Impostor in the room #mri13

Last week I attended an amazing conference – the MOOC Research Initiative in Arlington Texas. Unlike the AACE eLearn MOOC symposium, I felt a little out of place at this conference. At the AACE symposium, most of the attendees were new to MOOCs. The focus was very much on the Americanization of MOOCs (the xMOOC). It was very different – but I also felt a little bit like a MOOC expert in that audience – I had not only attended MOOCs, I had co-authored several papers on MOOCs. But more than that, my experience as a MOOC participant was transformative. I had not had that type of learning experience since I did my Masters at Royal Roads University (their new tag line "life changing" is appropriate). Even in my younger years in computer science, I was fascinated by online community – I remember having a "unix talk" pen pal during my undergrad, shortly after discovering the Internet (this was before the web). We would spend hours sharing information and playing games (I challenged him to name all Canadian provinces – he could only name Manitoba, Ontario, and BC – because he lived in Minnesota and I lived in BC – I did a little better on name the US states but not enough to win a geography contest against an elementary student). My point is, I love online community, talking to people from different cultures who are a world away, and MOOCs gave me a great way to experience it (our MobiMOOC research team consisted of 6 researchers living in 4 continents).

Now, after my initial foray into MOOC research, I was re-directed to the project I am currently working on – an Educational Design Research study that involves teaching Family Medicine Preceptors (physicians who teach in a clinical setting), how they might use iPads to improve teaching. The project is interesting – especially the current phase I am in collecting stories from innovative educators – but it isn't where I see my future. My future is in online teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning with technology.

So, now that I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel that is my PhD, I have forayed back into the land of the MOOC.  My research agenda after I complete my doctoral study will have something do to with distance education and likely MOOCs. 

This is what brought me first to the AACE eLearn MOOC symposium, the WideWorldEd Open Educators cMOOC, and finally the MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) conference in Arlington Texas.

I entered the conference in Arlington with mixed feelings. I was excited to be at a conference that was led by the founders of the MOOCs, which promised not to begin the MOOC history lesson with the Stanford AI MOOC. But  I felt very much like an outsider – an impostor. This feeling was compounded when I read tweets about the pre-conference activities – which had several of us on twitter checking our calendars to validate what day the conference actually started. Even now, when I read the various blog posts about the conference, I wonder, did I miss that session, or was that session part of the private party that happened before the formal MOOC conference?

I didn't learn a lot of new stuff at the MRI conference, as I have been following both the academic literature and blogs rather closely. I did add a few new blogs to my regular reading list, and got some great ideas for a course I hope to be teaching in January. I was super impressed by all the keynote speakers, and only wish that I had chosen to go to more of the panel sessions rather than the concurrent sessions (I seem to choose too many sessions that were post-positivist number crunches which provided me with little new insight into MOOC design, but also re-inforced my sense of impostor syndrome that often occurs when I am in a rooms with academics that don't necessarily understand or appreciate pragmatic research paradigms). 

I met some great people at the conference – I already knew that the MOOC research community was full of great people – But I did not leave the conference feeling that I was part of the community. I was just a student in a MOOC (several MOOCs actually). My MOOC research has been limited to some work co-authoring papers based upon the 2011 MobiMOOC – which in many ways is old news now and really, I'm pretty far down on the author list. My current research is just personal pondering as a student observing and sometimes participating in various types of MOOCs, just to see what is happening in MOOC pedagogy. I haven't taught a MOOC either – or even facilitated a single week in a cMOOC. This is not yet my research community. I am an MRI impostor, but I love the MOOC research community, and I really hope they invite me back for MRI14!

PS: If you do have an MRI14, please please pretty please have an open poster session – I need to present in order to access conference funding!

14 Replies to “Impostor in the room #mri13”

  1. In some ways the whole notion of a MOOC Research Initiative probably contributed to the outsider feelings. I know I felt it also. And I work with the people that put it on! (and I also had no idea about the Wednesday thing) A better mix of practical idea sessions and research sessions would have helped. Some of it can also probably be chalked up to life – a lot of people had to spend a lot of time figuring out what to do about the ice.

    I wonder if we really even need to divide up into MOOC research community and MOOC theoretical community. There are a lot of people, like me, that don’t really get to touch MOOCs that often because we work at places that are pretty hostile to MOOCs (whooops – did I say that out loud?) but we would still like to be part of the conversation.

    In the future, it might be a good idea to have different people set-up informal interaction time through their own blog. Hey, if you read my blog, I will be presenting at MRI14. Comment here and you can join me for a dinner discussion at Pappasito’s after the first day. That way different people can connect with the people that have been following their ideas for a long time. I know Jim Groom and I wanted to get together and discuss some of the syndicated learning stuff we had both been blogging about for years. Of course, the ice ruined that (and I am going to complain about it on every blog I can until the ice itself apologizes. FYI – its still here a week later!). I have heard it is sometimes hard for keynote presenters to dig through all the people that just want to argue some little point they didn’t like and they people that want to have a deep, meaningful exchange about issues. So in some way we need to find a way to help improve those opportunities for people like you and I that really want to get in the loop.

    1. I’m definitely game for dinner at Pappasito’s anytime I’m in Texas! Fortunately, I got my Papados (Papadeuxs?) fix on Wednesday before the ice. 

  2. I think in any small, new or emerging field which has a high level of personalisation around the generation of the initial ideas, there’s often a sense of insiderism that has to be dealt with thoughtfully as the field grows. Is there a private party, is there an inner circle? Is there an invisibly roped off area where the cool people go? Twitter amplifies all this, really.

    It’s a dilemma both for those in the group that kicked things off, because they do genuinely know each other better than those who joined them a while later — and it’s a dilemma for those that show up, because it’s hard to know how to find a place in among these complex networks of friendships and shared travels/travails.

    I followed #mri13 very closely, from thousands of kilometres away — I have met none of the participants. And I really agree with Jim Groom that a network is built not by the gifting of permissions from the centre, but by all of us who come by and attach and speak up. The whole peleton works together in the end.

    Enjoyed your post, as much as I enjoyed #mri13 from my remote listening post. We’re both engaged with this.

  3. Great post. I felt similar, especially as I arrived after seeing so much great stuff on Twitter from that Wednesday session (was so glad to run into you right away so at least I had someone to chat with!). But I also was impressed that anything I said was valued, even though most people there had never met me before. The MOOC community seems way more open and accepting of new people than many academic communities. I wonder if that’s due to the newness of the topic, or the ethos of open and networked knowledge that the cMOOCers embrace. Or maybe they were just being polite. 🙂 Hope to see you at another conference soon – let me know if see any good ones that are ‘grad student on a budget’ friendly!

    1. Thanks Ashley – I was very glad to run into you as well – and it was nice to catch up over dinner. I agree that the community at MRI was great at listening and even hearing the different perspectives – perhaps that was what was different about it. The AACE eLearn MOOC symposium was much less friendly about hearing ideas that were different than their already pre-concieved notions of what a MOOC was. Although, at that conference I did hear several stories from MOOC instructors on their experience with the for-profit MOOC providers, which was very interesting to hear.

  4. I know the eprils of imposter syndrome, but the beauty of edtech in my mind is that it is a relatively new and constantly changing field that it’s not that hard to make networked connections and join the conversation in amenaingful way pretty quickly, like blogging 🙂

    1. Thanks Jim – I was especially inspired by your keynote, as it did a really good job of setting the tone for the conference. On the way out to the hotel, a grad student new to MOOCs had asked me about cMOOCs and the difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs. I checked in with him on Friday morning and he commented that he was “drinking the coolaid”, which I though was rather amusing. I think he went from not knowing about cMOOCs to valuing a new perspective on MOOCs which I think is awesome.

      1. Forgive my terrible grammar and spelling, as you can tell, you don’t even have to know how to write to keynote an edtech confernece. For shame 🙂

        As for cMOOCs, there is a lot of interesting history there, and I always thought the power there was that the design of the experience was premised in some important ways on the principles of the internet. It’s modeled on a shift in how we communicate more broadly as a global culture. It makes sense if you think about it long enough—so the theoretical elements of connectivism become crucial to the concept of learning as part of a network—it’s not just theoretics, it’s the marriage of praxis and theory in a really powerful way. That;s where all this really becomes interesting to me.

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