Education to advocacy. Reflections on #etmooc


I want to reflect on two aspects of #etmooc: The experience of it and also the questions I am left pondering as I transition to some post-etmooc state. I am happy that this is part of my visible digital self. But truthfully, I am writing this for myself.

Some context first. etmooc started at the same time that the academic quarter begins at Northwestern University, where in winter I teach a graduate course called Creating & Sharing Knowledge (#msloc430 if you want to follow us) which is really about within-organization technology and collaboration (think Enterprise 2.0). I also co-teach another course in winter in which teams of graduate students tackle a real 6-month project for an organization. It is very much a problem-based learning course in which there is no real “lecture” element (hooray!) but instead a lot of doing. Picture it as a consulting engagement using design thinking as an underlying approach to the organizational problem.

So during this time period I’m thinking a lot about technology, collaboration, and learners finding their way through complex, ambiguous situations (the project course).

I have been teaching these courses for 5 years – my first gig in teaching. So I am a novice. I love what I do. I am lucky that my students are all wickedly smart, motivated, good people. And luckier still that none of my students are going through puberty or need to be reminded to wipe their noses.

But in any case: Playing a role in helping people learn is one of the most rewarding career gigs you can have.

The experience of etmooc

I look back at my blog posts here and realize how long it’s been since writing. But it doesn’t feel like it’s been as long as it has, in fact. Why is that?

Certainly my experiences with MOOCs (this is #3) makes me a bit more comfortable with flowing in and out, as well as taking advantage of the different forms of live and asynchronous participation: blogging, Twitter, Google communities, etc. The design of etmooc fostered a great deal of flexibility to do that. I rarely felt disconnected, even during those times that my work here at MSLOC kept me too busy to engage deeply.

But I think there is more to it than just the design aspect. I think it has to do with my thinking a lot about technology, collaboration, and people finding their way through complex, ambiguous situations (my project course). During most of the week on Northwestern’s campus I took on the role of instructor facilitating a group of graduate students exploring these areas. Online at etmooc I took on the role of co-learner in part of a network of people exploring these same issues.

At some point I just stopped playing two roles. I honestly got lost in the moment – was I “teaching” or “learning”? I forgot about the formal roles, and just became authentically interested in exploring the topics.

Here’s an example. I wrote this post — Personal brand and digital identity: Which I am I? — based on a question that came up in my class. I could just have easily written it as a post for etmooc. Now, I know my case may be unusual because the topics about which I am interested overlap so deeply with what I teach and what was being explored by etmooc. So it may be that, in my role as “instructor” and “learner” it is easier to get lost in the moments and just forget about roles.

…but isn’t that the point, though?

In my blog post considering Dave Cormier’s session on rhizomatic learning (Rhizome-plosion), I wrote this about courses: …what I have come to realize is that my best instructional strategy is to design a space in which my class members and I — as co-equal learning partners — can experience exploring a particularly interesting topic. The course container is simply a contract among us involving time and topic.

It is, I think, the same philosophy that Alec Couros talks about when he describes connectivist MOOCs being Somewhere Between a Course and a Community.  MOOCs — I am convinced — push this idea of blowing up the teacher/student dynamic in a pretty cool way. The scale of a MOOC forces that. Who’s the teacher? Who’s the learner? Who cares?

Personally, it was really interesting experiencing being an “instructor” and a “learner” simultaneously in two situations built on the same philosophy. I literally stopped playing two roles. So for now, I am going with that as my-dog-ate-my-homework excuse for lack of blogging. I was just learning and sharing about topics of interest. Time flew.

And I was aware of being something more authentic. Just someone geeked about ed tech and learning. That’s pretty freeing.

The experience of etmooc: Connections

I was contemplating how to write this section and thought about listing Twitter handles of new people I’ve connected with. But I undoubtedly would have missed someone. So just know that if I’ve ever exchanged tweets with you, commented on your blog, +1’d a post — thank you. You are what make MOOCs different and valuable — and etmooc especially so.

How, and why, this happens is an on-going conversation I have with Alison Seaman (who I met during the  Change11 MOOC). And it is an on-going fascination of mine as some of the graduate students at MSLOC discover new connections as they begin to explore digital networked learning and establishing personal learning networks. I know all of you in etmooc have experienced the same – a new connection, from an unexpected place, adding to your life.

But how? Why? In a Twitter exchange, Fenella Olynick asked:

And that’s a great question. What does bind us? Some underlying, common philosophy or point of view?

At etmooc I think it had something to do with our identity as educators. I can say that, perhaps, because I am a novice. This community is different. Most of my professional life has been in business and there are at least three things you rarely see in dialogue among business professionals: authenticity, humility and social perspective. [Sidebar comment: When I was an MBA student I distinctly remember three very smart advertising professionals coming to speak to a class I was in. They had tremendous resources at their disposal; money, researchers, tools, methods, techniques. And they were wicked smart. What were they working on? Hamburger Helper. And the believed they were doing good work. ] What I sensed at etmooc was a network of individuals who were authentically interested in learning – not teaching, but learning, which requires a good bit of humility  – and deeply concerned about social impact.

Teachers. I have a renewed, deep respect for the profession. Fenella: Maybe it’s a common philosophy. But I do wonder if it is a philosophy forged in the practice of teaching.

Questions left to ponder

And so I am left pondering this role of educators – my role, our role – with respect to digital literacy, citizenship and identity. Alec asked this question during an etmooc session on digital citizenship: “How do we develop kind and caring citizens, those with integrity in both online and offline spaces?”

My add: And how do we advocate for spaces where kind and caring citizens feel free to be authentic, or better – to start becoming something new?

This hit me rather hard these past few weeks. A few of the graduate students in my class  made the leap to blog publicly — and it wasn’t just a move to develop their professional selves. They came out sharing personal, insightful, amazing posts about their lives. And it was my class experience, they said, that moved them to do so.

Lesson learned. When you get all geeked up talking and writing about how communities like etmooc can be “transformative,” some people might actually be paying attention.

So let me deal with the world that I am closest to: Adult learners. Those who have passed puberty and know how to wipe their noses.

“Brand” is just the wrong formulation for thinking about digital identity. It’s a Hamburger Helper mentality applied to the net. I could hardly think of anything worse. We need space to explore our identities, to recapture them in some cases, and to learn to become. Become something new, or just different in some beneficial way.

One of my good friends netted it out this way (in a t-shirt slogan kinda fashion): “Authenticity. Fuck brand.” Exactly.

So here is what I am left pondering. As educators — we who come from a position that values  authenticity, humility and social perspective — where and how do we best collectively advocate to create digital spaces where individuals can “become?”

A lot of really fascinating people are thinking about digital identity. Bonnie Stewart. danah boyd. Doug Belshaw. Catherine Cronin. Nathan Jurgenson. My list of people I’m following who think about that topic is expanding weekly.

But I think — know — my next few years will be looking at ways to advocate. Thanks #etmooc.


Some little part of me has become Canadian, I think. Wondering if anyone else had that same feeling.

photo credit: patricklanigan via photopin cc

22 thoughts on “Education to advocacy. Reflections on #etmooc

  1. Hi Jeff. You did it (the coffee must have kicked in) – congratulations! First, I must say thank you for the humour you so effortlessly worked into this thoughtful blog. It is always a pleasure to read your work. I can tell you have spent a great deal of time pondering the above-noted questions, and I think you have made some very insightful comments, You make a great point about #etmooc-ers displaying “authenticity, humility and social perspective.” This is definitely something I have noticed. I also like the insight you offer with respect to business professionals. Do you think this was always the case? As for the question we were pondering on Twitter, I really like your suggestion that perhaps #etmooc-ers have connected because of a “philosophy forged in the practice of teaching.” That is a much better suggestion than my original thought. But then again, maybe the article Alison gave us can add further insight.

    Thanks for the dialogue, Jeff. It’s been an honour to learn with you and from you. I look forward to your Vlog. 🙂

    P.S. Your problem-based learning course sounds terrific. Lucky students!


    1. Appreciate the kind words, Fenella. Really interested in continuing the explore the various ways that people seem to be drawn to each other and begin to form these learning-based connections. Am sure we’ll continue that conversation.

      And thank you for asking great questions. That may have been the start of it, for me.


  2. Hi Jeff,
    I am glad to hear the digital identities topic grabbed you as well. It has me thinking deeply about what it means for me personally and for the young adults I work with.
    This quote you shared: “How do we develop kind and caring citizens, those with integrity in both online and offline spaces?” really sums it up doesn’t it? It seems that as we move forward into the great blue yonder that if we can’t cultivate, nurture and support this, then we have wandered off somewhere I don’t want to be. I think the media would have us sometimes believe that we have wandered off course, but I am reassured everyday when i work with my teen students who want a chance to create a rich and meaningful digital identity, but are just not sure how.
    This is the work that grabs me and as you describe: “what I have come to realize is that my best instructional strategy is to design a space in which my class members and I — as co-equal learning partners”. Funny I have had the same experience with my classes this semester (I work with 17 and 18 year olds) as I moved through #etmooc, watching my own experience and watching my classes evolve. I felt #etmooc influenced my perspective and provoked me to leave a lot more space for my students to choose, to find their way and to co-learn with me.
    Kind of cool!!!
    I am interested to see where this takes you and I am glad to have shared some of this special journey with you 🙂

    ps I posted my reflection, Digital Identities: Where does your digital self begin and end?, here: (it is a different blog)


  3. I am just going to repost the link to your Digital Identities reflection that you noted above:

    After reading and commenting on it, I just have to record this as one of those moments of amazement that happen in MOOCs. You write so well…and your work truly helped my own thinking on the experience of etmooc and my own digital identities. So odd that we were crafting these posts at literally the same time. #random


  4. Hi Jeff. Thanks for sharing your reflection. I found myself going, “Yes, I echo that….yep, that’s true for me, as well.” Going through ETMOOC together made it possible for us to share reflections/ideas that resonated with other ETMOOCers and added to our thinking or processing, where at times we couldn’t quite put them into words. That must be the rhizomatic, synergistic quality of ETMOOC. Like Carolyn, I like the statement that addresses instructional strategy when we have a teaching (or presenting) role: “…what I have come to realize is that my best instructional strategy is to design a space in which my class members and I — as co-equal learning partners.” That really takes things out of the LEARNING EVENT mode and into the LEARNING PROCESS, where we have the dynamic of interactive learning spaces. That’s something I want to explore in my school district and with other neighboring districts, especially as it relates to professional development and sharing our learning.

    Your next question is one I have, as well. “As educators — we who come from a position that values authenticity, humility and social perspective — where and how do we best collectively advocate to create digital spaces where individuals can “become?” I’m trying to engage my district’s admin. with this question and also have shared some of this vision for creating those kind of learning spaces for teachers county-wide with our County Office of Education. I feel good that the conversation has at least been started, and now to see where it goes. In the meantime, I’ll work at getting a better sense of my own authentic digital identity. Thanks, Jeff!


  5. Appreciate it, Glenn. And love the fact that you are taking action on the advocacy front.

    This is actually a lesson I am learning from my son – a public policy and advocacy professional who’s worked on public health issues since graduating. Listening to him – and watching the people he works with – there is a tremendous amount to learn re: how to be an effective advocate. I’m just so interested to see how to play in that advocacy space, with this kind of educator community, working toward that very open, energizing vision for what digital spaces can contribute to individuals and society.


  6. There are many things I really like here, Jeff, though what stands out to me the most at the moment is the point about losing the sense of the teacher/student identity. During ETMOOC I started off feeling like a student, but I quickly realized that this was not really the model for that sort of divide between those who teach and those who learn. That was one of the many things I loved about this course: we were encouraged to, and did, learn from each other as much as from those who were officially running the course or making presentations. I LOVED that. It was just the best way to learn, I thought. And yes, there was something exceptional about this group of participants for some reason. Maybe it is something about educators; I’m not sure.

    The last part of your post, about authenticity and a space to be able to become something different, or perhaps just who you are, made me realize I really need to go back and watch Bonnie Stewart’s archived presentation. I’m starting another MOOC (Open education, from the Open University:, plus I’m on a holiday for two weeks, so I had thought of just skipping that. But I think perhaps not.

    Thank you for being part of this fantastic community, and I look forward to continuing the connections!


  7. Canada is pleased to extend its borders – or at least spirit – metaphorically through cMOOCs all the time. Your question – about how those of us who value things other than a simple reductionist brand perspective – can advocate for spaces of becoming…that’s in a sense what underlies a lot of my work and thinking around MOOCs and their effects on higher ed.

    So glad to have connected with you in the #etmooc process, Jeff.


    1. Thank you – this means a lot to me. I am certainly getting more clear on where I want to contribute, and it is inspired by the work you are doing. I’m not going anywhere and (fortunately) my role here allows me some space to explore. Looking forward to staying connected and sharing. Best to you Bonnie, and the whole gang there in PEI.


  8. Yes, I would highly recommend viewing Bonnie’s recorded session. And funny – am also signed up for the same Open Ed MOOC (but am lagging/lurking badly as a new academic quarter kicks off next week).

    Thanks so much for your comments – and it is so interesting about the identity mashup (learner, teacher, whatever). So intriguing.

    Have really enjoyed your blog and all of your work. Will definitely be staying connected. Best to you and have a great holiday.


  9. Hi Jeff
    The part of your reflection that really touched me was when you described loosing track of who was the teacher and who was the learner. At the beginning of #etmooc I had assumed that I was such a newbie that I wouldn’t have anything to contribute and I would need to “look up” to the facilitators. What I loved most about #etmooc was the safety I felt in asking questions because everyone became a learner…


    1. Thank you, Erin. During last night’s #etmchat I had a short Twitter conversation with Carolyn Durley, Catherine Cronin and Bonnie Stewart about this very topic. Carolyn really captured it the best in her blog post.

      But at the end of our conversation, Bonnie wrote ” there’s something abt shifting perspective to identifying as learner that’s really powerful.” And I think that has struck us all. I know it has, for me.

      Hoping to write/think more about that either on this blog or my other one. Need to do some reconciling of blog spaces in the next couple of weeks…but that idea is such an intriguing concept. Hard to not get drawn to it.

      Stay in touch.


  10. I really enjoyed your thoughtful post Jeff. Many of your ideas resonated with me and the question of “And how do we advocate for spaces where kind and caring citizens feel free to be authentic, or better – to start becoming something new?” felt particularly important. I think this is such a valuable question because these spaces can be challenging to create and are not always sought or accepted in environments where we would expect them to be a given (e.g., schools, learning centers).

    I want to reflect more on this question and take up your idea of advocacy in working to make it a reality in more places. Advocacy wasn’t something on the forefront of my mind during #etmooc but I’m glad you’ve raised it here so I can work to be more conscious and active in advocating for the types of spaces we all created and experiences we had through #etmooc. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi


    1. Been behind on reply to you. Apologies. Thanks so much for the positive feedback about the advocacy bit. I am still struggling with this myself – figuring out what it might mean. Let’s do count on staying connect on that point (and others). My plans are to begin consolidating this blog into my main blog ( – to somehow start exploring what began in #etmooc as more of a core piece of my professional thinking. So – stay tuned. Who knows where this will lead!


  11. Jeff, thanks for the work that you and the other conspirators put into #etmooc.I enjoyed reading your reflections on #etmooc, as well as the comments by Fenella, Carolyn, Glenn, Christina, Bonnie, Erin and Margaret; I have enjoyed learning from all of you over the past two months.

    I am exploring how we can use the #etmooc model and social media tools to support teachers as they learn about a new curriculum and project-based learning, and (hopefully) develop their own learning networks. One of the challenges, as Erin pointed out, is to ensure that everyone feels safe asking questions, and that beginners are provided with guidance and support. I know that I also have some advocacy work in my future, as this is not a model we have used before.

    Your problem-based learning course sounds interesting. Our new curriculum is project based, although it is for students in grades 5 to 9, not graduate students. I bet your students would have great advice for our students in how to structure projects as well as how to collaborate in groups.

    I look forward to continuing to learn with you,


    1. Thanks Rhonda – Ditto looking forward to continuing to learn and share together. This has been a really interesting experience. And frankly, I am more inspired by what is being done in K-12 education innovation that what I see in higher ed. But your thought about how our graduate students might have great advice for your students on structuring projects and how to collaborate…wow…THAT’s a fascinating idea.

      Let’s do keep chatting about this. Perhaps on G+? At the very least it would be an interesting mash-up.


  12. Such rich discussion here. Sometimes, my colleagues have difficulty wrapping their heads around the fact that people have conversations like this in this kind of forum. I’m amazed.

    Jeff, thanks so much for distilling one of the great things about #etmooc so very well. I, too, am fascinated by the way my learner/instructor/co-learner identity shifted, and I love that question “who cares?”. Every time one of those moments happens in one of my classes, I just go “oh, yeah!” – even if it’s just a “wow, I didn’t know you could do that – can you show me that again?”, as we’re exploring something new together. That is the great moment – when everybody kind of goes “hey, the room just tilted, and that’s totally okay with us”, and you keep on going. I’m doing a lot more referring to my students as co-learners these days – this is a journey we’re on together, after all.

    And to everyone who commented, and took things to another level, many thanks as well. There are so many questions to explore here.


    1. I really do think the co-learner bit is soooo intriguing. Trying to push that more this quarter (classes kicked off this week) and will be interested to see how it all goes. An adventure every time. Thank you so much for your comment – it really is amazing to me how much commonality we all have around the important things.


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