Below is an archive of three years of  blog postings, from December 12, 2012 to October 29, 2016. These blogs contain reflections and comments about education and learning, art education,  museums, MOOCs, MOOCs in museums, art, and even some politics


Comics as personal propoganda (not mine)

What do you think about this article in The New Republic about Jack T. Chick’s hateful messages? Personally, I have an extreme dislike that matches the extreme sensibility of Chick. It promotes the hate, fear and arrogance It is also representative of the sensibility of some artists who separate the meaning of their work from the actual art. Once a mark is made on a surface, it does acquire a meaning. The question then becomes whether the artist is honest enough to acknowledge it. I think that Nick Sousanis’ brilliant book “Unflattening” addresses this in its examination of the relationship between text and images.
The article about Chick in The New Republic


Day One after Debate III- The New York Al Smith Charity Dinner: Hillary and donald

This was truly an impressive event. Trump actually said some funny things, and of course, also spewed manure. Hillary was spectacular! She combined gentle and not so gentle barbs towards DT, she showed her intelligence, strength, passion and care, and even humility, as well as pride

She said the rights things, did the right things, acknowledge the right things. She gave back to Donald in straight, Her words were reassuring by reminding us where we succeeded and pointed to that we need to do. She spoke about the critical need to continue mend the tears of our society,

She described one of the great things about our country: e pluribus unum. I don’t thing that she used that term, but she certainly inferred it. She implied that everyone attending the event came form some other place, or their descendants did (II’m not sure if there were any of Native Americans present), We need to remember that and treat each other accordingly.

I am truly sorry that Bernie is not the candidate- I believe that he would have made a truly great president.  But this speech reenforced my support and my vote for Hillary.

Video of the speeches.

But watching donald’s reactions to her barbs was really scary. Although it looked like he had a few honest laughs, it seems to me the majority of his expressions were really tight, expressing more of an arrogant and adolescent “Just you wait! I’m gonna get you!”. The last time that I saw this expression on him was at the correspondents diner in D.C., when President Obama tossed a few barbs towards him. At first it looked as if he did not understand them. But his grin was just as tight- in that schoolyard bully’s expression of plotting revenge. He really had tried to damage the system for his and only his own benefit. Not a good man.

Quick announcement- Stan Lee’s Comic Con!

The 2016 Stan Lee’s Comic Con (formerly known as Comikaze) is happening at the LA Convention Center on Saturday and Sunday, October 29 and 30. This will be my first time, and I have heard really good things about past conventions here. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by on Sunday, 10/30 at 11:30 am in room 301 A (although that may be subject to change. I am going to me moderating a panel called Zap! Pow! You got an A!  Comics in the classroom! The panelists are Peter Carlson and Johnny Parker III, experienced educators, and passionate advocates for comics. We will talk about how they use comics in classrooms, some of titles they choose, as well as learning objectives. We will talk about some general strategies that are proven to increase both children’s interest and levels in literacy, through a very wide range of narratives and content.
Come on by! This should be fun and imformative!

Madaya Mom, a powerful digital comic about the war in Syria

Madaya Mom is a new digital comic, made as a collaboration between Marvel and ABC news is a brilliant and powerful story about the life of a family in the war-torn town of Madaya.

Madaya is a town in Syria, and besieged by Assad’s army since the summer of 2015. People cannot get in or out, and the situation is dire.   Several creative thinkers at ABC used their connections in Syria to  contact a mother of 5 living there. These are her powerful stories, where just surviving makes her a SuperMom. The illustrations by Croation comic artist Dalibor Talajić engage the reader and enhance the story. Bravo to this partnership!

ABC also produced a discussion guide for teachers.

Comics are an excellent way to provide stories about people that contextualizes current events. They tell deeper, meaningful stories about individuals who live in current events. We are used to see news broadcasts, documentaries, re-enactments on different screens. The radio and television provide ample opportunities and opinions of news, and newspapers can provide a level of in-depth analysis of important events. These are all excellent ways of staying informed, providing information for different kinds of news consumers that mirror the different ways people learn. It seems obvious to look at the different ways stories are told, or the same story is told, but through different voices, like in Rashomon.

They remind me of the work of Henry Jenkins and others talk about trans-media, or how narratives can be told across different media, such as movies, books, radio, and of course comic books. Different media are utilized to tell different back stories to larger narratives. Think about the different media used to describe the Star Wars Universe.

This idea of trans-media can be applied to events and issues in really cool and interesting ways, such as in comics and graphic novels. The combination of images and text create narratives that are compelling  as well as personally engaging. What comics loose in special effects, they gain in their immediacy, intimacy, humanity and that they are gently non-linear, and interactive in a non-digital kind of way. Readers progress, but can always stop and revisit previous chapters or panels, reflecting on the meaning, deepening their understanding of the story. As much as I would like to say that I have discovered it, I am happier that it has been around awhile many fine  writers such as Joe Sacco, Gene Luen Yang, Marjane Satrapi, and so many others (I will put a list of some of my favorite authors and stories soon).

Reflections on two recent conferences- Long Beach Comic Con and DML

I just binge watched the entire first season of Luke Cage on netflix, and, all because of the really interesting, engaging and critical discussion between Dr. Henry Jenkins  of USC and journalist Jose Antonia Varga at the recent Digital Media & Learning conference held at UC Irvine. DML has always been one of my favorite conferences for educators and technologists to meet and talk about critical issues that are at heart about how technology can and is used to enhance learning and education. The combination of dynamic sessions and passionate educators always is inspiring and presents a really cool realm of possibilities created by being part of this continuum of dreamers, thinkers, and creators, investigating and celebrating the universe…., er, I digress.

It was a treat to be able to listen to Henry and Jose’s dialogue that was presented as part of their long, continuing dialogue about critical issues that face the US and the world. For this session, they started the dialogue about white privilege, then went on to address global  migrations and diasporas, and the nature of illegal immigration. Some of the questions and issues that they addressed were:

  • How to make migration an issue in different communities, especially the LGBT community
  • Interesting to consider that goods and commodities can move around freely, but people, often the people who make these goods, cannot.
  • White people can travel around the world, often without documents, and are called adventurers, while people of color are illegal.
  • The critical need for white people to own up to and understand white privilege.
  • The role of digital communication in facilitating the true lives and experiences of people
  • “Who gets to tell the story is an important as the story getting told,” Vargas
  • Diversifying entertainment (who is behind the camera)
  • The need for more empathy building and honesty in popular media
  • Ways that we can help undocumented students in education and society
  • Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC)-

Then things got really interesting- they entered the realm of ways that graphic novels and comics can be used to address these issues. Jenkins discussed the nature of dreamers in society, the ones who think and dream of creating a better world for all people, and the ways that educators can help dreamers to facilitate their activities by building bridges between content and action, and that the superheroes can be used to build those bridges. Superheroes help readers look at and imagine all sorts of change- in action, theory and even sensibilities. After all, Superman is actually an undocumented resident.

Jenkins and Vargas went on to speak about the nature of diversity in comics, both the creators and the narratives, and they both looked to Luke Cage as an positive example. Not only are creators Black, the narrative highlights important Black thinkers, writers, musicians, and activists. Conversations in the barber shop where cage works bring up Oscar Peterson, Ralph Ellison, Miles Davis, Malcolm X,  MLK, Walter Mosley and other greats. These names are not just dropped, they are integrated into the narrative in natural and organic ways that also contextualizes them in US society and history, showing them to be the important people they were (and are).

As usual, I left the DML with my head buzzing with ideas for education in general, and more specifically, about my dissertation- using graphic novels and comics in the classroom  to teach critical issues about social justice, communal and individual identity.

As I reflected on these ideas, I began to think about the panel on diversity in comics that I participated in at the 2016 Long Beach Comic Con. I unfortunately arrived late to the session, and missed the names of the other panelists (and they all split to other events immediately after it was done. The discussion was already in progress when I did sit down, and after a few minutes, when there was a break, one of the moderators (there were 2 or 3), asked me to introduce my self, and I was genuinely surprised and pleased when I received a round of applause when I mentioned my dissertation topic. I felt that I was off to a better start.

It was a diverse panel- 3 Black men, a woman (possibly gay), and me. The moderators were a Black man, a White man, and a White woman. The discussion was rich and dynamic and pretty positive. One gentleman in the audience challenged the panel about the lack of Blacks in the industry, but said in a way that felt that he was not given the opportunities that he felt that he deserved. He also ragged about some of the creators who have succeeded, but in a way that downplayed their success. The panel pretty much agreed that we are at a time where we need to support those who can do their work, encourage it and celebrate it, even if you do not particularly like their work. It is important that if we want to create change, then we need to celebrate and support each other. One of the panelists then told his own story. He is a true comics geek and always wanted to create them. As he grew older, he found that the path was incredibly difficult, and that he may not be able to succeed. But rather then give up, he became a publisher and publishes the kids of comics that he wanted to make, primarily about the Black community (and super heroes). I really like this idea, and know of other examples where people modified their personal dreams in order to support and empower others, which also can be considered a great way to engage the community of creators and users.

All in all, it was a very positive discussion, with the participants showing great respect for each other and love of the medium!

But there was a fly here, that I’ve been reflecting and thinking about. At one point, the discussion shifted to the producers of comics and movies and the perception that many of these producers and agents are Jewish. The moderator of that moment, a Black man, leaned over to me and made a comment that can only be described as anti-Semitic.  This so surprised me that I was stunned, and could not really respond, and I have been wrestling with it ever since. It seemed out of place at that point in the conversation, since we were all agreeing that in order to combat racism, sexism and hate, we need to work together and support each other. What it showed be was that people often find it difficult to let go of stereotypes, no matter who. I was disappointed, mostly in myself for not bringing up and addressing his comment at that time. But I was in shock. I also began to think that although this type of comment exists across all lines of color, race, and gender. It is the poison that corrodes our society. There are plenty of examples where people are the stereotypes, which often are pretty negative. But there are plenty examples of stereotypes of people who do good work, who reach out to collaborate to together build a better society for all. And I do believe that comics can help in this process!

At the 2016 Long Beach Comic Con

A couple of weeks ago, I  spent the day at the Long Beach Comic Con, among all sorts of sapient beings in multiple  sizes, colors, genders, faiths, with fur and without, in costume or not.  All in all a nice  a really nice  confetti community having fun.

I went to sit on a panel with several other comics professional to talk about diversity in comics. It was a good mix of voices- a couple of women, African-Americans, and me, the Jewish kid. And amongst us, there were authors and artists, a publisher, and I cannot remember what a couple of my colleagues were, but they were definitely advocates of using graphic novels in classrooms to teach about social justice and diversity. My colleagues graciously welcomed me into the ongoing discussion after I appeared 15 minutes late (I could not find the room) . At a small break in their conversation, I was asked to introduce myself, which I did. After saying that I am writing my EdD dissertation on using comics and graphic novels in the classroom to help teach social justice, individual, community and social identity, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a round of applause. Actually, it was pretty cool to to get that immediate positive feedback!The panelists were interesting, knowledgable, and also creative thinkers, everyone was engaged in some really stimulating discussion. But because I was late, I did not get their names, and the participants and audience pretty much vanished  immediately after the panel.

The moderators asked really interesting questions that stimulated a lot of good dialogue and more questions about diversity in the comic world.  There was a discussion about the lack of diversity in the production of comics- very few writers, authors and producers are people of color, or gender. After some engaging dialogue, we decided that rather then complain about the lack of these creative, it is better to go out and do it on your own. One guy (if you are reading this, please forgive me, as I cannot remember your name) did exactly that- he opened up his own publishing house for artists/writers/stories of and by people of color.We also discussed the lack of heroes who are not white/male and what can and is being done to change that. We talked about Gene Luen Yang, the Hernandez brothers and a lot of others. Additionally, we all are fans of the independent publishers because they have more freedom to publish edgier stuff.

As an educator, I spoke about some of the benefits of using comics in classrooms, such as the  development of cognitive visual-text tools that  help with understanding the relationship between words and pictures. I cannot say this are new ideas, but they are novel interpretations and applications of the blend traditional learning theory with contemporary story-telling.

Can one learn from a moot question?

A while back, when I was an art student at UC Santa Cruz, I was working late in a painting studio and chatting with my classmate, Michael Blatt (now an architect, doing really cool stuff). At one point, my imagination got a hold of me and I asked Michael THE question, “If you could live in anywhere in any time period, where and when would it be?”. Michael, the curious scholar first made a point that this was a moot question. We are here, now and as far as we now know, we cannot travel in time. But then, Michael continued, this is still an interesting question and we had this really engaging conversation that touched on a lot of interesting and important ideas about values, life, history, philosophy. Now, I do not remember all of the details of the discussion, yet I still have a vivid image of the question, the initial response and then, the rich and meaningful conversation.

Museum On The Seam

I just discovered this really cool museum in Jerusalem, with important and engaging exhibitions. It is called the Museum on the Seam, and is located on a seam between Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods.

Source: Museum On The Seam

Why arts education? An ongoing discussion

Too often, the arts are left out of any educational plan and that the arts are looked upon as a secondary or minor component of education. The importance of the the arts cannot be ignored- it is the arts that infuse meaning into a hard science. There is beauty in the sciences and math, but not everybody thinks in such terms and the arts infuse the hard sciences and math with beauty, with meaning and with the human elements. For example- look at space- Pilots and astronauts who can look out at the universe and describe it in hard scientific terms. But what about how they feel? What about the parts of being human that cannot be qualified or quantified. What would happen if an artist or poet was sent up on the next space mission. How would we explain and interpret what is seen and what is felt? Too often it is the arts that create meaning into an experience. Imagine what a poet would say when standing in the new cupola of the space station describing what they see as well as what they feel. The technical, linear and logical with the emotional, subjective and personal. Take this idea back to the classroom and have students of any age describe their experiments in terms of what they feel and what happened. Perhaps we can begin to address the human condition and shift it to a situation of thinking to a situation of feeling. Perhaps we can make it shift form hard analysis to the human feelings. This may also provide us with answers to what we actually feel.

MOOCs at Museums on the Web, and the joy of mistakes (?)

On Wednesday, I will be traveling to Portland, Or. to attend Museums and the Web 2013. I’m pretty excited. MOW has always been a favorite conference of mine. It is always fun and there are always interesting people who do really interesting and creative work in some cool places. It’s been a couple of years since I went, to it will be even more fun.

Although I am excited, I’ve also been a bit nervous about it. I was invited to expand my original proposal, which is also the area of my research. I have had a bit of writer’s block but finally started to write a lot.

I looked at my writing and felt that something was missing. I finally realized that I was becoming too clinical about something that I am really excited about. I hear more and more talk about MOOCs, what they are, how they work, how they can be used. I think that MOOCs are a glacial revolution and have the potential that if not change the way we educate, it will at least create some very dynamic alternatives.

Their are a lot of things that I like about MOOCs and I need to be careful not to sound like a one of those guys on infomercials. Although MOOCs are informed by some very well respected and relevant learning theories and theorists. I feel that I could wear one of those direct-sales company pins that say, “Ask me about…”

While wondering about what I’m writing and what I will be speaking about (I will be on a panel with Deborah Howes, Robert Rutherford, and Slavko Milekic), I opened up a TED talk that I’ve been meaning to listen to and heard the words that I’ve been trying to say. Simon Schocken, the son of a family of learners, describes the joy of self-guided learning, and self-guided course organizations. Although his field (and passion) is computer engineering, I can see the same model applied to other disciplines, such as the arts and humanities.

His talk is brilliant and I felt that one idea that he mentioned really described how I felt about my MOOC blogs. They were not my best examples of writing, but they were an integral part of my process.

Schocken describes that one of the most fun parts of learning is failing, and writes: “And with that in mind, I’d like to say a few words about traditional college grading. I’m sick of it. We are obsessed with grades because we are obsessed with data, and yet grading takes away all the fun from failing, and a huge part of education is about failing. Courage, according to Churchill, is the ability to go from one defeat to another without losing enthusiasm. (Laughter) And [Joyce] said that mistakes are the portals of discovery. And yet we don’t tolerate mistakes, and we worship grades. So we collect your B pluses and your A minuses and we aggregate them into a number like 3.4, which is stamped on your forehead and sums up who you are. Well, in my opinion, we went too far with this nonsense, and grading became degrading.”

Schocken’s TED talk is here:

On building a better MOOC

When building a MOOC, one of the most important questions that professionals ask is: What do I use to build this MOOC? This is no small question and the there is no one small answer. There are a plethora of opportunities and possible solutions, the selection of which really depends on the general sensibility and educational goals of the institution and of the course to be offered.  A course that is based on a formal approach to learning, one that is directed by the instruction, has a set schedule, prescribed assignments and tests requires a platform that supports this methodology and goals. This is appropriate if the institution is affiliated with a college or university that has a LMS such as Sakai (, Moodle (, or Blackboard (, Although some of these platforms are low to no cost, like ant LMS, considerable resources are still necessary to customize, deploy, and support a MOOC. The same can be said proprietary systems that such as Coursera (, or EdX (

Limited resources should not hold back a smaller institution for developing and deploying MOOCs in their education programs. The development of Web 2.0 AND 3.0 has made introduced a wide range of tools and platforms that can be modified and adapted for MOOCs. My personal favorites are the Google suite of tools because of the breadth of functions, tools and process available. For example, Google+ can be used to set up mega-groups (for the complete class) as well as sub-groups that facilitate smaller communities of practice. Once the class and groups have been created, there is a plethora of tools, and processes that can be used to create, support and facilitate learning activities- chats, image and video sharing, blogs, web sites, calendars for scheduling and more. A complete list of the tools and apps available on Google can be found at DISCLAIMER: I am not an employee of Google, and do not receive any remuneration from them. But even with the multitude of legal and ethical issues that surround Google (and many other technology providers), Google does provide a powerful set of tools that can be used by institutions with limited resources).

It is also possible to mix and match apps, using the strengths of each when deploying MOOCs. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, ning, and similar applications can be used to create   low cost or even no cost platforms for MOOCs.

As a professional team works to identify the learning approach, and community to be served by the MOOC, as well as choosing appropriate technology and platforms, it is critical to consider security, privacy, intellectual property and copyright policies and guidelines that will protect the institution and individual participants.

NEXT: Give me liberty or give me security, privacy, intellectual property and copyright policies

Community, community, wherefore art thou?

Community, community, wherefore art thou?
In this sense “wherefore?” is more accurately defined as meaning “for what purpose?”

One of the most interesting challenges for museum professionals is audience definition. Multiple departments in multiple museums struggle to define a typical audience- who they are, their ages, genders, levels of education, interests, nationalities, and on and on. The easiest answer is that museum audience is everyone. Of course, special collections tend to attract those interested in that collection (for example, a museum dedicated to stamps will primarily attract stamp collectors) but for the most part, museums attract wide and varied audiences. One challenge for museum professionals then is how to design exhibitions, catalogs, descriptions, etc for such a broad audience.  An additional and related challenge is how to design this experience for an even broader audience- the virtual one.

With years of experience and knowledge, museum professionals have developed successful strategies to display information and educate the public about their respective collections. But the information is a top-down model, where information is selected by the museum professional before disseminated to the visitor. The value of this process cannot be underestimated- it is produced by experts, educators, curators and other specialists who understand the artifacts, context and methods. But, it does not take into consideration the knowledge, insights, and experiences of the visitor. There are very practical reasons for this, for example the dynamic nature of museum visits, the varied audiences, or allotted time for a visit. The result of this is that it becomes difficult to develop and sustain a community of learners, or a community of practice. It is crucial to remember that authentic learning does not happen in a vacuum or as a solo practice, but rather as part of a community process. In many ways, this community is based on the traditional model of medieval guilds. A person starts as laborer, then with time and experience, transitions to apprentice, then journeyman and finally a master. This model can also be used to describe other type of learning. In The Children’s Machine, Seymour Papert uses this process to describe Brazilian samba schools, in which children start their samba education by cleaning up the school, then assisting with special tasks, then focusing on one aspect of the school (for example as a dancer, musician, costumer, or builder), before becoming the master. The learning takes place in a communal atmosphere where those with experience guide and teach new members.

Lave and Wenger describe communities of practice (COP) in a similar manner: “a group of people who share a craft and/or a profession. The group can evolve naturally because of the members’ common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field.” Within a community of practice, learning happens by the sharing of information between members of the community.

Two other related learning process are constructivism and connectivisim.  In constructivism, learners construct knowledge by “Discovery learning, hands-on, experiential, collaborate, project-based, tasked-based are a number of applications that base teaching and learning on constructivism”.

Connectivism, as defined in Wikipedia, “sees learning as the process of creating connections and elaborating a network”

This network of people and ideas develops into a community of practice that that makes learning environments to create meaning and understanding. There are real challenges in creating communities of practice for museum visitors that are imposed by the limitations of physical museums. But, these challenges are not insurmountable. The web in general and specifically MOOCs can provide the platform for creating communities of practice for museum audiences. MOOCs can be used as a platform to provide pre-and post-vist content, but also as an environment for experts and novices to exchange information and experiences about collections and topics of interests.

Comunities of practice-
Shakespear definition taken from

To MOOC or not to MOOC….

“To MOOC or not to MOOC, that is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrow of outrageous learning, Or to take regular classes against a sea of technology, and by opposing them, return to the classroom….” loosely paraphrased from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Director of educational technology. 

In other words, the decision on whether to use a MOOC (or not) is not a quick fix to any institutions educational technology challenges. Deploying a MOOC requires as much planning and development time as any other class, online or classroom. And one of the first decisions that need to be made is about what type of MOOC should be used, a decision that relates to an institution’s general approach to learning.

The xMOOC is best used in formal settings that use traditional, pre-determined-curriculum, instructor-led classes (sage-on-the stage or guide on the side), and fixed schedules that use lectures, assignments, and tests. Good examples of this type are the MOOCs offered by Stanford University.  Daphne Koller‘s gives an excellent presentation about this at the TED conference. She also describes how Coursera was developed as a platform at Stanford that later became an independent company for other schools.

But an institution that whose pedagogical approach is connectivist and informal (or free-choice) learning would be better served by deploying a cMOOC. This model is based more on a bottom-up style of learning, driven more by the desire of the participants to create their own meaning of content by connecting different types of data from multiple sources. In this example, the instructor provides questions and general guidelines for the class material, but the students find, interpret and aggregate and make sense of the material, in a way that is both meaningful and authentic to them.

The cMOOC is messier than the traditional style of the xMOOC, yet can be just as effective, if not more so than the xMOOC. By relying on the input of the students, there is greater access to more experts in the course content, as well as related fields then is possible then the xMOOC. This is particularly important in the humanities and arts, where content and meaning is driven by interpretation and iteration. I would argue that the cMOOC could also be an efficient and excellent model for museum education, which is more often based on informal, free-choice learning than the stricture of a fixed curriculum. Museums and their programs attract a wide range of visitors, each with their own expertise, experience and knowledge. A cMOOC creates an ongoing, 24/7 learning experience that prepares and extends a visitor’s experience. A cMOOC can be used as a platform for reaching out to those unable to actually visit. Additionally, in today’s economic climate, a cMOOC is a potential platform for creating large, online exhibitions based on content from a wide range of museums and collections that would be finically challenging to do in a practical exhibition.

After the learning approach and type of MOOC are identified, the technology platform and curriculum can be developed.

NEXT: Technology platforms for museum MOOCs


Siemens, George, MOOCs are really a platform-


More thoughts about MOOCs and museums….

One of the richest experience that comes out of a museum is visiting the museum itself. Whether following an exhibition or gallery tour designed by curators and educators, or wandering around looking at whatever captures a your imagination, thus enabling you to create their your personal exhibition, a museum visit is always a rich, exploratory and educational experience, and is always fun. Being able to see the size, materials and construction of art and artifacts will engage a visitor’s intellect and curiosity in ways that small images viewed on the web cannot. To help expedite a visitor’s experience, museum professionals often design and optimize web sites for pre-visit experiences, so that visitors have a starting point for their visit. But, not everyone can participate in this experience. Distance and money does create limitations to many potential museum visitors.  Ways to reach out, attract and bring museum visitors from distant locations has and continues to be one of the critical issues facing museum professionals today. The ongoing development and integration of digital media, the web and social networks have provided some interesting and innovative solutions to these issues (these ideas will be addressed in future blogs).

Often times museum visits are solitary experiences. Visitors wander around, exploring and creating incredibly meaningful and valuable personal learning opportunities.  Group tours with a docents or educator provide other rich experiences. In many ways, as participants move around, they create a temporary communities of practice or learners, sharing the common thread provided by the leader. Moving around, visitors create a dialogue between educator and visitors is created as they share information, observations and questions.

The question then becomes whether it is possible to tansfer a museum’s visitor’s on-site experience to those unable to attend. Some museums develop web exhibitions that function as pre-visit experiece to prepare a visitor for an actual visit. While this is an important  function of the site, it does not really address the vast quantity of potential visitors unable to attend.  MOOCs may offer a method of creating a bridge between the onnsite and online experiences. For example, instead of limiting the purpose of  a virtual exhihition  to  pre-museum visits, MOOCs can be used as  stand-alone sites that emulate the group-tour experience. Online visitors gain opportunities to explore, share, interpret, and create meaning within a community of people with a shared interest. MOOCs can be a platform for curating exhibitions that can be economically. MOOCs can also be a platform for museums to display art and artifacts that are locked away in storage, providing visitors with a deeper undertanding of an artist, style, or period of work that is hidden away. Another example of how MOOCs can be used is to create exhibitions and leadning experiences based on examples of art and artifacts that are scatterd across the globe in multiple museums and collections.

For example, I am a fan of the artist Stanton Macdonald-Wright, of the founders of the post-cubist synchromist movement. I was first exposed to this artist during a high school visit to LACMA and saw his painting Synchromy in Purple. The problem that I have is that although synchromy is recognized in the art world, I have not found any one large collection of Macdonald-Wright’s paintings. They are displayed in ones and twos, if at all. I admit that this may be a bit esoteric to some, but I am sure that you get the drift of my thinking. All you need to do is swap out Macdonald-Wright or synchromy with a specific interest of your own- art or otherwise. 

MOOCs may provide a partial solution to this quandary of mine. I imagine a virtual exhibition of a large collection of Macdonald-Wright’s paintings, gathered from a collective of museums, collections and galleries and curated by a group of curators, educators, historians, collectors and perhaps painters. Participants are anyone interested in the movement, period, artist or any other of the associated topics. Of course there would need to be a leader/instructor who would provide information and more importantly, questions to stimulate group discussions. Sub-communities may form to discuss specific paintings, or perhaps the artistic, social, political or economic history of the time- issues that helped define the artist and movement. Each group participates and adds their knowledge to the discussion, providing a more robust and complete understanding of the art, artist and period. Perhaps those interested in music could research the music of the place and period, illustrating the way in which music and painting influence each other. The possibilities how a MOOC can be used here is really limited only by imagination of the users- there are digital tools that can provide a multitude of user experiences- textual, visual, audio.  Although a virtual exhibition may not be as fulfilling as the experience of viewing the paintings in real life, a MOOC about synchromy can facilitate the creation of an engaged community of learners that provide a different, yet still fulfilling experience.

NEXT: MOOCs, technology and communities of practice

Some rambles about MOOCs and museums

Over the course of the last 6 months or so, I have been reflecting, ruminating, and talking with friends about connections between MOOCs. museums, education, collaboration, gaming and more. Kind of a variation on the conspiracies, but in this case, a more social, collaborative, game and educational model.It’s really quite cool and exciting- all sorts of metaphors come to mind, such as an orchestra, where a bunch individuals, each playing their own instrument which by itself may be weird or the same, but always sounds better when it comes together with all these other individuals playing their own parts. MOOCs can be like that. But, to do so requires an understanding of two if the  basic learning/educational ideas and theories: sage-on-the-stage or, the  guide on the side. In other words, formal and informal learning.

Museum educators are great models of informal education. Museums instruct, engage, inspire and educate large and diverse communities of life-long learners. I have been thinking more and more about the confluence of  the social nature of these communities with the way in which the web has influenced the creation communities- of communities of practice,  interest, and learners. An individual can tap into a global network about anything that interests them, from the sacred to the mundane and everything between.

NEXT BLOG: Virtual spaces and communities (perhaps adding some new ideas to an ongoing  conversation)

A talk about MOOCs and Museums

If you are in LA on March 11, please join me at Future Salon LA, where I will be presenting “Major mayhem or a marvelous match? An introduction to museums and MOOCs.”

Ruminations about MOOCs, high schools and a crazy idea

Well, regarding MOOCs- the jury is still out. Is it efficient or not? Cost-effective, authentic, mindful, appropriate? Does it promote learning? Does it actually work?

These are all valid and important questions, but there is no definitive answer.  The process is a new development in the continuum of educational technology.

MOOCs can be considered as the next step in the continuum of the development of online education. According to Ken Masters of Sultan Qaboos University, MOOCs are the fourth stage in the evolution of online education. Masters describes the processes of the four stages as:

  1. “The lecturer places notes and presentations into an online repository or file server with a shared drive”
  2.  “The lecturer uses a home-grown system and/or externally-developed Learning Management System (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environment”,
  3. “The LMS remains the centralized teaching and learning environment, but important changes occur in the relative importance of the various tools within the LMS. Most notably, the content area is reduced in importance, and the other tools, especially the discussion forums and chat rooms, are now prominent” to
  4. The MOOC is decentralized and networked, and the network begins to resemble the patterns of the semantic web envisioned in Web 3.0. In this network, the importance of the entire LMS is reduced to one node in the network; the LMS is used primarily for management tasks (such as registration and learners’ profiles) and hosting of discussion forums.

If we look at MOOCs through this lens, we can begin to understand what an innovation to learning this is.  Will it spark a learning/education revolution? Perhaps, but not immediately. It is not the next big thing, just another big thing in learning how to learn- a process that is always in development. I think that one of the salient ideas about MOOCs is that their goals are moving, dynamic targets that are really dependent on all of the users- a true collaborative, distributed learning environment. This type of massive top-down/bottom-up learning environment, where users can really create their leaning experience has never really existed, but MOOCs are rooted in some classical learning theory, such as: constructivist; communities of practice; communities of learners; and distributed learning.

One question that needs to be asked (as in any new technology or process) is how we can use it in education. There are excellent examples of MOOCS at Stanford, MIT, Harvard, as well as Coursera and others.

One commonality that many current MOOCs  share is the sensibility of traditional classroom and online learning environments in terms of how the content is presented, and the general roles of instructors and students. Instructors present or post content according to a schedule and interact with TAs and some students. It is understandable why this approach is taken; after all, MOOCs are massive. Yet, perhaps a new approach is needed to really utilize the potential of MOOCS, one more rooted in a constructivist, dynamic process. Additionally important is the idea that learning is really a messy process, and most true learning does not follow a cookie-cutter approach. MOOCs tap into natural curiosities and intelligences, as well as developed skills and talents. There are of course many problems inherent in a MOOC: the scale makes instructor/student interaction very difficult, if not impossible; difficulty in assessing massive classes; scheduling; unequal input from participants, as well as others. Yet, many of these problems exist in just about every learning environment. Solutions exist and can be found- the importance really lies in the trying.

The next question is a basic: why use a MOOC? One answer is that MOOCs promotes the need for 21st century skill sets identified by current leaders of multiple sectors of society- corporate, government and education.  These skill sets are collaboration, creativity, and innovation. Also important are the growing need for temporary, project-based employees; the ability to work in global, inter-disciplinary environments that require individuals with multiple skill-sets that think creatively.

By nature, MOOCs can help provide students with these skills. They can promote the development of collaborative environments, requiring multiple skills and knowledge, creativity in problem solving, communication and scheduling, and build communities of practice.

Some of the biggest problems in leading a MOOC are scheduling, resource sharing, and identifying a shared set of goals (the same problems that exist in other learning environments). Difficult as they may sound, remedies and solutions exist through open and regular communication among leaders and then participants, flexibility and of course, possess a sense of humor.

High schools are excellent institutions for introducing students to this scale of collaboration. A global project-based course in world civilization, creates a network of individuals experienced in exploring, communicating, negotiating, creating, and collaborating that world leaders have identified as the critical 21st century skill sets.

A quick thought about the NRA

While listening to the head of the NRA’s response to the Newtown killings , I was amazed at the notion that a person with little or know training think that they will be able to react in the instant that they discover the “bad guy”. And that they also think that they will be able to react under so much intense pressure and shoot this bad guy. This is a fantasy.

Secret service, security agencies and others who are charged with this type of work spend hours and hours and shoot thousands of bullets to be able to acquire the skills necessary to act under pressure, identify bad from good and shoot the bad. Also, I cannot help but to think about the chaos and confused situations in actual war zones where there are lots of bullets flying and now, with a mixture of combatant and civilian and how may incidences of friendly fire there are. LaPierre is living in a high paid fantasy world- not reality.

Some reflections on museum education for the future

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As museum educators, and as educators in general we face a multitude of challenges and opportunities. Teaching to standards, focusing on tests and assessments, reduced funding to museums and schools (world wide problem), lack of time for educators to prepare and to visit, monolithic institutions are just some of the problems that face us. Yet the opportunities are also endless. I think that one of the first challenges that we need to address is how to re-imagine what schools, museums and education are all about- to find new metaphors that reflect global society, communities and knowledge. What is it really that we want to accomplish? For me, one of the most basic points for education is to provide experiences for all learners that will teach them how to think, see, and hear. Another issue is that because of historical functions and philosophies, we often approach education as top-down, instructor and curriculum driven.

As much as this is a good model, the Internet has turned a lot of this approach on its head. Students and learners are curious and knowledgeable, as well as fearless about going online. As much as we (educators) still need to provide structure and content, we also need to focus on providing the questions and environments for learners. For example, in a class on modern European civilization, why would an instructor want to use a text-book with possibly out of date information when the facts on the ground are changing daily and the web provides students and learners to communicate with each other – to ask questions and learn. This option is often stymied in the classroom with firewalls (for good reasons), yet the students will circumvent the school as soon as they leave the classroom, jump on the web to explore and play. The need then becomes one of blending the formal education of the classroom with the rich informal learning that happens everywhere else- 24/7.

I think that global museums can play an important role in facilitating this type of learning. Museums have content- art, history, culture, science that schools often find missing. If we look at the foot patterns of visitors at a museum we see that no matter what we do to channel and guide a visitor on a planned path, there will always be people who create their own path, and create (or curate) their own learning experience. A challenge that we face as educators then is to find ways to build collaborations amongst these different types of institutions that bridge the formal with the informal, the standards set with the curiosity and knowledge of the learner.

Of course digital technologies can play an important and crucial role in this. Although teachers have so much on their plates that they more often than not (and understandably so), do not have the time or energy to think about and create these new types of partnerships. Perhaps the key to this is in the partnership itself, and that different types of institutions can play different roles at different times during the collaboration- lead at one stage, teaching at another, assessment at another. It really requires the flexibility in thinking and comfort with the messiness of education (that for another post- lol).

I also understand that many of the ideas that I’ve presented can be contested, or explained. But I do think that in preparing for the future (as well as the present), it might be beneficial to really rethink the metaphors that we use to define schools, museums, libraries and learning.