How does the ModPo MOOC enable or create a community?

In this final week of the third iteration of the Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC – Al Filreis (the MOOC convener) has asked ModPo participants how the ModPo community works:

I am now here in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, and will be presenting about ModPo at a conference here. The conference is called “Building Massive Open Online Communities,” and the organizers of the conference believe that ModPo is an instance of a so-called “MOOC” that does indeed make a learning community possible—indeed perhaps even necessary to the success of the course.

I want your help in presenting to the people here about the ModPo community. How does it work? What would you like to say to the people here at this conference about the way we’ve conducted ourselves as an online community of learners? What are some advantages, in your experience, of the collaborative and interactive approach?

This is an interesting question. The evidence suggests that ModPo has formed a community of practice very successfully.

Etienne Wenger in his book Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity has written about the formation and work of communities of practice in detail, and on his website writes: In a nutshell ……

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

This is true of ModPo – there is plenty of ‘passion for poetry’ in the forums and webinars, in the Facebook group and even on Twitter.

Here is a recent video of current ModPo students talking about their experience.

This video provides a flavour of the diversity of the community and the shared passion for poetry and for ModPo.

In Wenger’s terms ModPo is a community of practice as opposed to simply a community. ModPo participants (community members) gather together around the domain of poetry and share their practices. In the forums, there are shared interpretations of the poems introduced in the course, shared writing, shared poems, shared readings, shared close readings and shared cultural experiences. Sharing, social interaction and social learning are at the heart of the success of ModPo. Everyone’s contribution is welcome, from novice to expert, and there is a real sense that it is possible, for those who want to, to move from the periphery of the community along a trajectory of increasing competence to the centre of the community. It is also perfectly acceptable to remain as a legitimate peripheral participant. I myself feel very comfortable in this latter location.

Etienne Wenger, also in his book, explains that there are three dimensions of practice in a community:

  • Mutual engagement (engaged diversity, doing things together, relationships, social complexity, community maintenance)
  • A joint enterprise (negotiated enterprise, mutual accountability, interpretations, rhythms, local response)
  • Shared repertoire (stories, artifacts, styles, tools, actions, discourses, concepts, historical events)

Shared history is an important aspect of a community of practice and in ModPo this is evidenced by people returning each year to do the course and through the course materials remaining open during the year. The history of the Kelly Writer’s House, from where the course is run has also been shared with ModPo participants.

This sense of place in ModPo is one of its unique features. ModPo participants are invited to enter this space, either physically or virtually each week and join the ModPo team and teaching assistants for discussion. The place and space feel immediate and real and I think are instrumental in forging a sense of community and belonging.

Returning to Etienne Wenger’s social learning theory, he describes four components of learning in a community of practice, which are all evident in ModPo

  • Learning as doing (practice) – in ModPo doing is related to writing (assignments and peer reviews), close reading the poems, discussion and social interaction in the forums
  • Learning as experience (meaning) – in ModPo learning is a shared experience which is negotiated between community members
  • Learning as belonging (community) – in ModPo, for those who want it, it is possible to become a member of a world-wide community of poets and those who are passionate about poetry
  • Learning as becoming (identity) – in ModPo, the very nature of the domain (poetry) and the personalized close readings inevitably have implications for personal identity development.

Finally, a community is not static, but dynamic. It has been interesting to see how ModPo has evolved and continues to grow as a community. Each year new members are welcomed and this year there seems to have been increased recognition that 30,000+ people cannot effectively communicate with each, but need to congregate in smaller groups. Study groups are encouraged and this year one of the community teaching assistants (Laura Cushing) took it upon herself to create a list of the study groups that were springing up around the world, so that participants could easily locate those in their geographical areas and arrange to meet face-to-face to socialize, share close readings and their passion for poetry.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 14.51.09San Francisco Meet Up (Source of photo: ModPo course site)

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 14.51.39Prague Meet Up (Source of photo: ModPo course site)

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 14.51.24Washington DC Meet Up (Source of photo: ModPo course site)

So there is plenty of evidence that the ModPo MOOC has created a community of practice around the course. I haven’t specifically answered all Al Filreis’ questions, but hopefully this post provides a sense of some of the ways in which ModPo has done this. I could write more, but I think that’s enough for now.

3 thoughts on “How does the ModPo MOOC enable or create a community?

  1. Scott Johnson November 15, 2014 / 7:40 pm

    This was mentioned in the video and reflects my commitment to other MOOC communities (I haven’t done ModPo yet): there’s a transition at some point from passive intaker of content to a member of a group. The comfort of silence, even if a person remains silent or non-active in the course is no longer a sign of passivity or non-engagement.
    With building construction apprentices this shows as shift in identity that claims membership and carries responsibilities as personal qualities, not just rules of behaviour. I guess this would be both belonging and becoming.

  2. jennymackness November 17, 2014 / 8:02 am

    Hi Scott – thanks for your comments on this post and the next. I can really recommend ModPo, but it you do decide to take the course next year, then my experience is that it’s best to leave those 10 weeks free of other MOOCs or study commitments. There’s such a lot in ModPo and to get the most out of it, it needs all your attention – at least, that was my experience last year. I didn’t engage fully this year. And re community, I expect you know that Etienne Wenger’s work started with Jean Lave, observing different apprenticeships.

  3. Scott Johnson November 17, 2014 / 9:09 pm

    Jenny, sounds like good advice for ModPo. Being a bit overloaded with various MOOCs that are either over like Rhizo or call to me like PotCert there’s barely time for “Educating Girls” that I’m trying to keep up with.
    Remember reading that Lave and Wenger studied musicians and how they transitioned into the profession. The process sure seemed similar working with construction workers and later teachers moving online for the first time. Spending a lot of time in medical settings, particularly at the University hospital where I consider “training” as part of my role as patient my interest now is in the identities that develop in nursing and doctors.
    My doctor and all my physician specialists are young women and it’s fascinating to see them developing in a “male” profession that is rapidly being populated by women. Nursing seems to be running in the opposite direction which is interesting too.
    I found this paper useful for describing the path a nurse takes in learning the profession. The stress, pressures and self-doubt remind me of the outer areas of your Footprint model. Especially near the zone of chaos where sense fragments into confusion that carries us away.
    A Process of Becoming: The Stages of New Nursing Graduate Professional Role Transition
    Judy Boychuk Duchscher, RN, BScN, MN, PhD

    Click to access Stages2008.pdf

    The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing • October 2008 • Vol 39, No 10

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