As a performance and media scholar, I should be in Edinburgh, Scotland right now. This year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival has some great examples of contemporary perfomance and media intersections including the Wooster Group’s Hamlet for those who haven’t seen it in previous iterations and imitating the dog’s The Zero Hour, which I’ve not seen but looks like fun. Not to mention, of course, the pairing of Patti Smith and Philip Glass’s The Poet Speaks in homage to Allen Ginsburg (has this not happened before and if not, why am I missing it now?). Instead of hanging out in Scotland, I’m in the US thinking about education, specifically the MOOC thing. Let me explain.
Final presentation from the Art, Robots & Technology for Youth (ARTY) workshop.
Much of my work this summer has focused on educational outreach through the intersection of arts and technology. With colleagues in various departments of media study, education, and computer science, I created a summer robotics workshop for area youth focused on intersections of art and robotics. We made and programmed robots, visited with guest artists who presented lighting projects and a robot cello, and generally played with robots for art’s sake. I’ve also been starting up a new graduate program at the University at Buffalo in Theatre & Performance. I’ve been writing welcome letters, creating a grad handbook, and dealing with all the infrastructure that comes along with a new program. And, if you’re paying attention to anything in higher education these days, it’s pretty difficulty to avoid the whole MOOC (goofy name for Massively Open Online Course) discussion. My own institution is implementing “Open SUNY” with for-profit MOOC creator, Coursera.
Rather than get into the middle of that discussion, however, let me make a slightly smaller proposal: the mini-MOOC. Rather than (or perhaps in addition to) focusing university MOOC attention on college students, where the initial results seem mixed at best, why not have universities and colleges develop material aimed to supplement (though not replace) K-12 curriculum, particularly in the summer? I’d love to see my university creating summertime mini-MOOCs for kids.
This is not really a new idea. There are any number of online educational games, programs, and curricula for kids. I’ve not looked at these extensively, but it’s fairly easy to find any number of examples from even a cursory search. I’m sure some of these are more effective than others, but I’m not proposing we create new online games. Rather, I’m suggesting more concentrated and time-limited (i.e., summer, winter vacations) courses initiated by universities and colleges aimed at children during their breaks from school. By by partnering with local libraries and community centers we could ensure local, widespread access to reliable Internet and computer services. I realize that the locality would initially limit the “massive” in online education, but if effective, it’s a scalable idea. At our summer workshop, we only had room for 15 children. It would have been great to offer an online alternative, so that we could offer the workshop to more children and for longer than one week.
As a theatre person, of course, I realize that this limits some of the best parts of the workshop: interaction with other students, direct contact with great staff, and the materiality of making “squishy” circuits and a robot of one’s own. Still, in the great expanse that is summertime, perhaps a minor MOOC is better than nothing.