Adventures in a Connectivist MOOC on Open Learning

Susan J. Erickson


Project Overview

Project Discipline: Professional Development

Project Outcome: cMOOC

Tools Used: Google Hangout, Virtually Connecting, Twitter, Blogs, RSS

This chapter describes a librarian’s experience working with teaching faculty to create a program to support faculty development through an online Hub website and connectivist Massive Open Online Course (cMOOC). A cMOOC is a particular type of MOOC, grounded in connectivist principles where learners co-create knowledge and connect through social media such as blogs and social networks (McCauley, Stewart, Siemens, & Cormier, 2010). Initially conceived as part of a program of the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), the Open Learning cMOOC concept continued beyond the seed funding from the Association for another two years thanks to the dedication of a small steering committee of faculty from a variety of institutions in Virginia. This chapter demonstrates how a connectivist MOOC and innovation hub website provided a robust environment for professional development over the course of three years. The story reveals how a librarian was able to contribute to such a project, and eventually step up to lead the cMOOC in its final iteration.

The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) is committed to supporting liberal education through advocacy and programming. One of its cornerstone programs over the past decade has been its LEAP States Initiative (AAC&U, n.d.-b). According to the Liberal Education and America’s Promise section of the AAC&U website, the LEAP States Initiative has been serving as a “national public advocacy and campus action initiative” in support of liberal education since 2005 (AAC&U, n.d.-c). Virginia’s participation in the LEAP States Initiative includes both public and private institutions that are members of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

In 2016, AAC&U provided funding to those LEAP states that committed to developing Faculty Collaborative “Hub” projects. According to the AAC&U website, the purpose of the Faculty Collaboratives Hub project was “to launch large-scale collaboration that begins with LEAP outcomes and enables faculty to use the frameworks and tools of an array of connected and aligned projects or initiatives…” (AAC&U, n.d.-a). The Hub was envisioned as a “virtual center with a public URL for communications and community organizing” (AAC&U, n.d.-a), and specifics were further outlined as follows on the Faculty Collaboratives section of the AAC&U website:

    1. Easy to find online—with links to it readily available on related sites (a system site, for example)
    2. Created as a durable and resilient resource for the state and collaborative
    3. Welcoming to all faculty and all educators, using language that is appropriate to the context of the state collaborative and that gives a clear introduction to the larger project
    4. Explaining terms of art and acronyms so that visitors will feel welcome and informed
    5. Providing information about statewide or collaborative-wide activities or meetings for faculty leadership and learning, both connected to the project or convergent with it
    6. Offering social networking tools that facilitate communication, which may include a listserv, a Twitter feed, other news feeds, a blog or blogs, a chat function
    7. Presenting a news and information section, brief and cogent
    8. Connecting to other important networks in and beyond the state, including other state hubs and AAC&U
    9. Housing or connecting to resources for educators in the state for collective impact
    10. Striving to be visually attractive and inviting, creative and playful
    11. Identifying the key participants—the liaison, hub director, and fellows

(AAC&U, n.d.-a)

Virginia’s Faculty Collaboratives Hub

In Virginia, Dr. Gardner Campbell, Associate Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success (at the time), was selected by AAC&U to lead the state’s efforts, serving in the role of Hub Director. Campbell put together a small steering committee of teaching faculty from other Virginia public universities representing a broad range of disciplines. These included Dr. Stephanie Blackmon, Associate Professor of Education at William & Mary, Dr. Steve Greenlaw, Professor of Economics at the University of Mary Washington, and Dr. Amy Nelson, Associate Professor of History at Virginia Tech who were joined by staff at SCHEV from areas representing open initiatives and assessment. SCHEV administered the funds from AAC&U and assisted with an assessment of the project. This group formed the Faculty Collaboratives Steering Committee for Virginia and was connected—through AAC&U—to Faculty Collaboratives projects from other states. Open education was identified by the steering committee as a viable topic for the Virginia Faculty Collaboratives project due to the strong interest across the state in efforts tied to the movement. Virginia already had a state level committee on Open Education. Open Educational Resources (OER) and open access were already well integrated by the academic libraries across the state.

Open Access or OER are often the gateways to a broader conversation about what it means to be “open”: to teach in the open, to work in the open, to learn in the open, and to develop a professional network or a personal learning network in the open. This broader set of pedagogical approaches is referred to as Open Education, or even more broadly Open Learning. SCHEV was already focused on open initiatives and the faculty on the steering committee were committed to and experienced with a variety of aspects of Open Education. Open Learning was identified as a timely subject for the Virginia Faculty Collaboratives project and a learning-by-doing approach was agreed upon by the steering committee.

Connectivist Learning and the Planning of a cMOOC

The Virginia Faculty Collaboratives Steering Committee’s vision for the project included a connectivist learning approach that would take advantage of the Web’s ability to support and foster the development of social networks and networked information. The influences on the Committee’s pedagogical approach are seen in the readings presented in the Open Learning ‘17 syllabus. The steering committee would not only develop content for an online website with embedded social media feeds but would also design an online course that would serve as a “happening” to generate interest in the “innovation hub” (Campbell & Covington, 2017). The overall experience would build and grow through the experience of participants in the social network that would form around the course event. As Campbell & Covington (2017) described, “the innovation hub would not only collect resources but also produce them. It would be a conversation hub, a learning hub, and a creativity hub.”

To generate interest in the Hub, the Virginia Faculty Collaboratives Steering Committee designed a curriculum about Open Learning for a cMOOC, the syllabus for which would be contained within the Hub. In Open Learning ‘17, cMOOC participants would be expected to blog and tweet during the fourteen-week course, which would follow a traditional semester-long course format, complete with syllabus and readings.

According to Ito et al. (2013), “Connected learning is an educational framework that emphasizes learning experiences that are “socially embedded, interest driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity” (p. 4). As part of the Connected Learning approach, the Steering Committee placed significant emphasis on learner agency in their pedagogical approach in developing the syllabus for the cMOOC. Often multiple readings for a specific day were available to choose from, and alternate activities were included. Participants could select what worked for them on any given day in any week of the syllabus.

With funding from AAC&U that was administered by SCHEV and with guidance by the Faculty Collaboratives Steering Committee, Campbell hired two web developers to build the Hub website. The site prominently features RSS feeds to embed Twitter posts and blog posts from participants. This ensures that the site is constantly refreshing the content through the embedded feeds. In addition, in the original version of the site, a side column was populated by the syndication of tweets with specific hashtags (e.g. #openlearning17 and #faccollab) until Twitter suspended support of this feature. The 2017 version of the Hub site included a menu with links to the syllabus, background information about the project, and a link to AAC&U, along with a list of steering committee members. Using Twitter Tags Explorer, the web developers were able to dynamically display on the website the growth of the network as it occurred. The more active participants show as nodes in the network and during the duration of the cMOOC anyone could see how the networks were evolving in real time. The Tags Explorer was also used to assess how the network grew over time during and beyond the duration of the course.

The hub was well-developed by the fall of 2016 when the Steering Committee decided to expand the committee’s membership. Dr. Laura Gogia joined the team to serve as a Connected Learning Coach for the cMOOC. Adding a learning coach was a pedagogical decision intended to address concerns raised in the literature on MOOCs with regard to new learners feeling at sea in a new learning environment. Saadatman & Kumpulainen (2014) suggest holding “MOOC organizers…accountable for orienting students on how to learn within the MOOC” (p. 26). Dr. Gogia developed activities for the cMOOC to engage participants early on and to keep them engaged.

Enter the Librarian

In the fall of 2016, the steering committee decided that it would be beneficial to add a librarian to the project, perhaps driven by their interest in the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education that had been adopted by the Board of the Association of College & Research Libraries in January. Dr. Blackmon (Associate Professor of Education, William & Mary) tapped her network and extended an invitation to me, Sue Erickson, Director of Hofheimer Library at Virginia Wesleyan University. We had met in the previous year over an impromptu lunch at a pedagogy conference at Virginia Tech and had engaged in a conversation about Open Access. Because I direct a library at one of the independent universities in the state, my addition to the steering committee also served as an opportunity to expand the membership to include representation from a private institution. As a faculty librarian, this opportunity was a welcome addition to my portfolio of professional development and service.

The committee’s decision to add a librarian to the Open Learning project is supported by the literature. As Hofhman (2016) has suggested, “modern libraries represent ideal environments for supporting connected learning. They are centers for knowledge creation and sharing, they support self-directed and interest-based learning, and they are inclusive public spaces that bring many different groups together” (p. 11). As I would later learn by attending the Connected Learning Summit in 2018, school media specialists are already active in the connected learning community, but there are few academic librarians involved and connected learning has yet to have much of a foothold in higher education. This gap offers an opportunity for inspiration and influence. Academic librarians could lead the way in helping the higher education community embrace connected learning. As the designers of physical and virtual spaces that support learning and exploration and that promote community dialogue, librarians could have a role in leading in the development of connected learning spaces in our academic communities.

Open Learning ‘17

In his role as Hub Director, Dr. Gardner Campbell assigned each of the other four faculty members (Blackmon, Erickson, Greenlaw, and Nelson) on the steering committee to direct or co-direct a week or more of the Open Learning ‘17 cMOOC syllabus, with the responsibility for selecting readings and developing activities for the entire week. Campbell directed several weeks himself and invited other individuals who were part of the steering committee’s professional network to direct or co-direct weeks as well. Each week of the syllabus focused on a different topic. Activities for each week typically included a combination of synchronous events (Twitter chats and Google Hangouts) and asynchronous activities (readings, pre-recorded videos, and blogging prompts).

The cMOOC kickoff was a Twitter Chat in which Connected Learning Coach Dr. Gogia asked participants to share their space through video or photo posts. This activity helped participants get to know one another and made the virtual learning experience more tangible and personal.

Figure 1

#openlearning17 Tweet

Small dog looking out a home window into the neighbor's front yard. Caption Reads: “a bit late to the #openlearning17 space party because...time zones. :) Today my workspace includes a co-worker on high alert." (Hammershaimb, 2017)
Note. Open Learning ‘17 participant’s Twitter post during a “share your space” Twitter Chat.

By including content focused on the Web and on the human-computer connection in the cMOOC syllabus for Open Learning ‘17, Campbell and the steering committee hoped that participants would see the potential for the Web to be a different kind of learning environment, even as they were learning in it themselves. An experiential approach to the structure of the cMOOC was foundational to the pedagogy, and my own journey of learning by doing in OpenLearning ‘17 had solidified the importance, for me, of that mode of learning for this particular content.

For my role in facilitating part of the learning in the syllabus, I was paired with Maha Bali, Associate Professor of the Practice at the Center for Learning & Teaching at the American University in Cairo, to co-direct the learning for the week on Open Access. This collaboration extended the project’s reach into an international arena. Through the use of Google Hangouts for planning meetings and Google Docs for organization, the week was designed as easily as if we had been down the hall from one another.

Bali is the co-founder and co-director of Virtually Connecting, and so an event that the organization was sponsoring was included in the week’s activities. Virtually Connecting provides opportunities for individuals to engage in conversations around conference experiences that they cannot attend in person. The Virtually Connecting experience proved to be a pivotal moment for me as a relative newcomer to the concepts of Open Education and open pedagogy. The event that was incorporated into the week’s activities was a Virtually Connecting session at the OE Global 2017 conference in Capetown, South Africa. My participation in the Virtually Connecting event solidified my understanding of the Open Education movement and crystallized my desire to support it. It also honed my skills in supporting a synchronous event through managing the Google Hangout chat with participants, including a few who were onsite at the conference. Being able to participate in such a significant global event and connect with many of the movers and shakers of the movement was an amazing experience and spurred me to engage even more deeply throughout the Open Learning ‘17 course. The session made me more fully aware of the importance of social networks in fostering this special kind of learning experience and in the development of the international Open Education Movement.

When I began engaging in the cMOOC, I felt confident in my knowledge of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Access, but I lacked experience in other areas of Open Learning. I also had little experience with Twitter and blogging, and in some ways faced “imposter syndrome” as I navigated the course as both participant and learning facilitator in a team-teaching environment. As the course progressed, I grew to appreciate the connections I was making through the social networking features incorporated into the course. My engagement with other learners in the cMOOC increased as the course progressed and I gained confidence in my abilities as a learner in this environment that was new to me. I could see my own social networks expanding as I made connections through the course.

I found that my participation in Open Learning ‘17 varied depending on my other demands. I was a frequent contributor early on (tweeting, blogging, replying to blog posts from other participants), as a result of feeling the responsibility of being a new steering committee member. I also felt like I knew less about Open Learning than my fellow steering committee members, and felt I needed to catch up in terms of experience with connected learning and with topics in open learning that stretched me beyond my comfort zone of open access and OER. A few weeks into the course, I was already visible as a node in the Twitter Tags Explorer and had affectionately been given a “level up” award for “most improved” by way of a tweet with a fun animated GIF from fellow steering committee member, Amy Nelson. I documented this learning experience in my 2017 “Novice to Node” blog post that became a “poster child” story for the transformative power of the OpenLearning ‘17 experience. My activity waned around week 10, but I responded to the Hub Director’s rally call to finish strong and participated more fully in the final weeks. This experience resonates with Daniel Pink’s (2018) description in When where he explains that some individuals experience a spark at the midpoint of an activity or project, where other participants may have slumped.

Debriefing and Assessment

The steering committee debriefed after the close of the Open Learning ‘17 cMOOC, in part through an opportunity to present a panel at Old Dominion University’s faculty development conference. This event was the first time some of the members met in person. A preliminary assessment of the project, based on analysis of Twitter and blog activity, was presented at the conference. The assessment showed that most participants dropped off midway through the course. Several steering committee members speculated that fourteen weeks was too long for this kind of experience and wondered if participants would be more likely to complete a shorter course, as has been argued by Jordan (2015). Committee members also recognized that participation is challenging to define and assess. While blog posts and tweets can be counted, it is impossible to know how many participants read the readings linked from the syllabus or how many read the blog posts of others but did not comment. Saadatmand and Kumpulainen (2014) refer to this type of participation as “lurking” or “peripheral participation” (p. 25).

Dr. Gogia was further engaged to complete a report on the assessment of the Open Learning ‘17 experience, which is linked from the Open Learning Hub. According to the report by Gogia (2017), 49 participants were enrolled in OpenLearning ‘17, meaning that these individuals had registered their blog in order to syndicate it via RSS into the Hub. Most participants were affiliated with colleges and universities in Virginia, where the project was based and had been promoted most heavily; others were from across the continent, and one participant was from outside North America. Participants in the Twitter chats included 365 individuals who were at institutions all over the globe.

Gogia (2017) reported that:

[a] qualitative analysis of the learning artifacts from the course suggests that at least some participants were able to engage in connected learning, consistently drawing cross-contextual and -disciplinary connections between course readings and their personal knowledge, interests, and experience. Furthermore, at least some participants moved through and across digital platforms effectively, leveraging the unique affordances of each to explore concepts presented in the course in multi-faceted ways. Finally, participants engaged in highly interactive discussions of the selected readings, leading to negotiated and richly nuanced understandings of content that extended beyond the static course content originally presented.

With the support of his fellow steering committee members, Dr. Greenlaw (Professor of Economics at the University of Mary Washington) sent a follow-up survey to participants who had dropped off the analytics radar before the final week of the cMOOC. He found that most respondents had wanted to continue participating, but other priorities interfered. Some respondents indicated great satisfaction with the portions of the cMOOC they engaged with, indicating that they were happy with what they gained from the experience. This feedback mirrors a description of the “lurker” experience noted by Milligan et al. (2013): “What links all these lurkers is that a cMOOC format works for them—they have the skills to leverage what they want from the course, on their terms.”

Open Learning ‘18

All in all, Open Learning ‘17 was deemed by the steering committee to be a success and a rich learning experience for participants. Despite the seed funding having been exhausted, the five faculty members (Blackmon, Campbell, Erickson, Greenlaw and Nelson) were committed to building on the success of Open Learning ‘17 and wanted to close the loop on the assessment of the project by making alterations in a subsequent iteration of the cMOOC. These changes were based on what was learned through the formal assessment, as well as through observations made by the steering committee members.

The four teaching faculty (Blackmon, Campbell, Greenlaw, and Nelson) and the library faculty member (Erickson) agreed to run the cMOOC again in the spring of 2018. This iteration, known as Open Learning ‘18 would follow a significantly reduced duration (seven weeks) and would focus more on basic components of Open Education, with less focus on an understanding of the Web and computing. I reshaped the week on information literacy to include a conversation with Craig Gibson and Trudi Jacobson, early developers of the Framework. Another conversation was planned with members of the ACRL Roadshow “Engaging with the ACRL Framework,” a traveling professional development workshop for librarians working with the framework. Both of these Google Hangouts conversations (originally live and now archived on the Hub) were intended to draw librarian participants.

Rather than designating a Connected Learning Coach in this iteration, a new optional pre-cMOOC week was designed and directed by Blackmon in order to provide orientation to, and strategies for, learning in a cMOOC. I was selected by Campbell to serve in a new role, Associate Hub Director, with the hope that this would provide succession planning should the project continue beyond its second iteration. The new role provided me with the opportunity to be more directly involved in developing the structure of the syllabus, and it required that I focus more on facilitating the overall learning experience for other participants and less on my own learning in the cMOOC. The second iteration concluded with a new week on Open Faculty Development.

Now in a leadership role, I took on greater responsibility for promoting the cMOOC course. In the months prior to the start of the cMOOC, I tapped my professional library network to bring more librarians to Open Learning ‘18 by posting the invitation on listservs and mentioning the cMOOC at statewide meetings and at conferences. Many of the librarians who joined Open Learning ‘18 expressed anxiety about sharing their experiences openly on a blog, but in their posts, they also seemed to share what I experienced during Open Learning ‘17 with regard to valuing the human connections made through these social media platforms. I also steered the focus of my professional development for the year toward venues that would offer opportunities to promote the cMOOC and to engage with others in the Open Learning community.

Just one month before the start of Open Learning ‘18, most of us on the steering committee presented at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) Annual Meeting. This proved to be a useful venue for promoting the cMOOC to a broader audience in higher education, particularly those interested in learning technologies. Our presence at ELI no doubt resulted in the influx of instructional designers participating in this iteration. The presentation received a write-up in the EDUCAUSE Review by Leafstedt (2018), further expanding its reach and capturing my pithy description of the learning experience (“the network is the classroom”), that had reverberated through the Twittersphere. During the presentation, I had explained that the learning happens in and through a decentralized network. Without the network, there is no classroom, in that participants would not have a way to engage with each other in addition to engaging with the readings and activities in the syllabus. To be sure, this “classroom” is unlike any other, with learners working independently (but ideally connecting with each other) across space and time. The Web provides the capacity for learners to connect, and the steering committee used that feature strategically to create a particular kind of learning experience.

I continued to reflect on my own cMOOC experience in Open Learning ‘17 in a blog post I wrote immediately following the 2018 ELI Annual Meeting. In that post, I expanded further on the importance of being vulnerable and of learner agency in this special learning environment and on the idea that, in a cMOOC, “the network is the classroom.” The experiential approach magnifies the opportunity to open up to vulnerability as a learner and to connect with others who may know more or have more experience. At the same time, the experiential approach has the potential to empower the learner that is immersing deeply and sharing boldly with the community of learners. The best way to learn about open learning and connected learning is to be immersed in the network and connecting with ideas and other learners.

Open Learning ‘19

While the other steering committee members had to drop off due to other obligations, Campbell and I committed to running a third iteration, in which I took the lead as Hub Director fulfilling the promise of the succession planning laid out in the previous course. Blackmon also joined in for portions of the planning and the finale. The opportunity to promote this reprise came early for Campbell and I when we had a session accepted at MIT’s Connected Learning Summit (CLS) in August 2018. At CLS, we presented the story of Open Learning ‘17 and ‘18, highlighting how concepts from Connected Learning were incorporated into the cMOOC. Connected Learning is most often associated with K-12 learners, so there was interest from the audience in hearing about how the principles could be infused into an experience for adult learners, particularly those working in higher education. The opportunity to promote the upcoming Open Learning ‘19 cMOOC to an audience of K-12 teachers, instructional designers, and graduate students was a welcome one and through the conference connections, our social networks grew to include educators beyond academia.

For Open Learning ‘19, the syllabus was further reduced to three weeks out of necessity to keep it manageable. We included the optional pre-cMOOC week that had been designed for Open Learning ‘18. We wondered, would participants’ engagement persist with this shorter duration? For some, it did, but this iteration also saw a similar drop off to the prior ones, despite having invited a few past participants to serve as “greeters” during the pre-cMOOC and first week to welcome new participants. Contrary to Jordan’s (2015) findings, the Open Learning cMOOC appeared to follow a similar engagement pattern, regardless of duration. In When, Daniel Pink (2018) writes about midpoints explaining that they are either points of slump or spark, where one either loses steam or ramps up activity (p.116). It seems that in most MOOCs, even our short 2019 cMOOC, participants slumped at the midpoint.

In his earlier work, Drive (2011), Pink provides insight into motivation, specifically on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivators. Pink argues that in today’s world, we are motivated by intrinsic factors and that we are driven by three main factors: autonomy, mastery and purpose. In a learning setting such as the Open Learning cMOOCs, learners have the autonomy to choose an individualized path by selecting readings, viewing archived videos, participating in synchronous activities (Google Hangouts and Twitter chats), and engaging in social activities such as blogging and tweeting. As learners progress through the cMOOC experience they gain mastery through participating in connected learning activities. The experiential emphasis in this learning experience enhances the understanding of what the learner is reading and viewing because the experiences are directly tied to the content of the course. The Open Learning cMOOC provides a way for learners to tap into a higher purpose by being connected to a larger movement, in this case the Open Education Movement. Perhaps Pink’s ideas about the importance of timing and what spurs intrinsic motivation could be combined to address the drop out seen so often in MOOCs, particularly in cMOOCs that require self-directed learning. Further research is needed to understand the relationship between duration, learner motivation, and active participation in MOOCs.

Part of the intentional design of Open Learning ‘19 was to include more video content, most of which would be organized as synchronous events that would be edited and archived on the Hub. As a result, Campbell and I created the Open Learning YouTube channel, which along with the Open Learning Hub will continue as resources for anyone interested in the topics covered. Linked from the Hub, the YouTube channel provides a warehouse for Open Learning video content created by steering committee members. Some video content was pre-recorded and edited, but most of it was initially presented as a live activity during the cMOOC and recorded for later editing and posting to the YouTube channel. The kickoff for Open Learning ‘19 was a video conversation between Campbell and myself where we shared plans for the cMOOC and strategies for newcomers to fully engage in the experience. The final activity for Open Learning ‘19 was an Open Learning reunion, in which past and present participants of all three iterations of the cMOOC were invited to a video chat via Zoom to share their experiences. Generating more video content organically emerged as a focus for Open Learning ‘19. A somewhat unanticipated and happy result of Open Learning in its various iterations is that a large library of interviews with established and emerging experts is now available for anyone to view.

A Librarian’s Reflections on a Path to Leading Open Learning

For me, the experience of advancing to Associate Hub Director for Open Learning ‘18 and to Hub Director for Open Learning ‘19 made for very different experiences than the initial participation in the cMOOC. Like taking a leadership role in any organization, it resulted in less time on the ground and more time hovering over the experience. I had fewer opportunities to engage fully in the assignments and activities in the syllabus and spent more time facilitating overall participation. It involved more hands-on technical administration of the Hub and more consideration of the presentation of information for participants’ ease of use. Stepping up to Hub Director required learning new skills in managing the Hub and tackling the challenges that come with responding to changes in technology. For example, the ability to embed an RSS feed from a Twitter tag was no longer supported by the platform, and so an alternative had to be developed for this section of the Hub site. Thus in this third iteration of the cMOOC, the focus of the learning for me was on devising ways to engage participants and designing a larger learning experience beyond a single week of content. As Hub Director, my focus became thinking about the future and about what kind of legacy the work of the Steering Committee would leave behind. More recently, Cambell and I have discussed how to shape the Hub into a lasting resource and also how to attempt to re-engage the community that formed around the iterations of the Open Learning cMOOCs.

One of the most rewarding experiences for me has been the evolution of my professional network, which now includes individuals around the globe who are prominent in the Open Education Movement, as well as up and comers I will enjoy watching grow as professionals. Thanks to the Open Learning cMOOC experiences and my involvement in promoting the cMOOC and Hub at conferences, my professional network now includes K-12 teachers, gaming developers, instructional designers, educational technologists, higher education administrators, faculty and graduate students, and of course, librarians from all library types. The experience has provided direct access to people like Peter Suber, Director of the Office of Scholarly Communication at Harvard University and world-renowned open access expert, while at the same time has provided me the opportunity to influence the focus of study of a graduate student at one of the doctoral institutions in Virginia. Participation in the activities in the cMOOCs has enabled me to interact with scholars all across the globe through Zoom interviews, Google Hangouts, and Virtually Connecting sessions and has expanded my professional network to a global scale and one that goes well beyond my field of librarianship.


In terms of quantitative assessment, there were 59 blogs registered with the Hub by the end of Open Learning ‘17, 32 additional blogs linked during Open Learning ‘18, and 21 more during Open Learning ‘19. Clearly, the initial run of the cMOOC garnered the most interest and engagement, however since these figures indicate initial registrations only, they do not capture the number of participants who returned for another try at one of the later iterations of the cMOOC since their blogs were already connected to the Hub.

The diversity of professional backgrounds of those involved in the cMOOC enhanced the overall conversation and contributions through the blog posts, Twitter chats, Zoom conversations and through questions that were asked during the Google Hangouts with experts in a variety of areas within Open Learning.

The members of the steering committee found numerous opportunities to share our experience in developing and participating in the cMOOC. These sharing moments at conferences further expanded the reach of the cMOOC, as well as the social networks of all who are connected to it.

As an experiment, the Open Learning cMOOC has explored ways that faculty development can happen in the open, through a central innovation hub and an ever-evolving network of peers and colleagues connected to open learning, connected learning, and educational technology, including educators at all levels and professionals from other spheres that touch on areas of interest to the emerging community of learners. This type of professional development is largely self-motivated and self-directed, requiring a sustained investment of time and attention. With the Open Learning syllabi archived on the Open Learning Hub, a motivated newcomer could follow a structured and flexible path through topics by selecting readings and viewing recordings associated with the cMOOC.

One interesting phenomenon in the later runs of the cMOOC was that there were returning participants. These tended to be previous participants who had dropped out midway and wanted to give the cMOOC another try. Figure 2 shows one participant’s blog post at the start of Open Learning ‘19.

Figure 2

Blog Post from an Open Learning ‘19 Participant

Note. Blog post from an Open Learning ‘19 participant who returned from a previous iteration of the cMOOC (rrdaniel2, 2019a). Image description is available in the Appendix.

Even more rewarding than the return to the Open Learning ‘19 cMOOC itself was this participant’s later post on how he had continually reflected on the value and complexity of Open through his teaching. He was continuing to reflect on the experience a full four months after the end of Open Learning ‘19 in a blog post on July 10, 2019. This sustained reflection suggests that the impact of experiences like the Open Learning cMOOC live on and that there would be value in attempting to reconnect learners in the network from time to time. Early research on MOOCs indicated that the connections made in a cMOOC could be lasting:

“The results of a MOOC collaboration may extend far beyond the MOOC itself: the network negotiated is just as important as the topic covered, if not more so. Participation in a MOOC is emergent, fragmented, diffuse, and diverse.” (McCauley et al., 2010).

For librarians, participation in a cMOOC can provide an opportunity to expand technical skills and at the same time to expand one’s professional network beyond libraries and geographical boundaries. Librarians might also recognize their expertise as they interact with others who are focused on different areas of knowledge and skills. They might see, as I did, how their work fits into a larger educational experience and where natural affinities lie with people who work in other areas of education. Librarians have much to bring to a cMOOC and also much to draw from the experience.

Next steps

The steering committee accomplished its goals of creating a dynamic learning experience and closing the loop on assessment through multiple iterations of the cMOOC. There are no plans to run the cMOOC again. However, Campbell and I plan to continue using the hashtags previously used for the cMOOC (#OpenLearning17, #OpenLearning18, and #OpenLearning19), as well as #OpenLearningHub, a new hashtag that will attempt to connect followers with the Open Learning Hub site. We may add content to the YouTube channel and the Hub as we create and encounter resources that are relevant to the community of learners. Anyone on social media can continue to use the hashtags and, as long as the technology holds, their blog posts will be syndicated to the Hub. We are also considering creating asynchronous events or Twitter “happenings” annually during Open Education Week.

I hope that the publication and open distribution of this chapter will provide even further reach of the Hub and the Open Learning cMOOC story to an even broader audience. I encourage readers to follow the Twitter hashtags associated with it (#OpenLearning17, #OpenLearning18, #OpenLearning19, and #OpenLearningHub) and to follow @SueErickson10 and @GardnerCampbell on Twitter to see how the learning continues.


Association of American Colleges & Universities. (n.d.-a). Faculty Collaboratives Project Rubric.

Association of American Colleges & Universities. (n.d.-b). Leap States Initiative.

Association of American Colleges & Universities. (n.d.-c). Liberal Education and America’s Promise.

Association of College & Research Libraries (2016). Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education.

Campbell, G., & Covington, B. (2017). LEAPing into Open Learning ‘17.

Erickson, S. (2017, May 19). From novice to node in one semester or less. Sue Erickson: Advancing Teams, Growing Leaders.

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Opening up, one more time

March 16, 2019 – RRDANIEL2

900 words


I am looking forward to taking part in the “open learning” cMOOC, mediated in part through It has been 2 years since my first participation in the project, in its 2017 iteration. (And, quite frankly, at that time, I was obligated to drop out about halfway through the semester-long process.)

It is a shorter and more intense iteration this time. I’m bringing different strengths and weaknesses to it this time around. But I’m hopeful that I’ll be a better and more productive participant this time.


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Open Pedagogy Approaches Copyright © by Susan J. Erickson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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