writer of two paragraphs” (701).

“What Coursera lacks, many higher education courses taught via lecture and graduate student breakout discussion lack as well: emotional occassion” (702).

draw on Jim Corder (the occassion) and Gregory L. Ulmer (avatar)

“The overall question of whether or not to endorse online learning because it will save/destroy higher education – at the level of MOOCs or some other type of iteration – is not a question worth asking because it falls into the cliche trap of face-to-face value or the fear of alleged corporatization. Neither response gets at the issue of desire or occasion regarding learning and how such desire might be facilitated in a digital age where attention functions differently than lecture formats and message boards deliver” (700).

MOOCs as part of a long line of other forms of distance learning (like correspondance courses) (696).


February 17, 2008

Brand, Alice G. “The Why of Cognition: Emotion and the Writing Process.”

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Brand, Alice G. “The Why of Cognition: Emotion and the Writing Process.” CCC 38:4 (Dec 1987): 436-443.

Brand accuses the field of side-stepping the importance of the affect in the composing process and asserts that the affect plays a central role in writing, as writing is an act of decision making, choices, and motivation, all which derive from affect, not cognition. She contests the notion that the best writing is emotionally neutral, citing that as humans, we have moral orientations and beliefs that result in commitments that are not disposable. Pure cognitive research in writing has its limits, and in order to fully understand the writing process, researchers must look for the connection and collaboration between the emotion and cognition in writing.

McLeod, Susan. “Some Thoughts about Feelings: The Affective Domain and the Writing Process.”

McLeod, Susan. “Some Thoughts about Feelings: The Affective Domain and the Writing Process.” CCC 38:4 (Dec 1987): 426-435.

McLeod writes that composition studies would benefit from more research on the emotional or affective aspect of writing as it relates to writing anxiety, motivation, and cultural and personal beliefs about writing. She proposes a theory of affect based on George Mandler from which to study these three areas. She claims that it is impossible to write without triggering some emotions, and instructors should help their students channel their emotions so that they enable them during the writing process instead of impede them.

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