This reflection is a strange bricolage of two non-related issues: learning to tie a bow tie (as a 53-year old) and reflecting on my experience of a Massive Open Online Course, MOOC).
I did not grow up with bow ties. My family background was middle-class, conservative, Protestant and frugal. I grew up in a small mining village and the only pictures of men wearing bow ties were occasional pictures in the daily press of some celebrities in far-off places. Somehow it signified “being different”, being artistic, and somewhat eccentric – especially when worn during the day. None of my family members ever wore a bow tie. No one in my community was ever seen with a bow tie – dead or alive. Even then there was the implied (and often explicit suggestion) that men wearing bow ties were either professors, literati , artistic, eccentric or gay – of a combination of these labels. [For an interesting overview of the history of bow ties, click on this link].
And yet the fascination was there from the start.
I can’t remember when I bought my first bow tie – one of those “ready-made” bow ties that did not require you to tie it yourself. But somehow wearing these “ready-made” bow ties was not the “real” thing – I always felt like a fake… Therefore ever since that first “fake” bow tie, I had the intention to, one day, buy a “real” one that I could tie myself. And every time I had the opportunity to buy a “real” one – I did not – because of the fear of not knowing how to tie one.
About a month ago I was in Oxford and bought three wonderful, colourful “real” bow ties. My first attempt to download instructions on “how to tie a bow tie” from the web ended up in giving up and putting the bow ties away. Somehow I just could not get the knack of it. I sulked.
Last Thursday I however decided to bite the bullet (or tie the knot). I revisited the downloaded guidelines (with the same frustration) and then it dawned on me that I should try YouTube. Voila. And yet, four videos later I still could not tie a bow tie. It is then that I discovered a video clip that somehow “broke the code”. There I was in front of my computer with a mirror alongside trying to follow the instructions as a 53-year old male learning to do something quite simple. I must confess that even though the video clip was really helping me “see” what I have missed in the previous attempts; it still was not easy.
But I did it. And last Friday I wore it to work with pride. Suddenly I was not only wearing a “real” bow tie, but I was also a “real” professor, different and I “probably gay” (a label that I wear with peace, courage and pride).
My experience in this MOOC was my first. Somehow you are not a “real” educator in the 21st century if you have not experienced a MOOC (most probably as you were not a “real” professor if you did not wear a “real” bow tie J).
When I looked at the programme of the 36 weeks of the current MOOC there were enough that intrigued me. Some of the persons in the field of education that I really respect were presenting and I really wanted to engage with their thoughts. Somehow I trusted that they were on to something and I was curious to discover it for myself (most probably like the first images of men with bow ties I saw as a child). I also realised that although my time was fairly limited, I wanted to engage and read as much as possible.
And somehow I did and do find time to read and engage. And after 11 weeks I have a fairly good sense what is in it for me.
In my opinion, MOOCs have potential to empower and to expose participants to a relatively low structure, high volume of content and individualised learning experience. But, like bow ties – it may not be for everyone. Its potential most probably depend on the way it is structured, how that structure “fits” with the expectations of participants, the expertise of those facilitating the courses, the efficiency of technologies and links as well as whether the course theme is relevant to those who registered.
If you do not have an interest in how to tie a bow tie, you will definitely not download “how to” instructions, watch a video and spend a Thursday evening in front of a computer and a mirror trying to apply what you are learning. It is only when you have a burning desire to tie a “real” bow tie, that you will search for your answer – and wear it with pride.
But while every male professor may not like wearing bow ties (for whatever reason) I suspect that all educators in the 21st century should explore and experience MOOCs.
[Image of the bow tie from http://www.scavengeinc.com/p-329-clown-bow-tie.aspx, accessed 29 November 2011)